Destination Downtown: Talk of the Town

Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography by Woody Woodard.

For nine years I have observed and written about the evolving of downtown Jackson in VIP Jackson Magazine’s Downtown Destination special section in May. What fun it is to observe the development of our center city and to see people of all ages and from all walks of life live, work and play in the heart of our city!

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing two businessmen who are major stake holders in exciting new enterprises in downtown Jackson. I talked to Jerry Corley, partner in Hub City Brewing located on Main Street at Riverside Drive. Then I spoke to John Allen about his most recent acquisition—the vintage Greyhound Bus Station on Main Street across from The Ned.


A Conversation With Jerry Corley

Managing Partner, Hub City Brewing, and Rock’n Dough Pizza & Brewing

VIP: When did you decide to take on the renovation of the old building at the corner of Main and Riverside Drive?

Jerry Corley: My good friend, Brad Hayes, Hoyt Hayes’ son, called me in 2009 or 2010 to tell me that a friend of his had purchased this big building. Was I interested in buying this building? I told him I had no time or interest. Then one of my managers mentioned that he had observed this great building and suggested that we check it out, so we did. I called Brad and asked to see the building and quote me a price.

VIP: How long did the renovation take?

JC: We started talking about this project in July of last year. I got Brad involved in mid-August, and we got the plans done for the building. We began construction in mid-September, and we finished the first weeek of February. It was a fairly quick turnaround.

VIP: Let’s talk about the history and past usages of this building.

JC: We know that it was first a car dealership in 1916, and it opened its doors in May of 1916. The only way to get upstairs is up a wooden ramp. When they bought more cars, they needed a place to store them, so they built a wooden ramp and they could wench the car and get upstairs. Then it was a grocery store. There is about 14,000 square feet of space upstairs. About 90 percent of it is really good pine floor that was hand laid and nailed in place. When the railroad tracks came in, they could unload the train. A loading dock was built in 1945. We discovered a 28-foot conveyor belt lying on the second floor. It is a belt that got groceries off the train. We redid the belt and made it our bar top.

A 60-foot-tall chimney goes down into the second floor and all the way down to the ground floor. During our construction we found a basement, so we opened up a hole big enough to get down in there. We were the first people to go in there since 1945 when they built the loading dock on top of it. This place had been sealed since 1945. We discovered piles of dirt that had washed in the basement over the last 64 years. There were whiskey bottles and beer bottles. So we went through all of the bottles, and they are on display in the brewery now. We found some really neat bottles from New Jersey dated 1923, and we found Memphis bottles and a glass dairy bottle with the name Perry Dairy Farms, Jackson, TN, in perfect condition.

People on the train coming from New Jersey or wherever they came from loaded up the train with illegal booze and dropped off the New Jersey bottle. Maybe it was a bootlegging situation.

The building has a total of 40,000 square feet. We only occupy 20,000 square feet. We don’t occupy the upstairs because we would need an elevator.

VIP: Talk about the usage of the building now.

JC: The bowling lanes were the variable. We knew we wanted a tap room, and we had to have space for the brewery and a full stage with light and sound. I’ve dabbled in the music world for several years in Jackson. I knew if we wanted good talent to play there, we should make it really easy for them. We could get home talent because this place is easy to play. We built a stage where it is easy for the band to pull in almost up to the stage.

Some tap rooms have very little to do but have a beer or two and play some board games. A lot don’t have Wifi or TVs. Downtown Jackson lacks for things to do other than eat, work out and hit the Escape Room. There are few things to give people a reason to come and stay. I reached out to Brunswick Bowling. They were extremely excited because there is not another brewery in the country (possibly in the world) that has bowling lanes!

VIP: Talk about the things to do at Hub City Brewery. What sets your business apart?

JC: The ambiance has been such a hit! We offer some things that are free. It is family-friendly. We have Wifi, a huge projector screen that we show games on, and 3 big TVs in the tap room. We have yard games, outdoor bar seating, and outdoor patio seating.

The biggest hit is the bowling. People love the bowling! And they have loved the music that we brought in. We have a limited menu that includes great pimiento cheese that we buy from ComeUnity Café.

Our number one goal is to distribute beer within the county. We’re beer distributors. Another goal is to bring in acts that don’t play in Jackson that bring people in from out of town. We want a big enough name that people drive over from Tupelo, Nashville, Memphis or Kentucky. Hopefully they get a hotel room. We close at 10:30 pm. Why? We want people to hit places like the Downtown Tavern or The Tap or Mulligan’s where the local people are just starting their shift. Most of our shows start at 8:30pm, and we do that on purpose—to give people time to have dinner, which we want them to do. Everybody is out of our building by 10:30pm. Our business model is to support other businesses. We are not trying to take away from other places that are good solid places with local music.

We offer private parties. People may rent the space, have a band and let people bowl all night long. This is a really different take on a fun wedding reception. There are all kinds of packages that we can put together. The catering option is wide open. People may bring in whatever caterer they want, and we are considerably less expensive than most places.

VIP: Breweries are hot in Tennessee. Do you plan to duplicate this multi-faceted brewery/bowling alley in other cities?

JC: We definitely would. We can duplicate the concept but not this building. Time will tell. If I were to scoop up our building and move it to Memphis or Nashville or anywhere else, it would be a huge success! There is not another building with the history that our building has.
Our beer is really good. Our brew master, who is also the brew master at Hub City Brewing, got his recipes at Rock n Dough.

There has not been a really good craft beer market in Jackson. It is lacking here. We just started distribution this week to Milligan’s, and Blacksmith’s has two of our beers.

VIP: What is downtown Jackson missing?

JC: We’ve got a good balance of restaurants. We probably could use some shopping. We need more people before shops will come in. I’d like to see Jackson build a 75-80 room Convention Center hotel downtown.


A Conversation With John Allen

Owner of the Greyhound Bus Station

VIP: When did you purchase the Greyhound Bus Station, which was built in 1938 from Miss Hollowell, who ran the bus station for years. Her husband and son had an engine repair shop on site.

John Allen: We bought the bus station In October of last year.

VIP: Why did you buy our vintage bus station?

JA: I want to make sure a little piece of history is retained in downtown Jackson. Also, the bus station is adjacent to property that I own. With the existing properties that I own I thought it would enhance any type of development that I could lure to the Greyhound Bus Station.

I lost my Mom when I was 9 years old. She got sick right after I was born, and all of the family chipped in to help me. They traveled to Jackson on a Greyhound bus when they could not drive to Jackson. So this bus station has a personal connection with me.

I own Suites LaRue, an apartment building, behind the bus station. There is a kitchen there where food could be prepared for functions or a restaurant in the bus station. I plan to put a warming kitchen inside the bus station. It complements LaRue behind the bus station.

VIP: I have been told that Jackson’s Greyhound Bus Station is one of only three in the nation that until recently was operating as a bus station. Is this true?

JA: I heard the same thing—that we were one of three left in the nation. I am not certain where the other two were, perhaps the East Coast and Mississippi. The bus station was built in 1938 by Hubert Owens Construction Company of Jackson.

VIP: Have you had any interesting finds during the renovation?

JA: We have found a lot of memorabilia and artifacts from long ago. We found old vintage signage that people pay a lot for on the internet. We will display this signage. We also found records of service men who were going to and from the Greyhound station and records of business people and prisoners being transported back and forth through the Greyhound.

VIP: What was the most interesting discovery for you?

JA: One of the most interesting things that I found was a lot of records from people who traveled here, and we found the log sheet in the attic in a storage area where a lot of old records from the 1940s and 1950s were housed. You have to tear away so many layers of remodeling—everything from flooring to ceiling—to see what you must do. From this point forward I have to go through historical guidelines to try to put the bus station on the National Register of Historic Places.

A number of years ago a movie was filmed at the Greyhound station. That was the last time the exterior neon lights were burning.

VIP: Where are you in the renovation process?

JA: As with any project like this where you’re trying to get back to as close to the original as possible, you have to go through years of remodeling and alterations that were done during various stages of the occupancy. We tore much of the old stuff out that was not historical. We have gotten a tremendous amount of bird nests out of the building. We are getting all of the neon refurbished and put back on and trying to get back to the original footprint to know what we have to work with.

VIP: What’s next on the drawing board?

JA: We are going through the submittal process with the National Historic Register to get approval to make changes in the exterior, and we’re beginning the build-back process. We’re making needed structural repairs to keep things watertight. We have ordered all exterior neon and will go back to the original way it was. We uncovered all of the curved windows in the corners, and we put new glass in those where the inside is very well lit naturally by the sun. The name of the station will not change.

VIP: How will the former bus station be used?

JA: I can’t tell you what will end up there. I can tell you what I think would be good for downtown development or the historic area. I think it would make a wonderful museum or tourism center. I also think it would make a good destination point as a small restaurant or something that will complement The Ned across the street. It would also be a great venue for entertainment, perhaps a venue for local artists or people on a circuit who would like to play and entertain. I’m looking for something that will attract middle-age people—some good music, maybe some country music, some classical music or soft rock. It could be a destination for people to come downtown. I‘ll have plenty of parking, so we can host any kind of crowd. We have not started much marketing yet because I’m trying to get the exterior of the building complete to have something to show.

Of all the buildings I’ve renovated downtown, this one has received the most attention. I had an opportunity that I acted on, and I’ll figure it out as I go along.