If you are looking for the real promise of the Crosstown project, don’t look up. Look at the areas just beyond the boundaries of the old Sears Crosstown building.
For many long time Memphians, the present landscape is now informed largely by memories of what used to be around the mammoth big store.
For those who can’t remember a time when the area thrived, some of the possibilities for the future will be on display Saturday Nov. 10, at an event called MemFIX: Cleveland Street.
Two blocks on Cleveland between Overton Park and Galloway get some temporary street improvements, some brightened storefronts and a 12-hour festival with live entertainment.
More importantly, business owners get a test drive of an area that has been a challenge for businesses for a very long time.
Beneath the face paint and beyond the food trucks, this is critical for Crosstown.
Because it is one thing to say the word “shop” like some kind of economic development mantra and write it on the big sheets of paper that come with breakout sessions. It is quite another thing to own one of those shops that in the first whiff of potential are most frequently cited as the savior of all that should be saved.
They may be considered small business. They are anything but small to those who own them and those who work for them.
So if you go to MemFIX don’t be surprised if you see someone doing a head count and seeing who stops at what storefront. What kind of traffic comes from the surrounding neighborhood? Who drove in to take a look around and where do they park? Who came via the VECA greenline?
What would this crowd look like with the Sears building, or part of it, reanimated.
This is the same kind of approach that was used to bring back what we now call the Broad Avenue Arts District. Go back much further and you have the recipe that created the old Curb Market on Cleveland.
The curb market was a collection of small businesses that Memphians patronized for decades even after the corridor for an interstate that never happened took out homes and left the green hills that overlook the interstate where it stops at Midtown and goes north and south.
However much all of us would like to see the Sears building lit up and open for business, it and the surrounding neighborhood have to have more than that as a reason for the renovation.
There has to be a reasonable chance for businesses to take a risk and then survive and those businesses have to have a rational business plan tempered by reality.
Such a plan isn’t a guarantee for success. But when an area can hold up to the scrutiny that enough business owners build into a well-thought-out business plan, that is momentum.