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New businesses cropping up

Although the preliminary action plan for revitalizing downtown Atmore hasn’t been presented yet, an influx of new downtown businesses indicates that the revitalization effort is already under way.

More than a dozen new businesses have already opened their doors in the city’s core section or just on its fringes since the onset of the most recent effort to bring back the days of the thriving and eclectic business district that once existed along Main Street and its connected thoroughfares.

The almost constant in-and-out presence of painters, carpenters, cleaning crews and remodeling contractors in buildings along those streets is further proof that something is up in downtown.

According to city business license records, downtown has since late 2017 seen an influx of new enterprises ranging from small shops, tanning salons, boutiques and florists to a high-tech car wash, an upscale restaurant, a 24-hour fitness center and a specialty ice cream shop.

Not all of those enterprises fit the “model” being fashioned by Principal City Planner Zack Mannheimer of McClure Engineering, who was hired to formulate the downtown rehabilitation plan. But a few seem to be perfect fits.

“There are some things moving in that we wanted to see,” said Bub Gideons, who chairs Pride of Atmore Committee, a group that at first was interested only in saving the historic Strand Theatre but is now spearheading the local downtown rehab project. “A lot of these new businesses are not on the list, but some of the things we wanted were an ice cream shop, a pizza parlor that sells pizza by the slice and some high-end women’s clothing stores. Now we have those.”

Amanda Rounsavall, co-owner with her husband Shawn of 30 Below Ice Cream, said the couple, who also own another downtown business, wanted to not only offer a product not available locally, but also to be a part of the city’s retail and entertainment facelift.

“We believe in the revitalization and we’re trying to do what we can to help,” said the owner of the specialty ice cream shop, which is scheduled to open in early May. “We definitely want to bring businesses and people to downtown Atmore because the more businesses that are here, the more people will come to shop.”

Mannheimer’s services were secured in October when Pride of Atmore Committee was awarded a $40,000 Delta Regional Authority Creative Placemaking Grant. Atmore was one of just 16 cities in the Mississippi River Delta region and Alabama’s Black Belt that received one of the coveted economic development grants.

Six of the newly opened businesses have set up shop along North Main Street; four are located along West Ridgeley Street; three are doing business from Church Street storefronts, and one operates along the short stretch of Louisville Street.

Gideons said the flurry of retail openings, along with shops and stores related to various trades, is not the only indicator that a strong and vested interest in downtown not only exists but is shared by local property owners, business people and real estate speculators.

“Quite a few shops and other businesses have opened up in the past few months,” he agreed. “Not only that, but 11 or 12 business properties in downtown have been sold in the last few months, and that’s never happened before. That’s another thing that shows how people are getting behind the revitalization project.”

The POAC chair said there is a common misconception among locals that similar downtown revitalization efforts previously undertaken were failures. The truth, he said, is that the most recent attempt to get downtown’s struggling heartbeat back into a regular rhythm is a continuation of those earlier efforts.

“It looks like all of a sudden there’s this new interest in our downtown,” Gideons said. “It seems new to folks who weren’t here then and don’t know, but it actually started back in 2013, when we formed Save the Strand and started beating that drum. Now we’re starting to see people eating out and sales after dark. It’s rewarding to see it finally happening.”