By Kathleen Swift
With 30 different businesses along both sides of a four-block area, and every store-front occupied, historic downtown Parsons is a business center for the community. Over the last several years through grants and local groups such as SEK Point of Pride, the downtown area has been revitalized. The town has been recognized as a National Great American Main Street Award Winner for the revitalization work that has occurred.
Jim Zaleski, director of economic development, explained, “We have some long-standing businesses in our downtown whose footprints have been anchors for that area. In our process to revitalize our downtown, we took a one-bite-at-a time approach. We were able to build around our anchor businesses and prioritize the order in which we would work on other buildings. One of the first buildings to be redeveloped was the Sullivan store that was vacated following the owner’s death.
“The Community Development Corporation bought the property and put a new roof on it, cleared the building of mold and asbestos, and painted it. It was a 2-year long project, but it became a much more desirable property. It was purchased by Nick and Michele Beery, and Parsons has a wonderful building that is being used by Milli’s Furniture, a vibrant business which was named business of the year by the Parsons Chamber of Commerce.”
“Our old location was just four blocks away from downtown,” said Michele Beery, “but since moving into the new building in January of 2021, our business has tripled. We love being in the downtown. There is a lot of foot traffic, and people will eat at the restaurant next door and walk by our place and come in to shop. When we opened here, we had a small section of appliances, and within four months, appliance sales had grown so much that we purchased the building next to us and have expanded our appliance section. We are also renovating the upstairs of the Sullivan building for more room. Being downtown has made such a difference for us.”
Dave Mattox, owner of Bleacher Gear, has been in business in downtown Parsons for 20 years. “It helps all of the businesses when the downtown buildings are full,” said Mattox. When there are more people downtown, it becomes a destination, and customers can visit multiple businesses. It’s more attractive for everyone. There is a spirit here in addition to the retail businesses. All the parades go through downtown, trick-or-treat happens at the stores on Halloween, we have a sidewalk sale and moonlight madness sale in late summer. All of those things make our downtown a great place.”
For David Steward, owner of Free State Cigars, the new downtown renovation has given him a new business and a new home. “I’ve only been open for business for two months,” said Stewart, “but I’ve been restoring this property since August of 2021. It was one of the few buildings that had not been previously sub-divided, so I have a 3,000-square-foot cigar lounge for my business, and I live in the 3,000-square-foot-loft upstairs. I purchased the new flooring from the Home Store and the furniture for the lounge from Milli’s Fine Furniture. This has been a great, supportive community both during the restoration and in supporting my new business.”
Zaleski noted, “Our restored downtown with every building occupied with businesses is valuable to our community. Sales taxes are up, there is a strong weekday presence of shoppers and people doing business. I think COVID showed us the value of rural living both in health and lifestyle. We in Parsons are looking forward to taking what we’ve accomplished downtown and partnering with the new convention center in finding ways to move people from one attraction to another in our community. We are looking forward to what we can do for those next challenges and for the continued growth of our community.”