The construction of a new farmers market in downtown Paragould will plant the seeds for economic growth, local leaders say. The addition of an innovation center and trial business facility on Pruett Street will help sow those seeds and retain residents in the Greene County town, they hope.
The city has hosted a farmers market on Emerson Street for the past three years but plans to create a pavilion for the market by the old Paragould electric plant, a two-story, 10,000-square foot building west of the Union Pacific railroad tracks along North Second Avenue.
The building, constructed in 1938, features arched windows and once served as a reminder of the city’s imposed curfew. Each night, a city employee would go to the building at 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on Saturdays and blow a loud steam whistle to inform people of the hour.
It’s part of a section of downtown that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We want to tie the pavilion in with the historic architecture of the power plant,” said Paragould Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO and economic developer Allison Hestand.
The pavilion will include the signature arches and brick bulkheads of the 83-year-old building. The market first opened in the 100 block of Emerson Street and has drawn scores of people on Saturdays, said Paragould Mayor Josh Agee.
“We’ve seen products grown from farms at Stanford,” he said, referring to a small western Greene County town. “We’ve had a city hall worker bring in eggs from his family farm. There are tomatoes, cucumbers and other produce.”
The market, which lost customers in 2020 due to the COVID-19 virus but is seeing an increase in visitors now, is also home to various other businesses, Halstead said.
The virus actually helped boost sales at the market in more than one way, Agee added.
“During the pandemic, a lot of people learned to bake bread at home,” he said. “They did a lot of things like that. It’s that old saying, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.’ People realized how important getting together was.”
One person sells dog treats and dog collars at the market. Children sell cinnamon rolls there. Others have sold homemade bread, cookies and soaps.
“The market is the best example of an ecosystem working,” Hestand said. “Small businesses can grow from it.
Paragould’s market is a draw for downtown events, Agee said. Recently, about 300 showed up one Saturday at the farmers’ market. Another 750 attended a downtown concert and festival that afternoon, and more than 2,000 showed up for an evening block party.
“Within 24 hours in a town of 30,000, we had 3,000 show up downtown,” Agee said. “We want people to come downtown, see what we have to offer and stay here.”
Work on the pavilion is expected to be completed by next spring.
The city will also convert four or five vacant storefronts into a downtown, multi-faceted innovation center, Hestand said. Instruction will be offered in robotics, screen printing, pottery, carpentry and creating podcasts, along with other trade skills.
“If you have an idea, we want to give you what you need,” she said.
Private donations to the city will fund the purchase of store buildings, Agee said. Each building will be wired with fiber optics for high-speed internet.
One storefront will be converted into a mock business to allow potential business owners an opportunity to practice running a shop before sinking large amounts of capital into their own businesses. Paragould will also work with city schools to offer business and skills training for its students.
“We want to be a continuation of what the schools are doing,” said Agee, who was elected the town’s mayor last November, replacing longtime Mayor Mike Gaskill, who retired.
Both the new farmers’ market and the downtown innovation center in Paragould are incentives for more people in Paragould, Agee said.
“We’re firing on all cylinders now,” he said. “Downtown is a destination. We feel like these are helping create the betterment of our community.”
Hestand said she can envision schools holding vocational summer camps in the innovation centers. Anyone, regardless of age, can use the centers. “We want to be available for anyone from age eight to 80,” she said.