“This is for those of you non-believers,” fitting words from Fondrenite and business owner, Barry Plunkett, as he spoke on Tuesday inside the Woodland Hills Baptist sanctuary at Fondren Church.
It was the Fondren spirit that was moving as the proprietor of Interiors Market and soon-to-be Fondren Association of Businesses chairman touted the virtues of his neighborhood.
“I’ve been deeply involved 18 years and it’s an emotional involvement,” he said. “This is like my hometown, the walkable main street I remember. Fondren is a direct connection to people’s hearts.”
Plunkett spoke at a Fondren Renaissance town hall meeting, asking business owners for their continued support of the non-profit foundation that is responsible for Fondren’s Zippity Doo Dah Weekend, Symphony at Sunset and Fondren After 5, among many other things.
“Many people still don’t understand what all we do,” said Renaissance executive director Jim Wilkirson. “When you listen to the full Mississippi Symphony on the lawn at The Cedars every fall and don’t pay a ticket price, it’s not because the symphony came and played just for fun. We work day and night to secure sponsors for those events so that you can bring your family and invite friends and not worry about a cost.”
Add to that countless hours behind the scenes working with partners like St. Dominic’s and the churches of Fondren to help neighbors make facade repairs on their homes through the Phoenix Initiative. And 2011’s Fondren Park project was not without immense effort: Fondren Renaissance lead the charge for over five years with U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Senator Thad Cochran’s office and the City of Jackson to bring together a half million dollar project.
“It’s about collaboration,” Plunkett said, “and it doesn’t happen without blood, sweat, tears and cash.”
Restaurateur and visionary Jeff Good says Fondren is one stellar story for our city. “People ask me why I support Fondren the way I do (and it’s because) I want more,” he explained. “I want as many restaurants, bars, retail shops and opportunities for commercial trade because that’s what it takes for Fondren to pop. We’re not a city, but a neighborhood, with a plan for growth and a healthy community.”
Good recognized the efforts of business owners working together and with Fondren Renaissance to make neighborhood events special. “I was downtown for a meeting at the chamber and saw ‘Fondren After 5’ in sidewalk chalk,” he said, pointing out the man behind the message, Swell-O-Phonic owner Ron Chane, who has spearheaded efforts to relaunch the monthly event. “We’ve got to support this ‘completely different’ approach.”
It only takes one look around parking lots to know Fondren has secured its place as unique.
“Take a look at the car tags at the neighborhood restaurants,” Good says of patrons from Rankin and Madison and beyond. “We’ve fought long and hard to make Fondren viable.”
Wilkirson noted a recent chance to speak to a statewide arts conference where even cities wondered what was in the water here. “They are looking to us, asking, ‘How did you do it?’ he said. “It’s incredible to show what we have done and where we are headed. We have something special.”
As the meeting turned to updates on neighborhood projects, Plunkett felt the spirit move again. “I’m hooked up in Fondrenism,” he laughed. “I moved here and bought a business here. I’m trying to get healed.”
As they passed the plate, the congregation said, Amen, Barry. Amen.
It’s not only business support Fondren Renaissance needs. Anyone can contribute their time or finances (tax deductible) to the mission of the neighborhood’s “parent organization.” Click here to learn more.