Brookhaven Art Café enters ‘Phase One’

Published 4:50 pm Monday, October 31, 2022

A new arts venue and park has entered “Phase One” on North Railroad Avenue in Brookhaven.

Demolition of the former Whistlestop Motorcycle Parts & Accessories building began recently as Rickey and Cecily LaRue Ethridge work to create The Whistle Stop Art Café in its place.

Ethridge Investments LLC purchased the property from the City of Brookhaven in January 2022.

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The locally-owned business will be founded on Christian principles. The café is intended to create jobs for local artists and provide a creative and affordable outlet for the community. The Ethridges will work with local ministries to host faith-based events, as well as exhibits and galleries of local art.

Primary revenue is expected to come from hosting art parties and events, like children’s birthday parties, pottery and sculpture classes, and wine-and-paint parties for adults, Cecily Ethridge said.

Plans at the time of the purchase were to repair and remodel the existing building for the new venture.

“We didn’t want it to be as much demo as it is, but it’s falling down,” Ethridge said. “We’re trying to preserve as much of it as we can. We’re calling this Phase One because most of this is demolition and clearing out. We didn’t want it to continue to degrade, or fall in on someone, or be a location for crime.”

Though the Café will not be built until another project is finished — probably another year, Ethridge said — it was imperative to get the area clean and safe.

When it opens, the business will include an eclectic emporium named “A.V. Ethridge,” offering “only the most unique, lovely, handmade items in town. These are items you can’t buy on Amazon and are made right here in America — some right here in Brookhaven.”

Ethridge said she hopes creating a new space for art will increase the city’s culture and entertainment value, and that an adjoining Art Park will provide a boost, as well.

The Art Park will be an open-air space available to the community, free of charge. The space will display locally-created artwork, such as pottery and hand-crafted wind chimes, butterfly gardens and water fountains. Local health and mental health coaches will be encouraged to take advantage of the space.

The park will be 0.4 miles from the Mississippi School of the Arts — an approximate 8-minute walk or 3-minute bike ride. It will be located 0.2 miles from the Amtrak Station/Godbold Transportation Center — an approximate 4-minute walk or 1-minute bike ride.

“Art is a huge subject with its own language, history and authorities, and it might feel overwhelming,” said Ethridge. “But even without that knowledge, there can be something profound about our connection with an artwork. When looking at a painting, you may or may not feel a connection. You might be inspired or bored, appreciate or despise. This is why The Art Café is inclusive — everyone with or without a background in art is welcome.”

The 10-year plan for the building is to construct loft apartments on second and third levels above the café.

The community in Brookhaven includes a lot of artists, and many of them have non-art full-time jobs. They need an outlet for their creativity, and Ethridge said she wanted to give them one.

Until that can be accomplished, more immediate plans are simpler.

“We have some temporary plans to work on the park area, to do something to make it kind of like a picnic area for food trucks. We have to meet with the city and Chamber on it,” Ethridge said.

“We’re going to clean it up and make it pretty.”