Jackson County

Has the state flag discouraged people from spending money in Ocean Springs?

City aldermen offered numbers Tuesday night that indicate flying the Mississippi state flag over City Hall has not hurt business in the city.

The issue came up when a downtown business woman came before the Board of Aldermen to let them know there’s a merchant mixer planned for Jan. 16 to give businesses concerned about the city’s image a way to express themselves.

Jan Rideout, owners of J. Laurie Shoes Boutique downtown, told aldermen she believes there are enough merchants concerned about the flag to convince the city to take it down. She said these are regular business people who are not “fringe” or “alt left.”

She said, “If we can’t appeal to your hearts, we’re going to have to talk economics.”

Alderman Rob Blackman, however, offered sales tax numbers to show flying the flag hasn’t hurt the city so far.

He made a comparison of the sales tax collected from July to December 2016 and the same two quarters in 2017, when the new board took office and Mayor Shea Dobson raised the flag over City Hall.

The state flag had not flown over City Hall for more than a decade.

Blackman got his tax figures from the city clerk and found the city collected an increase of $44,793 for food and beverage and $13,350 more for retail sales tax in the last half of 2017 over the previous year.

“I pulled the receipts and did a snapshot for the months the board has been in office,” Blackman said after the meeting.

At the meeting, Rideout said the next quarter may be a better indication.

“I’ve had people tell me it was a slow Christmas,” she said. “These things take time to build.”

She said the group, called Ocean Springs Business Coalition, has invited 400 businesses to the mixer — it’s at 5:30 p.m. at Lola Fleur, 720 Bellande Avenue. Property owners are welcome, she said. There will be a petition.

Alderman John Gill asked, “Is this a drive to keep people from coming to Ocean Springs?”

She said, “No. It’s just a way to show you that people in Ocean Springs don’t think that flag is good for us as a city.”

After the meeting, Blackman said that aldermen representing areas east of the Ocean Springs Hospital — where there is Wal-Mart, Rouses and a number of other businesses — have heard little or no complaints about the city flying the state flag.

But Blackman thoroughly acknowledged the significance of downtown as a businesses district.

“We have what other cities are trying to re-develop,” he said. “We’re working to branch out from there and build on what we already have.

“Things are centered downtown. We’d not be in good shape without it,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get this negativity behind us and begin to build out east.”