In celebrating 150 years since Tupelo’s incorporation, it seems appropriate to discuss how local businesses have endured and helped the city grow.
In the early days of Tupelo’s existence, Main Street offered wagons and horses nothing more than dirt ruts that ran in front of a handful of dry goods, grocers, and other merchants downtown. During winter and spring months, traveling into town from the farm could prove hazardous, especially when the rains came and nothing but muck met those needing to buy supplies for the month. Even churches offered sparse meetings during the rainy season.
Some families had to come as far as 10 to 15 miles, maybe more, outside of Tupelo to get supplies. Considering a horse-drawn wagon with a family could make about 10-15 miles in a day, that left little time for shopping, much less returning home in time. About the only hotels at the time proved expensive for farmers and some of them not so G-rated for families.
So, merchants joined and cleared off a lot on Main Street (just about where the Board of Supervisors Building is today, according to best estimates). The merchants cut and stacked firewood for cooking and warmth of the travelers. They also built outhouses and kept them shoveled out for sanitation. Wagons could come in and park in slots at no cost, shop, spend the night, and take the journey home the next day – rain or shine. Sometimes, during the nasty weather, wagons packed the lot.
The late Jack Reed pointed out that Tupelo’s ability to lead the state in so many ways rested on the shoulders of the city’s business community. See, there is no blue blood history here, really – not like the Mississippi Delta planter class or old money, like south in Columbus. Tupelo’s bankers and local businesses have made the city a shining star in the state – and the object of a good bit of envy.
Most of the older local businesses have their roots in the dirt surrounding Tupelo. Take, for instance, Reed’s. A farmer and his father, a physician, opened a little grocery in Itawamba County near Tilden. JJ Rogers, who had a warehouse in Tupelo, saw the potential in the store and invited the Reeds (Jack Sr.’s father and grandfather) to open up a grocery in Tupelo near the JJ Rogers & Son Warehouse. The Reeds did.
In 1907 the grocery became a dry goods store. The family business we know as Reed’s began and developed and is a cornerstone of our city today.
And this has happened repeatedly here in Tupelo. Even today, local businesses are working to withstand the onslaught of restrictions to keep people safe. Some of them are closed for the time being. Others are open and they are serving food or coffee or filling prescriptions or bagging groceries and delivering – a modern version of what those early Tupelo merchants did.
And these folks today, in the 21st century, aren’t blue bloods. They aren’t planter class. They are visionaries who had a dream of owning a café or coffeeshop or boutique or pharmacy and made it happen by taking risks. We, the rest of us, owe it to them to support them in these days of uncertainty. Because this is Tupelo. This is our story.