KEEP CLARKSDALE RESPONSES from People Who Care

A Summary of Thoughts From Respondents

Dog Paw Line. Photo by The Delta Bohemian. Keep Clarksdale Responses

Keep Clarksdale Responses from People Who Care.

“Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

“Keep Clarksdale” was a post on deltabohemian.com two weeks ago. The intent was to solicit ideas and provide a forum for anybody wanting to voice suggestions on how to Keep Clarksdale and continue to draw folks here.

Listed in paragraph form were some thought-provoking, open-ended questions eliciting input to keep Clarkdale moving forward with the goal of helping us avoid the deteriorating fate of so many small, Southern towns. Respondents were encouraged to be civil, understanding, discrete, succinct, kind, thoughtful and honest.

Specific names of individuals and entities have not been included—for both the respondents and those they might have mentioned—but unavoidable is indirect light shed on certain entities. I am just the collator, summarizer and disseminator, and have taken out any ugly or long-winded responses.

We thank those who took the time to answer. Four of the Keep Clarksdale responses were from interested locals, and the rest were from people who love Clarksdale and visit often or have visited and love it! Your voice is noted, appreciated and important! Thank you!

Each reader, if encouraged or offended, must determine his or her response to the feedback and give it to the appropriate folks! Do what you will with the responses. The Delta Bohemian is moving on from here and doing what we do, whatever that is… 😎 Chilly Billy

So, how do we stay in business, keep Clarksdale real, continue to draw folks here who want to come and who we want to come, how do we continue to make folks who visit and spend their money here feel like they are getting more than they expected? How can we market ourselves better, where should our tourist dollars be focused, what can we offer that we are not presently offering, and how can we strengthen what remains and do better at meeting tourist’s needs and expectations?

The following responses have only been edited for space, readability and are presented in the order we received them:

#1

  • Purposefully attract new and repeat visitors while remaining authentic. People come to Clarksdale to get something they can not get in their daily lives—funky, fun, haphazard, unique. That can be the music, the people, and the city itself.  Clarksdale must resist the temptation to be what I call the “Colonial Williamsburg of the Blues,” where visitors are given historical recreations in a predictable fashion.  Nobody needs to hear “Sweet Home Chicago” ever again. As soon as that happens, then Clarksdale would be a dead museum, a testament to the past, rather than a living music scene and city.  
  • The more Clarksdale becomes a petri dish, a launching pad, an experiment—rather than a museum, the better.  You can’t preserve in amber something that is meant to boogie, sweat, and move.

#2       

  • With your local paper going to one day a week there appears to be less accountability for the agencies, governments, schools, and grant-funded businesses. An obvious dearth of information regarding how monies are spent hinders communication and makes locals and tourists cynical. If possible, require all of the above entities to produce and publish reports about their funding sources and specifically how the money is spent.
  • Whoever does your tourism and chamber should make sure they are visiting with people who come to town and are they working daily with local businesses through communication and support?
  • It is sad the way your city government and schools operate. A town cannot improve if the people in power act foolish and cover up so many deeds and missteps. I still love Clarksdale and will continue to, but accountability has to become important to your leaders if you don’t want to continue going downhill.

#3

  • Keep live music seven nights a week.
  • Annual Cultural Pass good for museums and music venues with built in discounts.
  • Downtown RV parking with hookups: nice to be able to walk home after juking.
  • Convince a micro-brewery or distillery to set up shop in Clarksdale.
  • Set up a Crossroad’s YouTube channel.
  • Create an advisory panel of people who visit Clarksdale often and understand its tourism dynamics.

#4

  • The crime rate is what prevented me from buying a home in Clarksdale. The music and promotion of the music is stale. Need to book new acts. Hotel rates are high. You lack professional management from touristy businesses, so they leak profits and then can’t afford to advertise.

#5

  • Reduce crime or the property values will plummet. Need long-term solutions or you will lose investors.

#6

  • We come often for the people, but it is a great place to eat and drink and hear live music.

#7

  • Clarksdale needs a strategic marketing and public relations campaign. It will take significant investment with professionals spearheading it. Likely would cost in excess of $300K. The town should hang its hat on tourism first and foremost because you all are the only town in the Delta that has a natural draw for tourists based on your incredible blues heritage and in fact agriculture heritage as well.  People somewhat know about Clarksdale, but millions upon millions of people in the region and country do not.
  • A hardcore five year marketing strategy with built-in measured results so the campaign can be tweaked, is what you need to sell to the world your offerings, counteract the bad publicity you all have received from the crime that has taken place over the past several years.
  • “I want to send some friends there over the holidays, but is Clarksdale safe enough for them to visit?” A friend in Oxford asked me just before Christmas.  The crime in Clarksdale must be cut in half, period.  There is too much of it and far too much bad public relations about this going around the region.
  • You all have the natural draw and the assets, you have seven-days a week music, some great festivals (but one needs improving), and you have so much you can improve on which means a lot. Look at the other towns around the Delta … many are suffering and I don’t see them getting any better. However, you all actually have a chance, a big chance, of expanding everything you have.

#8

  • I believe there is a disconnect between tourists and locals. There are misconceptions and perceptions over dollars being earmarked for community versus tourism and concern if the pots get mixed. If the perception is there then communication is vitally important.
  • Educational and early childhood programs help and should be encouraged. An educated workforce draws industry.
  • Most of my state has the public education and infrastructure to attract families to move and industries to put down roots. What they don’t have, which Clarksdale has in SPADES, is creativity, stuff to do, great food, and fun people. What Clarksdale may not have are the things that young families and companies want for raising families.
  • I think you guys rock. I love coming to visit – I use Clarksdale as an example of creative place making in every, single lecture I give to communities in my state. Maybe the focus should be less on tourism and more on building the long-term infrastructure and amenities for the residents who live there?

#9

  • All of you with the VISION must stick together and don’t lose that vision. Don’t let “old School” and negativity rule. You must have people in leadership willing to push and know what the goal is. I know you get tired of the fight but it must continue.
  • People in Mississippi don’t realize what a treasure Clarksdale is. When I see more people from overseas than Mississippians, then I know people just don’t know what you are. Maybe you need to do a better job of selling Clarksdale to Mississippi. There is a new couple visiting there this week because they have seen my post on Facebook. I have a salesman for my wholesaler coming to visit just by me telling him what goes on up there. Music, Food, Civil War, and Civil Rights are what draw people to us. We could fill every room in Clarksdale every weekend if more Mississippians were just willing to try Clarksdale one weekend. That is what happened to us; we visited about three years ago and were hooked.
  • Maybe expand your artist list a bit. There seems to be a line drawn between central Mississippi and the Delta.  Eddie Cotton, Grady Champion, Mr. Sipp, Jarekus Singleton and more central MS bands may draw more Jackson and Vicksburg people up there?
  • Clarksdale is a special place. For selfish reasons I want it to grow and be more successful. I want my grandkids to be able experience what my wife and I have. I want Mississippi to know about Clarksdale and fill every hotel and venue every weekend.  I want the nation to flock to you. Gather your visionaries and don’t give up the fight.

#10

  • Clarksdale needs manufacturing jobs.  Can you imagine the difference a plant that employs 400 people at an average of $20 per hour with benefits would do for this town?  Unfortunately, the current industrial board and it’s leadership seem incapable of keeping what we have, much less attracting something new.  Service based or “tourism” jobs are mostly part time and low pay. Not what you build stable families and a future on. Part of attracting industry is education.  You know what a problem that is currently.  Amada Johnson’s drive to open a charter school is a huge step in the right direction. 

#11

  • I’ve been coming to Clarksdale and the Delta every year since 2004. Without a doubt I’ve seen changes. But as you said the thing that doesn’t seem to ever change is the people we meet there. 
  • However I’m certain the people who visit each year like myself are by far mostly white folks. These white folks tend to re-visit many of the same places each time. In fact, unlike me, many of these white folks tend to avoid such places they might think of as being dangerous. Really a shame as they are missing many of the best things about the Delta.
  • The biggest problem to economic bluesy tourism might be what happens when your iconic spots are no longer around. I much prefer staying at and visiting black owned and operated clubs. For my dollar Clarksdale and the Delta will be much different if and when places like these are no longer around.
  • I believe the gang style violence the past few years has made people take notice and possibly turned some away from coming. I know for a fact that my friend in Clarksdale has said more than once that she’s concerned that “our friends won’t come back to see us.”

#12

  • One thing jumped out at me even before I began reading your column: The picture of The Crossroads shows that behind the town’s monument to the Robert Johnson myth is a Church’s Chicken restaurant in what I assume is Church’s standard-issue design. What that scene may say to some people is: Come to our “unique” town and patronize the same old fast-food joints you have back home in Suburbia.
  • I’d suggest altering local zoning laws and/or other pertinent ordinances to encourage the development of locally owned businesses rather than chain operations that capitalize on Clarksdale’s charms to soak up tourist dollars that are funneled to corporate HQs outside the Delta.
  • Require all new commercial buildings to establish exteriors in keeping with traditional local architecture. If you can’t keep out McDonald’s, at least keep out the McDonald’s arches and most of the rest of the McD’s exterior trappings.
  • Full disclosure: Like you, I live in an area where tourism and agribusiness are the key industries. And the main highway linking our tourist towns is littered with chain stores and restaurants. And most of our towns have few or no restrictions on the appearance of building exteriors. Ditto for our county government, which has zoning jurisdiction outside the towns. That’s the case despite many pleas for change.
  • S. I often quote something you told my wife and me when we stayed with you: People come to the Delta because of the music; they come back because of the people. We’ll be back.

#13     

  • We have been coming to Clarksdale 2-3 times a year for 12 years. We love it for the music but also the people, fixing the sidewalks was nice, as adding a new hotel on the highway.
  • My only suggestion is to get some kind of funding or grant, or raise money, then pick out selected blues festivals, and be a sponsor, or just get a booth and distribute “blues info” about Clarksdale. You can be very selective on which festivals to attend. I realize logistics involved but you would get exposure to lots of Blues fans, many of which have the wherewithal to spend money.
  • My other suggestion is to put together a “Clarksdale blue revue” with players being interchangeable, much like delta groove did years ago with the mannish boys. Any way we love it there, and will be back.

#14

  • The growth of the Blues tourism industry in the Delta over the past 15 years has been phenomenal and has revitalized Clarksdale and the downtown area in particular.  I look at other Delta towns that have no hope of generating the kind of income that is now coming to Clarksdale and know they are envious.  No other Delta town has the advantages that Clarksdale has from a Blues history standpoint, because Clarksdale is at the “Crossroads”.
  • Blues music has been instrumental in revitalizing the town, improving relations between blacks and whites and creating a “new economy” for the town and region.  When I would come visit my aunt back in the early 80s, there wasn’t much going on in Clarksdale. That has been changed.
  • Can you “Keep Clarksdale”?  I don’t think it is possible to keep it the way it used to be, but to keep it authentic is very important to insure the tourists keep coming back.  Clarksdale is now known all over the world as the home of the Blues and it would be a shame to lose that distinction and the dollars that it generates.
  • How are you going to continue to get talented musicians to come to town and play in the many venues that have opened over the last 15 years? And get them to come year round, not just during festivals?
  • With the exception of festivals, there are plenty of beds in Clarksdale.  But as you know, during festivals, there aren’t nearly enough rooms to accommodate those that wish to visit.  There is no real good answer to that since the occupancy rate is low when there isn’t a festival going on. The same goes for restaurants.
  • Outside of the festival weekends, it is up to the locals to generate enough revenue for a restaurant to keep their doors open.  That can be extremely difficult to do.  Festivals create a “boom or bust” environment.
  • Is there enough Blues business year round to encourage other “outsiders” to come to Clarksdale and open up places like art galleries or museums, etc? This is a big challenge as the boom or bust festival revenue model has to change to a steadier income stream before similar small businesses can be successful.
  • Can other offerings, such as your Delta tours, Quapaw canoe, etc. generate enough dollars to take up the slack during non-festival times?
  • Can anything be done to bring “big name” blues acts to Clarksdale either during festival weekends, or on newly created “event weekends” that now currently don’t exist? Could there be a St. Louis Blues weekend with outside acts brought in?  Or a Chicago Blues weekend?
  • Put together a Blues tour of the Delta much as I did for my Harley friends in Dallas?  Make it 3 – 4 days long.  Keep the group size small and intimate.  Choose the spots to see, eat, etc. and promote the idea to those businesses that you will visit so they understand the economics of how it will help their bottom line.

#15

  • Follow other Mississippi town’s successful templates. Be prepared for a long journey and a lot of hard work.

#16

  • What does the town have that’s positive?  You named a key one, music. 
  • However, Clarksdale still has a pretty diverse culture: Lebanese, Chinese, Mexican, Black, and White.  Has anyone suggested a cultural food fair with music?
  • Is there any interest in bringing tourism to see the home of Dr. Aaron Henry?  To hear how Dr. Henry worked with the white government to keep things quiet and the pool and parks activities running during the 1960’s?  Acknowledging the past, good and bad might be a way to get folks working together. 
  • Use the Sunflower River as a tourist resource.

#17

  • Two of my best friends I graduated with visited Clarksdale in Oct. Had to cut our trip short because of a family emergency, but we had a great time the SHORT time we got to stay! We met Mike from American Pickers while eating lunch! We were all eating the wonderful catfish and fried green tomatoes!!! Can’t wait to go back and take some side trips. A Wonderful Trip for 3 old Grannies! People go see this amazing place!! You will fall in love with it!

#18

  • (Too negative to reproduce this one. Former resident sees little worth saving in Clarksdale.)

#19     

  • Too long to produce here, but it was recommended to check out John Henshall’s DRAFT 1 manuscript for a publication with the working title “Delta Blues at the Crossroads: the economic revitalisation of downtown Clarksdale, with lessons for other small cities and towns”.  This draft draws on the 2008 Action Plan that was distributed in Clarksdale at the time, and John’s 2013 Master’s thesis. The new draft is reportedly just a couple of weeks away from ‘polishing’ and then seeking out publication prospects. Maybe do a search for it in a few weeks on the internet if interested.

#20

  • I visit your city often. Love it but, frankly, it needs more stuff downtown to generate consistent tourism. Live music, bars, restaurants, record shops, etc.
  • As far as marketing goes, at home here in the States, Garden & Gun appeals to southerners with enough money to travel and spend at destinations. I would establish a real presence there…not just ads but articles written about local artisans, chefs and so forth.
  • Merchandise in Bitter Southerner.
  • Europe would be a good place to promote your town and the Delta in general.
  • Clarksdale needs to attract more authentic talent and create some more spaces with cool stuff downtown. Oxford has done a wonderful job with Square Books and City Grocery as cornerstones and other businesses have built on them.

#21

  • Do you still have out of town developers that have local mailboxes that warehouse empty buildings hoping demand and prices go up? That will kill a community every-time

#22

  • As a Clarksdale native I feel it easier for me to look at the cause rather than the cure. It’s not my place to offer a cure. However, I believe that Agriculture always has and will continue to decide the fate of Clarksdale. 

#23

  • There doesn’t seem to be a proper Clarksdale MAP, not even at the Tourist Information point –have them make a tourist friendly, professional map!
  • Searched everywhere for POSTCARDS while I was in Clarksdale! They may sell them at the Post Office, but that’s the kind of stuff you want to buy downtown.
  • While a local store sells pieces of art, there are hardly common posters/ pictures of your local heroes for sale. More budget-friendly and it makes a nice souvenir if it has ‘Clarksdale’ on it, as well! A fine way to make people dive into your history (Muddy Waters, Son House etc) AND raise awareness of nowadays artists!! 
  • Special agricultural tours –I’m sure there are many more people like me who find the whole process of growing cotton (other crops) fascinating.
  • Promote Clarksdale IN MEMPHIS!!!! The more, the better –Memphis already draws the kind of people you want in Clarksdale. They mainly promote themselves over there, though. Special Memphis-Clarksdale arrangements/extra transportation, etc.?
  • Bike lanes, bike rentals with (self-)guided tours
  • Renewal of the train connection
  • Online Clarksdale promotion at (European) blues festival sites! Many people here in the Netherlands know a lot about the blues and yet, they have never even heard of Clarksdale.
  • There are gift shops downtown, but they may be a bit exclusive for the average tourist who just wants to buy key chains, post cards, Christmas items and other stuff that has ‘Clarksdale’ on it. I even saved some paper bags because they had ‘Clarksdale’ on it!
  • Sponsoring of the gifted local artists, so they won’t leave town. 
  • Have your own booze and promote it. 
  • Sell cotton creations downtown. 
  • A DOWNTOWN place where you can buy HEALTHY stuff (Deli, or just a small booth)
  • Make it easier to start a business in downtown Clarksdale –nice prices for starters.

#24

  • The Greyhound Bus Station is an iconic spot. Seems like a perfect place to welcome visitors to Clarksdale. Have a designated time to meet and greet visitors there and tell them what is going on in town. It’s important to personally connect with your visitors. Serve coffee or tea. 
  • Clarksdale needs a better map. Some cities are using interactive online maps with smart phones that will take you to actual websites for places listed on the map.
  • Advertise Clarksdale in Blues magazines and at Blues Festivals around the world. Send a Clarksdale representative to the festivals or find someone already living there who will work on Clarksdale’s behalf to help spread the word.
  • Educate Mississippians and other surrounding states about what Clarksdale has to offer using social media. Target people within a 100-500 mile radius who have never been to Clarksdale but have heard about it and want to learn more. These people may not be blues lovers but just appreciators of their heritage and home area. Invite them in so they can better understand the Mississippi Delta.
  • The actual Crossroads where the guitars are seems a wasted opportunity. Visitors make their pilgrimage there to have their photograph taken. Having a welcome center at that location makes great sense. Have the meet and greet there too. Use locals to volunteer to help staff it. Create an area that is conducive for taking photographs.
  • Clarksdale’s crime image is hurting the town. The crime must be arrested and a campaign developed to change that perception, especially among others in the Delta and Mid-South.
  • Give your visitors something tangible to take with them. A keepsake of sorts. A magnet? A sticker? A pin? A coin? A token? Give it to businesses, musicians, any locals interested in encouraging visitors to Clarksdale etc…and ask them to give the “token” to every new visitor they meet and to thank them for coming to Clarksdale. And, ask them to come back.
  • Create a Clarksdale Advisory Board to continue to offer a forum for ways to improve not only tourism for Clarksdale but the quality of life in general there. Perhaps visitors could offer suggestions on creative ways to attract industry there and to improve the quality of the education for the young people.

#25

  • Have buskers on the street often with tip buckets. Sell Clarksdale t-shirts.

#26

  • My interest in Clarksdale stems from my website development and the shear love of the music that has originated in the area, its history and heritage. I’ve visited Clarksdale on two occasions over the last 2 years. I follow you and Cathead.biz for news and developments as you guys are locals (live, work and play in Clarksdale)…and are a communication conduit.
  • At the moment, people wanting to find out about Clarksdale have to troll through several websites that come up on a “Clarksdale” search. The tourism sites paint a picture but you don’t get the “REAL” essence of the town and the experiences visitors can enjoy. Without wanting to offend anyone the current sites do look a little stale.
  • I believe Clarksdale needs a ‘definitive’ website that could help cater to some of the questions you raise. A website that is a focal point for all of the social media links (Facebook, twitter, Instagram, etc). A platform where you can have the live music schedules and other events and photos and write-ups on these events plus more…. This is your window to the world.
  • Having had a quick look at what’s on offer regarding domestic and international tour operators as well as the smaller private players bringing tourists into Clarksdale, they mostly seem to be “drive-by” tours that only stop for a few hours.  The retro bus that leaves Memphis every Friday and does a 12-hour Delta Tour is very ambitious. Honestly you need at the very least one night in Clarksdale, if not a minimum of two nights and this should be promoted.
  • Tourists should be encouraged to base out of Clarksdale for their Mississippi Delta experience, as there’s plenty to see and do within close proximity. I love finishing my day trips with a cold one and some live entertainment…Clarksdale is that place.

#27

  • Personally, I do not like the new sidewalks and those improvements – it takes away from the “keeping it real” feel. I can see a few new sidewalks to make it ADA compliant or easier for people with disabilities, but I hope it doesn’t take over downtown.  I like that New Orleans puts a statement in their tourist material for the French Quarter telling people to be careful when walking as the sidewalks are very old and uneven.
  • Y’all made a list a while back listing the clubs and what to expect – it was fabulous – the local hotels, eateries, clubs, & chamber would do well to copy and have out this list.
  • The first time we visited Clarksdale, I was very hesitant to go in two notable spots (since we didn’t do any research before coming so had no idea where to go)—how do I know it’s okay to go into them but NOT the club that is one block north of The New Roxy next to the railroad?  I’m not suggesting that there is a “don’t go here” list – but having a list of where to go is very beneficial, especially if your time in Clarksdale is limited. Thinking back to our first several visits, this was the biggest hindrance to exploring, not knowing what to expect.
  • To draw people – perhaps searching the internet for Blues clubs in states – or just asking people when they come to town to list a Blues club in their area – then providing a one-page pamphlet for those places and asking it to be copied and out for people to pick-up? Or perhaps see if they’ll add Sounds About Town (or link) to their website?  Have someone put out a clipboard at for people to write the club info?
  • I found out about Clarksdale because I asked a friend who is a Blues player where I would go if I wanted to find the heart and soul of the Blues and he said Clarksdale, otherwise we would never have come through (sad to think about!). Putting out the info to other large gatherings – Sturgis?
  • You are SO RIGHT that the people of Clarksdale are a HUGE reason people enjoy the area and come BACK. I think one of the most … friendly parts of being with anyone from Clarksdale is that they introduce you to everyone they know as they stand there – y’all are FAMOUS for this – keep it up. It is SOOOO inclusive and makes people feel so welcome!!!!!

 

KEEP CLARKSDALE

 

 

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