Officials eye revitalization of historic downtown district

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 4, 2004

MONTICELLO — Town officials are hoping a new business openingdowntown this summer will provide the spark in their efforts torevitalize the historic district.

Malta’s Downtown Market will locate at the corner of Broad andColumbia streets and offer specialty meats, fresh produce and a NewOrleans-style outdoor morning coffee cafe featuring coffee, freshbeignets and baked muffins.

“It’s designed not to infringe on any businesses already inplace while providing a special flavor to the historic district.It’s a well thought-out plan,” said Lawrence County CommunityDevelopment Association Director Bob Smira. “In a few respects, itwill hopefully jump start the revitalization of the historicdistrict.”

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Town officials have feared the relocation of Highway 84 from thedowntown area would have a negative impact on businesses in thehistoric district. A revitalization theme for the downtown area andthe creation of a four-lane tree-lined boulevard from the Highway84 Bypass to the area are two of the methods being promoted tooffset the highway’s relocation.

A key element to the revitalization efforts is to create aunique feel in downtown Monticello that will attract people to thearea, said Mayor David Nichols. Malta’s Downtown Market matches theturn-of-the-century theme town officials are looking for inrecreating the historic district.

Businesses along the old Highway 84 corridor have joined a newDowntown Merchants Association to contribute to the revitalizationprocess.

Many of them are designing new facades that will enhance thetown’s unique development theme. Other revitalization effortsexpected to begin soon include the removal of utility poles alongBroad Street, installation of turn-of-the-century street signs andpainted building murals.

The owner of Malta’s Downtown Market is Frank Malta, who openedMonticello’s Piggly Wiggly in 1966. Malta, 62, has had a long anddistinguished career in the grocery business, and said the contactshe made during that career will help in his new businesseffort.

“We’re looking forward to this. It’s going to be fun,” Maltasaid. “It’s definitely a niche business. It gives the customer theopportunity to buy things like they used to. It will be run the waybusiness used to be done.”

The specialty meats portion will be handled according to thecustomers requests, like butcher shops of old, he said, while theproduce will be fresh.

“We’ll always buy locally if the quality is there” for homegrownvegetables such as tomatoes and beans, he said, but some specialtyproduce, such as avocados and kiwis, will be supplied by a producedistributor.

“The big feature we’re really excited about in an antique coffeeroaster,” Malta said.

The Royal #4 coffee roaster is the same type used at a coffeeroasting store in Brookhaven in his youth, he said. He can stillremember the smells of roasting coffee and parched peanuts driftingthrough Brookhaven’s downtown streets.

Malta wants to recapture that memory and provide the smells ofdowntown Monticello.

“I want the same equipment here and blow that aroma throughdowntown Monticello,” he said. “We’re using green coffee beansdirect from Guatemala with five or six different varieties.”

The business will open in phases, Malta said. He expects thefirst phase, which includes the produce market and the cafe, toopen in mid-July or early August. He said he hopes to be fullyoperational by October.