Chamber’s after-hours tour

Published 11:58 am Monday, March 29, 2010

Everyone knows about renovations to the Haven and theresurrection of loft apartments down West Cherokee Street indowntown Brookhaven, but few have laid eyes on the second wave ofrestorations that have spread down Whitworth Avenue and across therailroad tracks.

Their chance is coming.

The Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce is planning anafter-hours tour for the public to showcase the handful of newbusinesses and more than a dozen buildings that have been renovatedin the historic downtown business district. Though details arestill being finalized, the date has been set for the evening ofThursday, May 13, to take in the sights of what chamber executivevice president Cliff Brumfield calls the “renaissance of downtownBrookhaven.”

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“Several businesses will be open for people to view, not only tosell and show their offerings but to show off the renovations,” hesaid. “I think people will be very surprised by what they see. Someof the finest examples of early 20th century architecture can befound in downtown Brookhaven.”

Several downtown businesses are likely to participate, rollingout the red carpet – or at least the red welcome mat – to hosttours of their modern retail and historic confines. A half-dozennew businesses have moved into the district within the last sixmonths or so, and they’ve landed in 100-year-old structures thatlook as good now as they ever have.

It holds true for Gary Blair, whose Southern Ag Credit has beenopen in downtown for nearly a century. After recent renovations,the wise old business has never looked so crisp. It was Blair whothought up the after-hours tour, pleased with his own surroundingsand his stately neighbors.

“People may not realize what all is available in downtownBrookhaven,” he said. “Many downtowns across Mississippi are dying,and we’re lucky Brookhaven is not that way.”

One of the men driving the renaissance is local financialadviser Johnny Lynch, who has been involved in the renovation ofeight downtown buildings. Though most fruitful within recent years,Lynch placed the start of the downtown renovation boom in the mid1990s, when the old guard like the late Dub Sproles and PaulJackson Sr. restored The Inez and State Bank officials touched uptheir own downtown properties.

Lynch and the current generation of renovators – Terry Pappas,Dave Pace, Bill Lofton and others – have given dozens of downtownbuildings the touch of preserved perfection. It’s arduous, costlyand rewarding.

“It has to be a good long-term investment first, and the secondthing is it’s just good for downtown,” he said. “Some of those oldbuildings just needed to get done. They were sitting there in roughcondition.”

A good business needs a good building, and a bad building holdsno business, Lynch implied. The restored hulls are pleasing to theeye, but just as importantly, they drive the downtown economy withtheir color and character.

Basically, they’re some cool old buildings.

Melinda’s, a fabric shop owned by Melinda Said, is one of thestores with a nifty blend of old and new.

It’s comprised of one long room with high ceilings covered inpressed tin, with the plaster walls peeled away to expose theancient sandy bricks – to a point. The remaining plaster covers thebottom three or four feet in a jagged, rough line, and has beenpainted a wild green.

Terry Pappas’ apartments above Janie’s Pastry Shop have anotherunique blend, with the modern chill of a stainless steel kitchenset against the dusty backdrop of all wood floors and an originalwooden warehouse ceiling.

Lynch’s own Whitworth Avenue office has a touch of cool, withunfinished double barn doors leading into a 21st centuryoffice.

They’re all different, and they all fit the localized,made-for-you model that keeps downtown businesses successful, Lynchsaid.

“The businesses that are going to make it are going to be theservice-oriented businesses, those that provide something you can’tjust get off the Internet. The downtown community needs buildingsthat can handle viable businesses,” he said.