Groups meet to keep shoppers in Picayune

Published 2:06 pm Friday, June 12, 2009

Picayune Main Street, the Picayune Chamber of Commerce and local residents are continuing the fight to keep retail tax dollars in the city.

A recent Shop Picayune meeting at the city’s Intermodal Center Thursday aimed to gather comments and ideas to promote shopping in the city limits. Council member Leavern Guy said it has been studied and observed that a number of residents shop in surrounding areas because there are services and goods not offered in Picayune.

While those people are in the areas outside of Picayune they not only seek the items not available here, they do the rest of their shopping, which leads to lost tax dollars for the city. Guy said that yearly the city loses about $65 million in leakage. To start the city is aiming to keep about 10 percent of that lost revenue.

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Community member Bill Edwards argues that there are things offered in Picayune that the big retail chains can’t. He said if you patron a locally owned store there is a sense of interaction not available at corporate owned stores. A consumer could attempt to barter with the store owner or even get detailed information about the products offered.

Edwards suggested finding ways to promote more locally owned stores to open up, such as tax abatements. Guy agreed saying that when first time business owners start out they hit speed bumps in the process that discourage them. Local store owner Melinda Vitale said at times she gets discouraged when she is taxed on simple things in her store, such as her calculator and the ceiling fans.

Funds offered in the form of loans to people interested in starting a business might help spur more businesses to open. Guy said there are grant funds available with the city, but a committee needs to be formed to regulate how those funds are distributed.

Main Street Manager Reba Beebe said the funds are available under an Urban Development Action Grant. Guy said there is about $100,000 in that fund and if the city can lend existing and new business owners about $5,000 in low interest loans then it could create a revolving method of funds. He proposed that members of the Main Street, Chamber of Commerce, Minority Business Group and local banks form a committee to establish lending rules and regulations. Guy said the incoming council members could pick the committee members if they so chose.

Bringing in people to the downtown area is crucial to letting people know what is available locally. Vitale said she has noticed a number of the city’s newer residents are unaware of the stores available in the city. The street fair brings people in, filling hotels in Picayune, Poplarville and even Slidell, La., said Beebe. Edwards agreed the Street Fair is a good way for people to discover those little known stores and while they may not purchase anything at that time, they may come back. Beebe predicts that once the Downtown Revitalization project is complete even more people will be drawn to the area. The revamped or added pocket parks, such as Jack Reed, will also be avenues for increased attendance of events.

New events could also help attract new customers to the area. Beebe said she is working on the possibility of starting some new events.

Main Street president Ina Legg said she has noticed that a number of new businesses fail due to poor management. Providing training for those new business owners might help keep those businesses going. Chamber of Commerce Director April Parsons said the Small Business Association offers training each month that could help new business owners. Those sessions are open to the public, Parsons said.

Another Shop Picayune Meeting has been tentatively scheduled for 9 a.m. June 30 at the Picayune Intermodal Center on U.S. 11.