- Associated Press - Sunday, August 3, 2014

TISHOMINGO, Okla. (AP) - Mayor Tom Lokey operates a Valero Quik Mart. Every Friday until a few years ago, his soda and beer salesmen told him he needed extra merchandise for Saturday.

Lokey always responded that he didn’t need more stock because people left town on Fridays.

“We’re not a destination,” he said he would tell the salesmen.

That’s not the case anymore.

“Now, we do have people coming here,” Lokey told The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/1mZGjjM ). “We’re turning into a destination location.”

That change in the city’s tourist population has been attributed to country music artist Miranda Lambert opening The Pink Pistol Boutique at 214 W. Main St.

“She put in a retail store to be an attraction, and it certainly has done that,” Lokey said. “This could potentially be our biggest growth and expansion since the turn of the 20th century. This is the most energetic Main Street has been since the 1970s.”

Lambert’s store opened in November 2012. Lokey said the city didn’t ask her to locate there. She became interested in the city when she visited with husband and fellow country music artist Blake Shelton, an Ada native.

City Clerk and Treasurer Patty Braley said once the store opened, other downtown stores spruced up as well.

“It’s been a blessing to the town,” Braley said.

The city has reaped that blessing through an increase in its sales tax. During fiscal year 2010-2011, the city’s 3-percent sales tax raised $64,000. The 2013-2014 fiscal year ended with $75,100, a 17-percent increase.

Braley said the tax increase is attributed to more shoppers, as well as businesses updating their buildings. At least six new businesses have opened within the last year. In addition, Dollar General put in its recent concept, Dollar General Market, which also helped boost the sales tax total.

Braley said there’s more construction to come downtown, with The Lucky Rose, 107 E. Main St., being one example. Owner Lisa Rose has had a store on Main Street for six years, having first opened two blocks east in an estimated 900-square-foot space. Since she lived east of Tishomingo, she could have opened a store in the city or Durant.

“My husband and I just thought Tishomingo had potential,” she said. “There was a need. People were starting to come around.”

She said before Lambert and Shelton came to the city, young people were already starting to make their way back.

“I think the town and the economy was on the rise,” she said.

When she moved in 2013, she renovated 1,250 square feet for her clothing and accessories boutique and will build out the adjacent 1,250 square feet for a spa. Her store already has a spa, but the update next door will allow for a full-size area.

Rose has helped orchestrate Tishomingo Summer Nights, a two-nights-per-month event that encourages businesses to stay open late so people will come downtown.

“It was just really cool seeing tons of people out,” Rose said. “The whole community has a new energy behind it.”

Jackie Baker, co-owner of Baker’s Mercantile, opened in June to capture that energy. The 4,000-square-foot store at 220 W. Main St. is filled with made-in-Oklahoma products, locally produced art and Chickasaw Nation produce. A retired schoolteacher, Baker has helped operate Baker’s Pecans and Baker’s Acres, a pick-your-own-pumpkin patch.

She and her daughter-in-law, Jamie Baker, decided to open a store in town when space owned by Lambert became available.

“It’s been crazy,” Baker said. “Of course, you have your slow days. But we thought we’d be able to open with two employees - just us. Now we have five employees.”

Since she’s next to Lambert’s store, Baker said she’s met people from all over the world.

“Her store brought in people, so now there’s (local) people that are saying they’d better wake up and try to make a difference,” she said.

Pink Pistol office manager Brittany Walker grew up in Tishomingo and can remember when the city was a ghost town. But Lambert’s store has offered encouragement to new entrepreneurs. She said people see that Lambert’s store has been successful and think their businesses could be as well.

She said the store has drawn tourists from Canada, Australia, Germany and across the U.S. The store’s merchandise is not available online.

“A lot of people do just come to see the store,” Walker said. “She wants people to come and see what she is like.”

While Baker’s is new, Houser Furniture and Appliances has been downtown for 36 years. The company has seven showrooms totaling 18,000 square feet. That space could easily be consolidated into a large building, but owner Peggy Shaffer said that was never an option.

“I wouldn’t want to abandon downtown,” she said. “Downtowns everywhere struggle. It’s a never-ending battle to keep downtowns vibrant. I would have hated to have moved out so I could have more parking and left vacant buildings.”

She said she plans to renovate the front of her 201 Main St. showroom. Though the company doesn’t sell gift items like the smaller boutiques, she said it has seen an increase in foot traffic.

Tishomingo’s growth isn’t just downtown. Lokey said the city and county have seen an increase in oil and gas drilling. The Chickasaw Nation started investing heavily into the area in 2011, improving the Johnston County Hospital with Mercy Medical. The tribe plans to build a 2,500-seat arena on 130 acres in northeast Tishomingo. Murray State College already had plans to add about 30,000 square feet to expand its applied nursing program.

The city is completing a $7 million infrastructure project, updating water, sewer and wastewater systems to help with the growth.

“It just happens to be the perfect storm of positive growth,” Lokey said.

Like any storm, the growth happened so quickly the city wasn’t ready to be a tourist destination. It has two hotels, the Tishomingo Inn and the Western Inn. Johnston County Chamber of Commerce Director Seigel Paul Heffington said earlier this summer he met five women who traveled from Minnesota to visit the Pistol.

“When you walk out the front door (of the Pistol), you can’t stay in Tishomingo,” he said. “We’re behind the curve.”

He said the Chickasaws have plans to build a hotel, but that won’t be enough. He said the city will need more to meet the demand, especially after the arena gets built.

“It’s a great time to be investing in Tishomingo,” he said.

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Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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