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VOL. 125 | NO. 181 | Friday, September 17, 2010

Cooper-Young Festival Means Big Biz for Neighborhood

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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Cooper Young Festival Music Schedule 2010

Goner Records/Young Avenue Deli Stage
(Young and Meda):
12:30 p.m.    John Paul Keith and the 145s
1:30 p.m.    Overnight Lows
2:30 p.m.    Jack O and the Tennessee Tearjerkers
3:30 p.m.    Missing Monuments
4:30 p.m.    The Limes

Visible School Stage
(behind First Congregational Church at Cooper and Walker):
12:15 p.m.    Darien Clea
12:35 p.m.    Battle Victorious
1:15 p.m.    Donte’ Everhart
2:15 p.m.    Arma Secreta
3:15 p.m.    Keia Johnson
4:15 p.m.    Speakerboxx

Main Stage
(west end of Young):
12:15 p.m.    U of M Jazz Quartet
1:15 p.m.    Sheriffs of Nottingham
2:15 p.m.    D Monet
3:15 p.m.    Tony Dickerson
4:15 p.m.    Reba Russell
5:15 p.m.    Marcela & Orquesta Caliente

The music will be funky, the art will be eclectic, and the streets will be crowded with people in a slow-moving parade of tattoos and sunglasses, but organizers of Memphis’ largest one-day street festival, the Cooper-Young Festival, said business longevity is at the heart of it all.

“We never thought this would be an entertainment district,” said Bill Stemmler, long-time chairman of the festival and a founder of the Cooper-Young Business Association (CYBA), which runs the event.

Between 70,000 and 80,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event on Saturday, partaking in fair food, shopping in hundreds of booths full of hand-made art and listening to local music groups on three stages.

The festival runs from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. throughout the neighborhood’s business district on Cooper Street between Evelyn and Walker avenues, and on Young Avenue between Meda and Tanglewood streets. There is no admission charge.

Stemmler said he remembers the first year, 1988, when only 6,500 people showed up, mostly families living in the neighborhood.

The CYBA, which was founded three years earlier, had 60 charter members with 180 businesses in the neighborhood. Businesses were mostly service-oriented then and vacant bays were boarded up. An old gas station was locked up behind razor wire.

Now trendy restaurants and shops thrive and walking traffic continues well into evenings.

“A lot of this would not have happened if not for what the business association did early on,” said Stemmler. “The festival is so important because it provides the income to let us run the business association.”

Specifically, the CYBA has reinvested $206,702 since 1994 in the neighborhood’s community organizations, churches, schools and the Cooper-Young Police CoAct Unit, which operates with 14 officers rent-free at the corner of Cooper and Young.

The group also secured the last federal Oasis Grant for $500,000, which it used to build a gazebo and landscaped plaza at the intersection, and to plant gingko trees down the length of Cooper.

Year-round event insurance costing more than $10,000 is also provided covering the entire neighborhood, and CYBA’s executive director Tamara Walker serves as a marketing/PR representative for the neighborhood’s individual businesses.

More than that, business owners, some of whom close during the festival and sacrifice a day’s profit, say the communal spirit preserves the neighborhood’s business integrity.

“There’s safety in numbers,” said Jim Pettit, who owns Memphis Drum Shop with his wife, Nancy. “The pioneer is the one with arrows in his back.”

The Pettits moved their shop to Cooper-Young in 1991 and have since expanded to fill an entire strip of bays that formerly housed an aging movie theater, a dry cleaner and a taxidermy studio.

Memphis Drum Shop stays open during the festival and buys two booths out front where staffers organize a massive drum circle, but the shop has to cancel lessons and discourage product pick-ups because there’s no place for customers to park.

“From a business standpoint it’s not a great day,” said Pettit. “But the advantage for me is that it gets people into Cooper-Young. We still support the festival.”

Ben Smith, chef and owner of the restaurant Tsunami, said the one year he remained open during the festival was a disaster. Festival-goers came inside to use the restrooms and enjoy the air conditioning while sipping beer they’d purchased on the street.

Still, the festival brings recognition.

“The festival brings record numbers of people,” said Smith. “A lot of people walk by and say, ‘Hey, here’s that Too-sami place or that Salami place.’ I’ve gotten all different pronunciations, but people make the connection. They say, ‘I’ve heard about that weird sounding place down in Cooper-Young and there it is.’”

Tsunami opened 12 years ago. It was one of the first restaurants in the area along with Café Olé. Now there are about 15.

“More than anything else, it was the off-the-beaten-path feel of the neighborhood, even then, that appealed to me,” said Smith. “It was a tucked-away, undiscovered little neighborhood. It’s not the off-the-radar place that it used to be, but it’s been interesting to see the growth. We all grew up together.”

For the few remaining original businesses, it can mean new life.

Albert Cook Plumbing, a sponsor of the last two festivals, was founded in the neighborhood 55 years ago.

“Being a festival sponsor last year made our business boom in this area,” said Bobby Cook, owner of the business. “In years past we felt like we didn’t have to advertise. Next thing I know everybody in Memphis has changed. We had to start getting our name back out there again.”

PROPERTY SALES 27 150 2,415
MORTGAGES 57 228 2,835
BUILDING PERMITS 157 441 6,509
BANKRUPTCIES 61 133 1,920