Barry Herring, owner of Southern Fried Comics, believes the downtown area’s sense of community sets it apart from other areas of Hattiesburg. Contrary to the belief that downtown businesses are less than booming, Herring and other downtown business owners are optimistic about the future. -Kara Davidson
Despite the recent negative stigma associated with the status of businesses in downtown Hattiesburg, downtown business owners are optimistic about the future.
While several businesses closed their doors in 2015, a number of new businesses have opened in downtown. These recent openings include The Shop Downtown, Juvo Technologies, The Dollar Box Showroom, Domenico’s Gelato Bar, GrateFull Soul, The Little Building and Ardor.
In addition, several businesses in downtown Hattiesburg recently reopened their doors, including Vicki’s on Walnut (formerly Walnut Circle Grill), The Skylight Lounge and The Yokel.
Despite the assumption of downtown disparity, business owners’ reasons for remaining in downtown Hattiesburg potentially indicate the opposite.
Barry Herring, owner of Southern Fried Comics, said one of the many benefits of having his business in downtown Hattiesburg is the overall sense of community that downtown businesses share with one another.
“I can speak especially for the community we have on Front Street and how we all work together and communicate,” Herring said.
“For example, we host block parties to help promote each others’ businesses. That’s the community. You can’t really block off Hardy Street or 98 West. It’s that kind of feeling — we are able to have a party and we can all celebrate the fact that we are all here together.”
Herring said it is this sense of community that sets the downtown scene apart from other popular business locations in Hattiesburg, such as Oak Grove or 98 West, which seems to be the common trend for new and relocating businesses.
“It’s (the uptown business scene that’s) so corporate,” Herring said. “There is no sense of ‘this is your business.’ The sense of community and the actual character of downtown is the reason why I would rather be here than in a strip mall.”
Josh Aldy, manager of the Depot Coffeehouse and Bistro, said the main factor affecting downtown growth is that downtown Hattiesburg is essentially diversifying.
“With the reopening and restoration of several buildings, downtown has a much larger residential population now,” Aldy said.
“Before, it was mostly several law offices and things like that, then a few restaurants followed to cater to them. Then there was the huge renovation of the train depot, and now there are apartments coming. The larger the population, the more potential businesses have downtown.”
In reference to the recent business closures, Aldy said it is more than likely simply coincidence and not definitive proof of any kind of decline.
“I think the perception of the recent closures in that maybe downtown was in recession may have just been coincidental that businesses closed in close proximity to one another, and I don’t think that’s indicative of a greater trend in downtown,” Aldy said.
In fact, Herring confirmed that his business has experienced progressive growth, validating downtown business owners’ optimism.
“I wouldn’t keep signing the lease if we didn’t see growth,” Herring said. “If not, then I (myself) would leave.”