By CARL SMITH
Many local business managers say Friday’s Downtown Block Party provided an infusion of visitors and revenue as local and out-of-town shoppers spent the evening browsing shops and eating at various Starkville restaurants.
Despite numbers indicating fewer people were in town for Saturday’s football game — more hotel rooms were open Friday night and almost 1,400 fewer fans utilized Saturday’s Downtown Shuttle compared to Sept. 15’s game against Louisiana State University — Jennifer Gregory, Greater Starkville Development Partnership chief operating officer and vice president for tourism development, said Friday’s event drew an estimated 2,000 attendees downtown. An estimated 1,500 people took part in last year’s event, she said.
“We’re trying to position Starkville as the college town of Mississippi so potential visitors will always want to come for Mississippi State athletic events, but they’ll also want to come back on non-athletic game weekends because they had a great time while they were here,” Gregory said. “I think we’re experiencing a great success.”
As more and more local and out-of-town shoppers spend their money in Starkville, the city, local economic development agencies and Mississippi State University have seen influxes in much-needed 2-percent food and beverage tax revenue. Forty percent of the tax’s revenue goes into Starkville Parks and Recreation, while 20 percent is reserved for the MSU Student Association. The Starkville Conventions and Visitors’ Bureau and Oktibbeha County Economic Development Association both receive 15 percent, while the city of Starkville takes in 10 percent.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said most of those organizations use the money toward attracting more tourists — and more tourism revenue — to the area.
Barbara Foster, co-owner and manager of Starkville’s Bookmart and Cafe, said her location did as much business Friday during the block party as it normally does in a single day.
“It was just fabulous for us. Book stores worldwide are not doing well. So many of them are struggling and going out of business. Anything we can do to boost our business, we’re going to jump on it,” she said. “We want to see downtown succeed, and we’re so thankful for our friends at the partnership.”
Frock Fashions Manager Callie Greening said her store remained open until approximately 9:30 p.m. when the last customer was served. The New South Weekend’s block party provided Frock Fashions with an additional 30 percent of business and traffic in the store, she said.
“Between 6-9:30 p.m., we had about 300 people come to our store. It was one of our most successful nights ever,” she said. “Not all of them were actively shopping, but the people we had will more likely be back in town for future football games and will remember us.”
Following Friday’s block party and Saturday’s football game, shoppers were also treated to Bulldog Brunch and Browse, a special shopping event which opens retailers to potential Sunday business. Gregory said Frock Fashions, Book Mart and Cafe and Libby Story stayed open later than the planned 11 a.m.-to-2 p.m. window due to the high volume of shoppers.
Dumas said recent ordinances — including the city’s ordinance allowing the sale of alcohol on Sundays — have transformed how travelers stay and spend their money in Starkville.
“Just in the past few years, we’ve seen a huge influx with the brunch crowd on Sundays,” Dumas said. “What we’re seeing now is people who used to come in for a football game and leave are now making a three-day event out of it. The proof is in the pudding.”
Gregory said the potential for Sunday business success has always been evident, especially on home football game weekends.
“Sundays have been non-shopping days in Starkville, but we thought while we have 60,000 people in town for home football games, why not ask our retailers to open their doors and try to capture some of those dollars,” Gregory said. “It’s been wildly successful, even on the first date (and) with limited publicity through social media and rack cards placed at hoteliers on Friday.”
Future dates set for Bulldog Brunch and Browse include Oct. 16, Nov. 6, Nov. 13 and Nov. 27.
Pumpkinpalooza, the next New South Weekend event, is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4. Since the event was featured in an edition of Mississippi Magazine, Greening said she expects the coverage to provide Frock Fashions with one of its best shopping days ever. Last year’s event brought in approximately 5,000 attendees.
Pumpkinpalooza will open with a downtown MSU pep-rally featuring appearances by Bully, cheerleaders and Athletics Director Scott Stricklin at 6 p.m. Main Street members will be open to trick-or-treaters, a pumpkin patch with locally grown pumpkins will be located in the middle of Main Street and retailers will feature MSU Fashion Board members as live models in their windows.
Future CVB Christmas events include an open house and tree lighting on Nov. 6, unWINE Downtown on Nov. 10, the Christmas in Candyland-themed Christmas parade on Nov. 28, the 39th Holiday Bazaar Nov. 30-Dec.1 at the Sportsplex and a special secret Santa promotion featuring local retailers.