by Kelsey Marx

Have you noticed the handful of well-established Fondren businesses migrating to the west side of the neighborhood over the past three years?  Orange Peel?  Social Agenda?  Silly Billy’s? Although the area between State and West streets has been known as a predominantly residential zone, Mitchell Avenue has been assuming a more commercial role in Fondren.

Turning from State Street onto Mitchell, you’ll find Perfect Fit Alterations and Silly Billy’s immediately on the right; followed by the Orange Peel, Shoe Bar at Pieces, and Social Agenda about a block away; and finally Fondren Fashion House and Lipstick Lounge about half-way down to West Street.  But whereas loyal customers and people living in the area may more readily distinguish this transition in locale, do shoppers coming to Fondren for the first time know to look for these places?

“Mitchell Avenue becomes the green mile that people sometimes don’t want to travel,” says Rodale Hall, owner of Silly Billy’s consignment clothing store.ƒ  And maybe this is true.  With the absence of signage and window space on State Street, people sometimes neglect to visit the treasure troves of consignment and designer goods that can be found in the stores on Mitchell Avenue.

Despite their relatively low profile in comparison with State’s high traffic, owners on Mitchell are positive about their street and all of its potential.  There seems to be a certain “homey” quality to Mitchell Avenue that the rest of Jackson simply cannot offer.  And while the busyness of other shopping areas means high profits for those retail venues, it can also be a big reason people would rather go somewhere else.

“The last time I went to the mall, I went to four stores and not a single store employee spoke to me in my time there.  That wouldn’t happen in our store, or anywhere on Mitchell.  Everyone is highly personable and makes their customers feel special,” says Shoe Bar at Pieces owner Becki Hicks.

Similarly, fashion consultant of Fondren’s Fashion House, J. Bolin, says, “Mitchell is a destination location.  People come here on purpose because they’re looking for a specific shopping experience not offered to them anywhere else.”  And to this point all of Mitchell Avenue store owners and denizens seem to agree:  each store on Mitchell presents its own set of distinctive inventories–from Lipstick Lounge’s “bring the bling” repertoire (as put by owner Yolanda Minniefield), to Silly Billy’s eclectic arrangements of all things vintage and retro–thus making it one of the most diverse shopping areas in Jackson.

Between the wide array of merchandise and services offered by the seven stores on the street, there is sure to be something for everyone. For this reason, the west Fondren area presents a unique atmosphere that Hall and Social Agenda Salon & Boutique’s owner Heather Mixon like to compare to New Orleans’s Magazine Street.  “I see it as a smaller replica of Magazine,” said Mixon, while working on a client’s nails.  “We have a great potential to really capture that feel of a walking, shopping district where people can go and make a day of it.”

As we were talking, Mixon’s customer, Mary Jane Ridgeway, who attended Duling Hall when it was a school, offered another strong point about Mitchell Avenue:  the neighborhood itself.  “It’s fun to be in the neighborhood again,” said Ridgeway.  “I had friends that lived on these streets and I love to see the area being revived.”

It’s not only the surrounding neighborhood that offers these store owners a sense of community, but also the fellowship shared between the stores themselves.  “I’ve always called us ‘The Stores on Mitchell Avenue’,” says Minniefield.  “We all support one another, especially through referrals.  If I don’t have something, then I’ll send my customer to another store [on Mitchell].  Or if I know someone needs an alteration, I’ll just send them to Perfect Fit [Alterations] up the street.”

And it’s this very “street-mindedness” that makes Mitchell Avenue such a valuable location for new businesses.  As the stores on State Street, Duling Avenue and Fondren Place fill up, Mitchell Avenue is becoming the logical outlet for new or expanding businesses.  It’s quite simply, “the place to be,” as put by Bolin.

Orange Peel owner Kristin Tubb also highlighted this valuable point:  “We all like to see how Fondren is growing,” she says. “That’s what I’ve loved about moving to Mitchell–we’re paving the way for Fondren’s expansion.”

By moving to Mitchell Avenue, small businesses are helping to develop Jackson’s most unique retail scene, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?  “Mitchell Avenue has a bright future,” says Michael Olowo-ake, owner of Perfect Fit Alterations, “and I’m happy to contribute to that.”