- Associated Press - Sunday, October 8, 2017

TISHOMINGO, Okla. (AP) - On Highway 22, a black, flashing sign warned people driving south that something big was happening in the city. Drivers were warned to expect heavy congestion and that the road was closed.

The highway becomes the city’s Main Street. On Friday, a stage was built as wide as the two-lane road. Traffic couldn’t pass Kemp Avenue. People were wandering along the sidewalk, checking out the shops on Main Street and peeking their heads into the new restaurant and bar, and adjoining store.

But Main Street store owners didn’t seem to mind the street closure. People were going to come back to the city to see the newest attraction: Blake Shelton’s Ole Red Tishomingo.

“I’m excited that he’s here and that he chose this place to be his second home,” said Kristie Cannon, president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce board. She owns four businesses, including the Dairy Queen and Latte Da Coffee Shop on Main Street.

The Journal Record reports that the city experienced a tourism boom that started in 2012 when Shelton’s ex-wife, country-music star Miranda Lambert, opened her Pink Pistol store and Ladysmith bed and breakfast. Building owners invested in their storefronts. Awnings were replaced. Cannon said buildings on real estate that once cost thousands of dollars were selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And like the story of Oklahoma, when there’s a boom, there’s a bust. Shelton and Lambert divorced, and in May 2016, he bought her Tishomingo property. He didn’t announce plans when he bought her property.

Cannon said the excitement picked up when people heard he was involved.

“We knew he would do something to help the town out,” she said. “I had hoped it would take six months. I didn’t know how long the town could survive.”

The Pink Pistol and Ladysmith closed by July. The worldwide customers who once came to the store took Tishomingo off their maps.

“It’s been really, really slow,” said Jackie Baker, who co-owns Baker’s Mercantile with her daughter-in-law, Jamie Baker. The mercantile is at the corner of Main and Kemp.

“It’s been hard,” Jackie Baker said. “There were days you didn’t want to open the store. It’s been depressing.”

The stage was being set up outside her window. A couple of people working on the stage wandered in to buy some roasted pecans.

Baker said there were four downtown businesses that survived the post-Miranda downturn. All those owners had other income. Baker is a retired teacher.

Murray on Main manager Emily Golden said the store’s sales dropped about 30 percent after Lambert closed her operations. The store is at Main and Kemp as well.

Baker said she had hope that since Shelton bought the buildings, there would be new venues. She said he was concerned about the residents, which was why he purchased the property.

Johnston County Chamber of Commerce Administrative Assistant Jordyn Naugle said Friday her phone had not stopped ringing. Shelton was performing a VIP concert on Friday and a free concert on Saturday, with other country-music singers.

She said there’s plenty to do in the area, but maybe it wasn’t marketed well after the Pink Pistol closed.

On Friday, she was getting calls about lodging. A new bed and breakfast will open next year. It’s being built along Main Street, down the road from Ole Red.

Baker is opening a second business on Main Street, Elizabeth’s Antiques. It will be open by Oct. 7, which is when the Chickasaw Nation will hold its annual festival.

Another seven businesses will open on Oct. 14. Cannon, who co-owns Ann’s Flower Shop with her daughter Connor Cannon, said they’ve started renting vendor space because so many people want to have a business and can’t find the space. Baker has vendor booths in her store as well. She told them to stock up on merchandise for the weekend. Golden said Murray has extra items as well.

Baker said even though the store saw a slowdown, she knew she couldn’t close it. She was born and raised in the city; she said that if she gave up, other people would think downtown had met its demise. She credited Houser Furniture’s Peggy Houser for sticking it out as well and holding together the downtown. Houser Furniture occupies several properties on Main Street.

She also applauded the Chickasaw Nation and its continued work to bring tourists to the city. The nation’s director of corporate development and tourism, Paige Shepherd, said the nation’s information center opened in April and has seen 2,500 visitors as of August.

“In Tishomingo as a whole, all the retail destinations and restaurants are members of Chickasaw Country, so we work together collectively,” she said. “We have been working with Ole Red’s manager and are excited to start a partnership with them. I don’t know what that looks like at this time.”

Cannon, who also grew up in Tishomingo, said she couldn’t give up either. She said she has always wanted something that would keep people here for jobs. She didn’t expect Lambert’s place to stay open long.

“I’ve waited my whole life to see something like this,” Cannon said. “This is a dream of mine.”

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


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