“Well everybody was trying to figure it out,” said Norma Massey, the owner of Frederick’s Shoe Store, 1218 Washington St., across the street from the parking lot.
Since Wednesday, the wooden boat has been sitting on a trailer in the parking lot next to the old Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1221 Washington St., near the corner of Washington and Clay streets. Lisa and Randy Ashcraft bought the building and adjacent parking lot in April of 2008.
The Ashcrafts have been working on two two-bedroom, two-bathroom street-level apartments on the Clay Street side of the building, and they plan to put a bakery in the building when they finish the apartments. The apartments should be ready in about three weeks, and there is currently no time line for the bakery.
As for the mysterious steamboat, Lisa Ashcraft said it will be a concession stand, serving hot dogs, soda, french fries and possibly frozen soft drinks from the parking lot in which it now sits. She said she hopes to have it open for business by July 4.
The Ashcrafts have properties and businesses in other states — including real estate in Florida, a warehouse in Alabama and a metal recycling facility in Arkansas — and have built and run concession stands before. They had a franchise with The Home Depot and, at one point, had a stand at every Home Depot location in Destin and Pensacola, Fla.
Ashcraft said she wanted to buy property in Vicksburg because she was attracted to the city’s history. After a while, she saw a need for a concession stand.
“There’s no place for kids to get a hot dog and a Coke,” she said.
In the past, the Ashcrafts’ concession stands have been themed and made to look like log cabins, shingle-roofed houses and even igloos. This one, Lisa Ashcraft said, was inspired by Vicksburg’s culture and riverfront.
“I was standing on the balcony; I looked down at the horizon and thought, ‘Hmm, this needs to be a steamboat,’” she said.
Ira Bolar, who lives near Biloxi and has done some work for the Ashcrafts on the Washington Street building, constructed the steamboat look-alike. It took Bolar about a month to build, and the stand still needs interior cabinets and electric work.
In order to start selling from the steamboat, the State Health Department must inspect it and issue a food service permit. With that, the Ashcrafts can buy a privilege license from the city for $20 or $30, depending on the number of employees. Once they fill out a Mississippi registration application and receive a state sales tax number, the Ashcrafts should be ready start improving downtown Vicksburg, one wiener at a time.
Lisa Ashcraft estimated that about three-fourths of the parking lot, which is now closed off from public parking, will be reserved for apartment residents and bakery and concession stand employees. The rest will be reopened for the public.
“Our 1200 block has definitely needed more foot traffic,” she said. “I’m hopeful and optimistic as a business person.
”Other businesses on the block also look forward to attracting people to an otherwise too-quiet section of downtown. Massey said she thinks the concession stand is a good fit — children can play at Catfish Row, go to the stand to eat and shop in her store.
“It’s fascinating. It sure has drawn a lot of attention,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like. Anything new is good.”
Ashcraft — who has been working on developing the Washington Street building and plans to do the electric work in the concession stand herself — said she is happy to be part of the historic downtown. She said she loves seeing people stop on the street to take pictures of the improvements on the building and the work she’s done.
“I enjoy the history of Vicksburg and (wanted to) be part of the saving of the downtown area,” Ashcraft said. “I want to contribute my part. (Excerpt taken from The Vicksburg Post)