Once upon a time when the world was younger and no one ever dreamed there would be a Nikki Minaj, the area of Cooper-Young was just a non-descript corner of Midtown Memphis. But, 40 years later, perseverance and a shared vision have transformed the community into a vibrant and active district elevated to be named as one of the Top 10 Great Neighborhoods in the country by the American Planners Association. Yes, move over "Midtown is Memphis," Cooper-Young is now the self-proclaimed "Soho of the South."
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"I love the diversity of this neighborhood all around including the food, the people, the housing stock, churches. You name it," says Stone Soup co-owner Sharron Johnson.
In praising Cooper-Young for its "unique and authentic characteristics", the APA noted the community's historical rise from the early 1950s, when unemployed residents headed for greener pastures in the developing suburbs and saw the occupancy of historic homes drop below 50 percent. But, in the mid-70s the Cooper-Young Community Association issued in a new era which culminated in 1988 with a growth of a business association which Johnson joined thirty years ago.
"It exploded with a lot of hard work. There were a lot of people in the community and business owners that came together on one common table to work on a common goal...success," says Johnson.
Stone Soup co-owner Troy Norwood says, "It's like the story of Stone Soup. The whole community coming together you know for the good of the community and it really has been a positive experience."
Of course the inception of the wildly popular one-day "Cooper-Young Festival", which celebrated its 25th year in September, with 90,000 people taking in arts, crafts, foods and music, has brought more than just acclaim to the 200 businesses that have set up shop.
"Such a great spirit. And in addition to that even on Saturday's well have the Cooper-Young Farmers' Market across the street at First Cong Church. It's just such a great spirit and feel in the community and everyone supports each other," says Norwood.
Johnson adds, "The economy really didn't hurt this area. We kinda keep our money here with ourselves. The only thing we may be lacking is a grocery store."
So, beat the drums and as Nikki sings "pound the alarm", Cooper-Young has more than just arrived, it's thriving as the "Soho of the South."
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