“Don’t throw the past away/You might need it some rainy day/Dreams can come true again/When everything old is new again.”
When songwriters Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager penned the lyrics to their jaunty 1979 song, they probably didn’t realize just how popular feelings of nostalgia would become. There’s something comforting about the past.
It’s nostalgia that’s led local business owners and merchants to pursue making the downtown Fulton, a one-time thoroughfare, a sought-after destination again. Just like the good old days.
“We envision a Main Street Association,” Fulton business owner Jimmie Wilson said. “We want to develop a ‘drive’ to get people to come to downtown.”
Wilson, along with his partner Bill Gary, opened Porch Swing Pickings two years ago and more recently Main Street Vintage and Antiques and Southern Belle Antiquities. The pair, along with Angie Palmer and Tony Wilson, have created a core group who have made re-creating the downtown area a priority.
“We would like to see this become a ‘walk about’ area with a variety of businesses,” Gary said. “We love this area, but right now there’s nothing else to do.”
In decades past, Fulton was a bustling thoroughfare for people traveling from Alabama to Tupelo and beyond, back when Highway 78 ran straight through town. There were four service stations located at the intersection of East Main Street and Clifton Street that accommodated the heavy traffic.
“My father, P.W. ‘Perdie’ Montgomery, owned the Lion Station on the northwest corner,” Larry Montgomery said. “Across the street was the Standard Station, where Dr. Jason Digby’s dental office is currently.”
The Texaco Station once stood where the Fulton Post Office now resides, and a Gulf Station was located on what would eventually become holy ground – the local Catholic church.
“They were all busy stations,” Montgomery said. “There was a lot of traffic coming through downtown Fulton in those days.”
In the 1940s, downtown shoppers could purchase a beautiful new General Electric “Thrifty-Six” refrigerator at Mattox’s Store on Main or ladies could dress for success in the “coat of the month tailored with finesse and guaranteed satin lining” at Gorden’s on the south side of the courthouse.
Montgomery recalled his purchase of the Western Auto store that was once in business in the space previously occupied by Bob Steele’s Flower Shop and now home of Main Street Vintage and Antiques. There was also a “Hi-Lo” store that was a favorite to many in the area.
“I remember when I was young walking to the 5-10 cent store downtown,” Wilson said. “It’s that kind of nostalgic feel we want to create again. We’re hoping there are others who may be thinking about opening a new business, and they’ll consider downtown.”
Itawamba Community Development Council (ICDC) Director Vaunita Martin and city officials have been meeting with downtown merchants and business owners to toss around ideas on how to boost their revitalization efforts. This upcoming weekend’s “Endless Summer” event is one of the many ideas the group is bringing to fruition.
“ICDC has hosted planning sessions with city officials and businesses to help support those efforts in revitalization,” Martin said. “With three new businesses being celebrated this Friday, it shows that the work that has been put in is now being realized.”
Ribbon cuttings for new downtown businesses, Farmhouse of Fulton, Southern Belle Antiquities and Company and Main Street Vintage and Antiques, will be held Friday beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday’s events will include inflatables for the children on the courthouse square, face painting, homemade ice cream and a variety of events for all ages.
“Our downtown was once a thriving hub. It was the central location for businesses, restaurants and entertainment,” Martin said. “It can be that again, but it takes vision, teamwork and networking with our existing businesses and elected officials to make it a reality.”
ICDC is also paving the way with the “Fixer Up” small business grant to help make storefronts more inviting. Martin told The Times that attractive entrances, murals, planters, benches and lighting can add so much interest and help to draw people into downtown.
“We are nothing without our small businesses. They are our lifeblood that brings tourists and locals to town and helps drive our tax revenue,” Martin said. “It is important to us to ensure they stay and grow. This will also help to recruit new businesses in.”
Both groups agree they all have a common goal and are willing to put forth the effort it takes to make it happen.
“At the end of the day, we all want the same thing,” Wilson said. “We want downtown to become a destination.”