McComb’s Stunning Retail Growth is Good News for Mississippi’s Camellia City

Mac Gordon

Donuts on Cake

Few cities in Mississippi have enjoyed business growth in 2022 like that in McComb, my hometown.

Several recent new store openings, including an upmarket grocery and the arrival soon of the one fast-food franchise many cities covet the most - Chick-fil-A - have given the “Camellia City of America” and “Home of the Lighted Azalea Trail” recharged momentum.

Some of the best news in the environs of McComb and Pike County is Amtrak’s renewal of full service aboard one of the country’s most celebrated trains, The City of New Orleans, which traverses McComb twice daily.

“Full service” means seven-days-a-week service, Amtrak announced in an Oct. 7 press release. Affection-ately known as “The City,” the service had been reduced to 5 days weekly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of manpower.

“The constraint has not been travel demand, which has been recovering all year, but rebuilding the employee head counts at major terminals along many of the routes,” Amtrak reported.

Some Amtrak routes will continue with reduced service elsewhere, “largely due to vacant positions.” Rail service from Mobile to New Orleans and Jackson to Meridian is also being seriously studied.

McComb people link Amtrak with the old Illinois Central Railroad Company, which operated the iconic New Orleans to Chicago along the “Main Line of Mid-America” route until its absorption by the national company.

A rail yard with myriad repair shops, employing hundreds of workers at above-average pay rates, complemented the passenger and freight train operations in McComb. The shops closed in the late 1980’s.

McComb began life as a “railroad town” in 1872 when Union Army Col. Henry S. McComb moved his rail shops from New Orleans to escape the numerous saloons there. (That doesn’t mean some weren’t soon established in his business’ new setting.)

Another item of rail-connected news is the ongoing reconstruction of the McComb Railroad Museum and Amtrak Depot, destroyed in an arsonist’s fire in spring 2021. Hopefully, the museum previously considered the state’s best such shrine will reopen in 2023.

While some feathers at City Hall remain ruffled after years of infighting among elected officials, two local banks, First Bank and Pike National, are ignoring the discord and moving ahead together to brighten up the downtown area.

For the first time in years, everybody now knows who owns the buildings in “Downtown” through the digging of local investigative reporter Patsy Brumfield. Her stories in the McComb Enterprise-Journal will put pressure on the owners to reveal new plans for the buildings as the revival continues in the sector.

Few towns of McComb’s size (est. 13,000 population) have enjoyed as many new business start-ups and re-starts as it has seen in the past year - and no place needed them more.

The Corner Market has recently opened at the site of the former Kroger store, Corner Market has operated a signature store in Hattiesburg for years.

Aldi, a grocery chain with 10,000 stores in 20 countries, will open in a shopping mall known as “Uptown McComb” on the city’s northern end, along with popular retail chain outlet Ross Dress for Less. Marshalls, similar to Ross, came to McComb in recent years.

The Chick-fil-A franchise in “Uptown” looks to be near completion, joining the chain Huey Magoo’s in the race to sell more chicken fingers. The long-awaited China Palace will soon be back in business after a fire. The rebirthed Palace Theater is drawing raves as an entertainment venue, bringing a new spirit to Downtown. Starbucks has joined the parade.

The fine-dining Caboose, the city’s best restaurant until a tornado slammed it 2 years ago, has yet to reopen. I need some happy news on that possibility.

Donuts on Cake