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Riding the wave of renaissance: from its headlining attractions to its peaceful downtown, Tupelo is rediscovering and redefining is identity.


When photographer Stephanie Rhea chose to return home to northeast Mississippi from Boston, it didn't mean giving up her urban lifestyle entirely.

"I love being able to walk to work, or to walk to the bank or to a restaurant," says Rhea, whose home and studio are a block apart in downtown Tupelo. "Whatever I need to do, I can do it here."

And this scenario is becoming more prevalent in the heart of a city that's redefining itself from the inside out. In 2007, a half-dozen new businesses opened in or relocated to Tupelo's downtown, and its transformation continues with the redevelopment of the city's former fairgrounds into a mixed-use extension of downtown.

"We've really seen a renaissance in the area," said Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of the Tupelo Main Street Association. "We're beginning to see retail strengthen with specialty shops and entrepreneurs, to the point where you can actually spend a whole day down here walking around, eating, and shopping."

A day spent downtown reveals evidence of the changes--from the dust of construction and renovations to the gleam of brand-new office buildings rising from the ground in the area known as Fairpark. The 50-acre expanse just east of the existing downtown is anchored by the new Tupelo City Hall in addition to the Renasant Center for IDEAs and the Hilton Garden Inn.


More businesses, shops, and restaurants are filling the empty lots, and the arrival of Toyota in nearby Blue Springs by 2010 is only expected to accelerate Tupelo's growth.

This is still a place, though, where you can spend a quiet Saturday walking on Main Street, or join the Friday bustle as business fades into an easygoing weekend. And even though the city is evolving, you'll still find downtown anchors stabilizing the waves of change.

Reed's Department Store, established in 1905, is a local landmark that has weathered the migration of retail business from downtown to the Mall at Barnes Crossing and its surrounding developments. Across from Reed's, Tupelo Hardware has been in business since 1926 and is best known as the place where Elvis Presley's mother bought her son his first guitar.

Joining these main street stays is Main Street Vintage Guitars, which opened its doors for the 2007 holiday season. It adds to the eclectic element that's also found at The Main Attraction, a vintage clothing shop, and at Cafe 212, where a new coffee shop in the back feels like a funky living room with sofas, books, and board games.

Other shopping choices downtown include brand-name clothing for men, women, and children, as well as maternity wear, gifts, home accents, and accessories.

If you time it right, a day spent downtown can also include a show at the historic Lyric Theatre, built in 1912 as a vaudeville playhouse. There, the Tupelo Community Theatre's spring season includes such titles as "Smoke on the Mountain-Homecoming" and "Gypsy." Saturday morning brunch at The Stables Bar & Grill is also a local favorite for live entertainment.


Elvis, of course, is one of Tupelo's main attractions, drawing more than 50,000 tourists from around the world each year. Even if you've visited his humble birthplace before, you'll find it has matured as an attraction with a complete renovation of the museum in 2006.

The new exhibit includes Tupelo artifacts, large photomurals, and two audiovisual presentations about Elvis's childhood in Tupelo and his early music experiences. Outside, the white frame house that Elvis's father built in 1934 stands on the spot where it was built, surrounded by the 15-acre Elvis Presley Park.

From there, the self-guided Elvis Presley Driving Tour takes you to 10 key sites around town, including Elvis's elementary school and the drive-in restaurant he frequented before his family moved to Memphis in 1948.

Highlights from a day in Tupelo will also include a visit to the Tupelo Automobile Museum that opened in 2003 with a warehouse-like exterior that houses an impressive collection of more than 150 antique and classic cars. Poised in gleaming rows inside the sprawling 120,000-square-foot facility, the collection is the result of nearly 30 years of collecting by Tupelo native and museum founder Frank Spain and his friend Max Berryhill, who is now the museum's curator.

The automobile collection, valued at more than $6 million, stretches back to the steam and electric vehicles of the late 1800s and early 1900s and includes favorites like a 1957 Chevy and 300 Chrysler convertible. Both foreign and domestic models showcase the automobile's advancements over the years. Naturally, the collection includes a vehicle once owned by Elvis Presley.


For a collection of a different sort, visit the Tupelo Buffalo Park, home to one of the largest buffalo herds east of the Mississippi River. The nearly 200-acre enclosure boasts more than 150 buffalos, which visitors can view from behind protective fences or from inside the "Bison Buses" or trolleys. The zoo collection includes a Bengal tiger, African lion, monkeys, alligators, and kangaroos, and a petting zoo that is home to rabbits, pigmy goats, and other animals.

Families may also enjoy a visit to the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitors Center, situated north of town along the historic highway. Interactive displays and exhibits tell the story of the Trace's evolution. On the lawn outside, the living-history group Tombigbee Pioneers provide demonstrations of early American crafts and skills on the first Saturday of each month, except January. Crafts presented include basket weaving, candle making, quilting, and spinning, as well as demonstrations on campfire cooking, early medicine, and dulcimer music.

History also lives at the Oren Dunn City Museum off West Main Street. Housed in a 1937 dairy barn, it contains exhibits that highlight the pioneer-era and Chickasaw Indian culture and the devastating 1936 tornado. It also showcases artifacts from the local schools and medical community.

On the museum grounds adjoining James L. Ballard Park, you'll find a 1870s dogtrot cabin and one-room schoolhouse and church, alongside a replica train depot and caboose. Other favorites include Tupelo fire trucks from the 1940s, the 1949 Lee County Bookmobile, and a Memphis streetcar that was converted into the famous local eatery Dudie's Diner.

As a recent addition, the Tupelo Veterans Museum now occupies a section of the Oren Dunn Museum. The collection was previously housed at the Mall at Barnes Crossing and showcases memorabilia and artifacts from the World War II era, including the flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol at the hour the D-Day invasion began and a functioning clock from a Japanese kamikaze plane.

Tupelo is also home to a small memorial park on West Main Street that commemorates the bloody Battle of Tupelo in 1864 during the War between the States.

Beyond the city's chief attractions and historic areas, visitors will also find opportunities to wander through some of Tupelo's newer shopping districts. The Mall at Barnes Crossing, located at the intersection of U.S. Highways 78 and 45, is home mainly to national retail chains and surrounded by more shopping centers, big-box retailers, and restaurants, q-here is a collection of outlet stores on Eason Boulevard under the Factory Stores of America banner.

Shoppers can also take advantage of a published guide to local antique shops published by the Tupelo Antique Association. It includes 15 listings in town and many more in surrounding cities. You can pick up this guide and other tourist information at the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau office on East Main Street if you arrive during the work week. On weekends, look for the same materials at any local hotel or at the town's various attractions.



* Elvis Presley Birthplace

Museum, gift shop, park and memorial chapel.

Admission $1.50-7

306 Elvis Presley Drive; 562.841.1245

* Tupelo Automobile Museum

Admission $5-10; closed Mondays.

Off Highway 45 at Main St. Exit


Tupelo Buffalo Park

2272 North Coley Rd.; 662.844.8709

* Oren Dunn City Museum

689 Rutherford Rd.; 662.847.6438

* GumTree Museum of Art

Produces Gum Tree

Festival each May.

Closed Sunday and Monday.

211 W. Main St.; 662.844.ARTS

Bancorp South Arena

375 E. Main St.; 562.841.6573

Tupelo Symphony Orchestra


Tupelo Community Theatre

200 N. Broadway; 662.844.1935

Tupelo Elvis Festival

10th annual event, June 6-8. Music, food, and Elvis tribute artists.

Elvis Presley Lake and Campground

With camping, boating, skiing, and fishing. Bicycle trail, hiking and volleyball courts.


Tombigbee State Park


Trace State Park




A Cook's Place

134 S. Industrial Rd.; 662.844.2400

Beauty Motif

Cosmetics and skin care products.

210 W. Main St., Suite 101


Bella Vita

Interior design, gourmet foods, and gifts.

212 W. Main St., Suite 201


DC Mills and Co.

Fabric and home decor.

1715 McCullough Blvd.; 662,620.6545


Children's apparel.

101 N. Industrial Rd.; 662.842.9100

Elizabeth Clair's


128 S. Industrial Rd.; 662.840.0600

Flowerdale Marketplace

Antiques and dining.

2025 McCullough Blvd.; 662.840.8842

Jody's Flowers


110 S. Industrial Rd.; 662.844.9298

Kirksey Brothers Furniture Co.

308 S. Spring St.; 662.842.4061

Lady Bug's

Children's apparel.

211 Court St.; 662.841.9481

The Lighting Gallery by Nesco

1730 McCullough Blvd.; 662.840.8833

The Main Attraction

Vintage clothing and eccentric accessories.

214 W. Main St.; 662.842.9617

Main Street Vintage Guitars

130 W. Main St.; 662.842.9697


MLM Clothiers

Men's clothing.

108 S. Spring St.; 662.842.4165

Omi Boutique

Jewelry, jeans, dresses, and accessories.

206 W. Main St.; 662.842.9599

* Reed's Department Store

Clothing, gifts, and books.

131 W. Main St.; 662.842.6453

Room to Room

Furniture and home decor.

3651 Cliff Gookin Blvd.; 662.844.5378

Sassy Mama


209 Court St.; 662.840.3508

Staggs Interiors

903 Varsity Dr.; 662.842.1292

Stone's Jewelry

709 W. Main St,; 662.844.9444

* Tupelo Hardware

114 W. Main St,; 662.842.4670


Explore the Natchez Trace

Tri-state guide to towns from Natchez to Nashville.

Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau

Calendar of events, and guide to attractions and venues.


Mississippi Hills Heritage Area

Historic sites, cultural interests and itineraries.



Hilton Garden Inn

363 E. Main St.; 662.778.5500

Summit Hotel

852 N. Gloster St.; 662.844.4343

Mockingbird Inn Bed and Breakfast

305 N Gloster St.; 662.841.0286


Avalon Day Spa

346 N. Green St.; 662.842.6300

Head Over Heals Salon and Spa

219 E. Franklin St.; 662.840.0900

Fairpark Salon

110 E. Main St.; 662.844.5995

Phipps Salon

312 Troy St.; 662.842.9493


Bar-B-Que by Jim

203 Commerce St.; 662.840.8800

Benjamin's on Main

124 W. Main St., 662.844.6454

Big Easy Bar and Grill

124 W. Main St.; 662.844.6454

The Bistro on Main

210 W. Main St., Suite 703


Boondock's Grill

206 Troy St.; 662.840.5680

Cafe 212

212 W. Main St.; 662.844.6323

Fairpark Grill

Salads, sandwiches, and panini.

343 E. Main St., Suite A; 662.680.3201

Fire Station No. 1

North Carolina-style barbecue.

71 S. Green St.; 662.842.9261

Joe Joe's Espresso and Cafe

398 E. Main St.; 662.823.5637

Park Heights

Fine dining.

335 E. Main St; 662.842.5665

The Rankin House/Carmita's of Course

American and international specialties.

530 W. Main St.; 662.680.3122

The Stables Bar and Grill

206 N. Spring St., Suite 3


Todd's Downtown Deli

316 N. Spring St.; 662.840.4444


Cafe Bravo

854 N. Gloster St.; 662.844.5372

Finney's Sandwich and Soda Shop

1009 W. Main St.; 662.842.1746

Flowerdale Cafe

2025 McCullough Blvd.; 662.840.8842

Fusion 205

Eastern and Western flavors.

205 N. Gloster St.; 662.842.7205


Casual dining with steak, seafood, and pasta.

424 S. Gloster St.; 662.842.6763

Ichiban Japanese Grill

603 North Gloster St.; 662.842.3838

IV's Restaurant

Upscale Southern cuisine.

150 S. Industrial Blvd.; 662.407.0096

Johnnie's Drive-in

908 E. Main St.; 662.842.6748

Sir Antony's Bakery

499 Gloster Creek Village; 662.841.2253

Sweet Peppers Deli

921 W. Main St.; 662.840.4475

Vanelli's Restaurant

Greek and Italian Cuisine.

1302 N. Gloster St.; 662.844.4410


Steaks, wild game, and seafood.

619 N. Gloster St.; 662.840.0460


501 Daybrite Dr.; 662.847.7799
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Article Details
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Author:Schultze, Lucy
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Article Type:City overview
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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