With the addition of a new mural on University Avenue and Oxford’s arts center, the Powerhouse, located there – this semester Oxford Stories is embarking on a small solutions journalism project. Our reporters are starting a community conversation about the possibility of a continued arts emphasis in the University Avenue area.
If you live in Oxford, you might do a lot of shopping and running errands on the west side of town, sitting in Jackson Avenue traffic for considerable lengths of time, and eventually completing all of your tasks in that one area of Oxford.
If you spend a lot of time on the west side of town, you may not have much of a reason to venture over to University Avenue for anything, which might lead you to believe business is declining in that area.
However, according to two University Avenue business owners, business has been steady.
Brandon Kyser is the manager of PJ’s Wine and Liquor, which has been on University Avenue since 1984. His father, Doug Kyser, owns the business, and Brandon has worked there for 15 years. He says there has been no noticeable decline in business over the years.
“I don’t think so,” he said.”Probably the opposite, with all of the expansion they’re doing on Sisk on the east side of town and Highway 6, along with Kroger’s expansion. That’s going to make it easier for people to do what they need to on this side of town.
“I think people will drive to whatever on this side of town if they want something specific, but they won’t on the other side of town. If they can get it on this side of town, they won’t ever go over there.”
Ayers Spencer, co-owner of Oby’s, echoed this point. Oby’s is a restaurant on University Avenue that specializes in Cajun food. It has existed in the same location for almost 15 years. Spencer believes it is much easier to travel on University Avenue than Jackson Avenue.
“I can get from one end of University to the other much faster than on Jackson,” Spencer said. “Everyone thinks West Jackson is where you want to be, but for me personally, I try to avoid it the best I can.”
Spencer has not noticed a decline in business, either.
“I don’t think so at all,” he said, “I think there’s still a lot of traffic. Our business has either grown or held steady ever since we’ve opened. I think it’s still a strong area.
“Newk’s was here when we opened. They’re still here. McAllister’s was here, and they’re still here. Outside of Embers or My Guys, or whatever it was called at the time, moving to the other side of town, I think it’s stayed pretty steady.”
Kyser agreed that he has not seen many businesses move to Jackson Avenue either, and the ones that do often rebrand themselves. He pointed out that some have closed after moving.
“On the other side of town, whatever you would think of opening, there’s already two over there,” said Kyser.
Kyser and Spencer did not seem concerned with the expansion of other parts of town, such as Sisk Avenue, both stating that the area is relatively close to University Avenue and could even bring more traffic to that part of Oxford.
They also agreed on what types of business additions would be best suited for University Avenue, both saying that restaurants would be beneficial to the area.
“I think University Avenue is retail and restaurant pretty much,” Spencer said. “I think that’s what brings the traffic in.”
As for his vision of University Avenue and what changes he would make, Spencer pointed out that traffic can get backed up on such a narrow road.
“There’s not really room to widen it,” he said. “It’s a narrow street, and I know when you’re going up the hill, you’ll get behind people trying to make a left turn. To make a left turn, you’re going to have to wait.”
When questioned about the new mural on University Avenue, Kyser said that he liked it, but it is a bit abstract for his taste.
“They could have done something more historical or Oxford-related,” he said.
As for the idea of designating University Avenue as an arts district, both Spencer and Kyser seemed receptive to the idea, but were not exactly sure what an arts district would entail.
“When I think of an arts district, I think of somewhere with a lot of foot traffic, and University Avenue is not very conducive to that with the hills and heavy vehicle traffic,” he said. “But the city usually does a pretty good job with figuring stuff like that out. I would be hoping to look into it and see what it could do for the area for sure.
“You know, Oxford as a whole has kind of outgrown its infrastructure. You have the Square, you have North and South Lamar that can’t be expanded. Growing pains of what is still a small town.”