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A determined downtown: historic atmosphere and personal service allow downtown Magnolia merchants to compete with retail giants.

Columbia County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.

It has a higher-than-average percentage of incomes exceeding $50,000.

Clearly, there is money to be spent.

Retailers on the square in Magnolia are determined to keep that money downtown.


By outmaneuvering the discount chains and other retail giants.

Downtown Magnolia is a participant in the Main Street Arkansas program, which is sponsored in part by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

More than three dozen retailers in downtown Magnolia have improved their businesses to retain area shoppers and attract customers from outside the county.

"I think |downtown merchants~ saw the writing on the walls," says Cathe Nipper, Magnolia's Main Street program manager. "There weren't problems at the time, but there could have been down the line."

With Shreveport, La., and Texarkana less than an hour away, Magnolia residents were being lured by shopping malls.

"Small downtowns are dying all over America because people are turning to the discount stores," Nipper says. "Something Magnolia merchants have learned is to coexist with the retail giants."

A historic atmosphere, front-door parking, free gift wrapping and delivery, personal service and a selection of merchandise that rivals most upscale malls are reasons why downtown Magnolia merchants experienced record sales in December.

A Chain Reaction

The Main Street program was implemented in Magnolia almost two years ago. The impetus for widespread revitalization came when Murphy's Jewelers received a $10,000 state grant. That grant, combined with $90,000 of owner Ricky Murphy's money, was used to renovate the building housing the store.

"We have seen a sizable increase in sales since the renovation," Murphy says.

"When Murphy's began renovations, it started a chain reaction of pride," Nipper says. "A lot of the stores had covered up their historic facades. The buildings downtown weren't rundown. They just needed sprucing up."

The Shoe Box also received a state grant, which allowed for exterior and interior renovations.

Meanwhile, Talbot's, a locally owned department store, transformed eight show windows with designer displays.

Since the program's inception, downtown Magnolia has seen more than $300,000 in renovations.

Nipper is quick to point out that face lifts aren't all the businesses received. Seminars and workshops provided owners and managers with valuable advice. The Main Street program also coordinates joint promotions.

"When an industry comes to town, one of the first things |company officials~ look at is your downtown," Nipper says. "If it looks nice and is prospering, they know something is right with the town."
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Title Annotation:Across Arkansas
Author:Harper, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Feb 10, 1992
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