Downtown Jonesboro Association hopes for more growth in 2017

by George Jared ([email protected]) 713 views 

After five years, John and Ramey Myers knew it was time for a change. The couple had opened a restaurant inside a former Marion-area church. They’d built a stable clientele, but it was time to expand. The Myers thought about moving to Nashville, Fayetteville, or some other more populated city.

Jonesboro wasn’t even on their radar. After talking with Jonesboro Downtown Association Executive Director Hailey Knight, they decided to take a chance and locate their business in downtown Jonesboro. It has been a year and a half and The Parsonage 322 on Main Street has thrived, Ramey Myers told Talk Business & Politics.

“We’re doing fantastic … we didn’t know anything about Jonesboro,” she said. “Hailey really helped us.”

Revitalization efforts in the heart of Northeast Arkansas’ hub city have been ongoing for several years, Knight said. The downtown core area includes Main, Church and Union streets. About 5,000 vehicles pass through this corridor each day. There are at least 125 businesses, and up to 200 people are employed in the core area, she said.

Business recruitment is at the center of their efforts. She estimates the core can sustain up to 15 more businesses. Retail stores would be ideal, she said. A women’s boutique, a men’s clothing store, a shoe store, a florist shop or even a bakery would fit the mold in downtown, according to Knight.

Loft apartment growth has been substantial in recent years, and it should continue to expand in the coming years. There are about 94 loft apartments downtown, and another 29 are under development, she said. There is also an effort underway to build at least five townhouse units.

“When people live downtown, they’re going to eat, play, and do other business downtown,” she said.

A number of festivals and special events drive pedestrian traffic in the core. About 45,000 people attend art shows, sponsored by The Foundation of Arts, held in the core each year, and the city’s annual barbeque festival can lure up to 20,000 people depending upon the main musical act, she said. Every third Thursday of the month from late spring into the fall, Main Street is closed to traffic after 5 p.m. Artisans, crafters, and others are able to sell their wares on the street. This pedestrian traffic generates millions of dollars in the core, she said.

Two murals are being crafted downtown. Art is a critical theme for the area, and Jonesboro is replete with talented artists, Knight said.

“We have some brilliant artists … it’s really a big deal,” she said.

The Parsonage 322 seats 40 people at capacity. John Myers is a chef by trade and decided to open his restaurant in Marion after he learned of a “dining deficit” along a corridor from Little Rock to Jackson, Tennessee. The restaurant offers a variety of dishes, including its signature homemade soups. One entrée is a combination of his secret pimento cheese, peppered candy bacon placed on cheddar bread, Ramey Myers said.

Customers make the trek each week from Marion to Jonesboro, John Myers said. At least seven customers on Saturday (April 29) made the trip. It’s actually closer for many to drive to Jonesboro than it is to drive into Midtown Memphis.

Dishes are prepared with ingredients from local farms, Ramey Myers said. Their business model relies on keeping overhead as low as possible. The couple developed a staple number of dishes and consistency is something their customers can always expect, she said. John Myers said they have thought about expanding their model into other metro areas, especially in Northwest Arkansas. With a number of fortune 500 companies in that region, it makes sense to expand there, he said.

Knight is pleased with the success enjoyed by The Parsonage 322 and other businesses downtown. It has taken many years to revitalize the core, and more work needs to be done, she said.

“If you lose your downtown, you lose your identity,” Knight said.