October 27 — It’s one thing to pull up stakes and move to a town that’s known as a retirement community like Asheville, Phoenix, or Naples. But it’s quite another to hitch your star to a community that has potential – but hasn’t yet made the transition from to “idyllic”. While Vicksburg has a lot going for it (see our review of Vicksburg) it has been economically depressed for a long time, with much visible poverty.
Undaunted, some pioneering baby boomers are charting an adventurous course in Vicksburg, hoping that it becomes the next hot tourist destination and baby boomer retirement community. Topretirements recently traveled to this beautiful city on the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers to check it out as a retirement community. We interviewed 2 sets of young boomers who moved here recently to find out more.
Baer House Inn)
Doug & Marjorie Cousineau moved to Vicksburg 3 years ago after their home in New Orleans was destroyed in Katrina. Doug, 46, had been a city and country manager for United Airlines and lived all over the world. Their dream was to buy a bed and breakfast in a good spot – to find one they looked in states from Washington to New Hampshire. At the urging of their realtor they came to Vicksburg and quickly fell in love with the palatial Baer House Inn, a 6800 square foot brick mansion with 12 foot ceilings, black walnut and chestnut inlaid floors, not to mention an extremely rare (and not in use!) 2 story outhouse. They converted it to a 6 bedroom B & B, the Baer House Inn, that provides an exquisite bed and bed experience. Doug explained his choice of Vicksburg as coming down to the “absolutely wonderful” people (even the town’s B & B owners encouraged him to buy here), the presence of his nearby family, and the reasonable costs. Plus, the presence of a Convention Center, riverfront casinos, and the enormous Vicksburg National Military Park were a virtual guarantee for tourists. For a fraction of what he could buy elsewhere, he was able to purchase a historic mansion that quickly turned profitable. Doug, who competes worldwide in team adventure races, credits Vicksburg’s new mayor for much of the success for the town’s turnaround. Doug believes that new initiatives like the Vicksburg Main Street Program are succeeding at bringing in new visitors and commerce.
Meanwhile down the hill towards the rivers, Troy (47) and Laura Weeks (45), have poured their life savings into creating Lorelei Books in an abandoned building on newly reclaimed Washington Street. The Lorelei, their long-standing dream fulfilled, is a beautiful book store on the first floor. With its interesting collection and frequent author signings, the store has quickly become a beacon to book lovers in the Delta. Upstairs the Weeks created an apartment that is worthy of Architecture Digest. The Weeks were attracted to Vicksburg for some of the same reasons as Doug and Marjorie – nearby family, good weather, and prices so low they just had to take the risk.
Laura Weeks believes that Vicksburg will successfully make the transition from depressed river town to prosperous community. First of all Vicksburg has charm and culture, offering visitors and residents plenty to do. Most importantly, unlike some towns where one person or a small group drives the renewal (like Morgan Freeman and his business partner, Bill Luckett, in Clarksville, MS), in Vicksburg there are 3 groups pulling the town’s renewal. Those include people who have moved in from outside like Doug and Marjorie, people who never moved away but are accepting to new ideas, and a very important group – people raised in Vicksburg who had successful careers elsewhere and then moved back with capital and ideas. One of the most visible revitalization projects has been on Washington Street, 3 years ago a boarded up street facing the river that today literally hums with boutiques, shops, period street lamps, and piped in jazz.
At the crossroads
The transition from depressed river town to the next Asheville NC is at an interesting point. The Warehouse, a new luxury boutique hotel on Washington Street that overlooks the rivers, is nearing completion. Yet just down the street obviously poor people are shopping at bargain stores. The new baby boomer pioneers are obviously hoping the town and the street will fill in with even more shops and home restorations, boosting property values and bringing a return on their investment. The new prosperity will bring retirement communities and housing for retiring baby boomers. It should also bring new jobs and opportunities for the poorer people. Doug, Marjorie, Troy, Laura and many others have made major financial and emotional bets that the transition will be successful – but the next few years will tell the story. From Topretirements perspective, given all that Vicksburg has to offer and all that is being done for it, we think their bets are very good ones.