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Oxford’s Past and Present as Told by Locals

Where does the center of Oxford lie today?

As restaurants and shopping options grow on Jackson Avenue and forest land vanishes around the under-construction hospital, it is becoming more and more difficult to figure out exactly what Oxford is.

“You can go to Jackson and see that stuff anywhere else,” junior Emily McKee said. “As it grows, I don’t know where Oxford is headed.”

Many Oxonians credit most of their earliest memories to the Square, not Jackson Avenue.

Dewey Knight, associate director of first year experience, was born in Oxford after World War II when his father was in law school. For Knight, the Square was a large component of his childhood.

“I remember going to Rob Bole’s shoe shop,” Knight said. “Ultimately, they couldn’t pay the rent because everything around it had gotten so big. Where Funky’s is now, that used to be Parks’s barber shop. First place I ever got my hair cut. A barber shop can’t make it there.”

Years later, the Square retains some of the same opportunities for students.

On Friday nights, students dress up to enjoy a homestyle meal at Ajax or find deals of the night at Rooster’s or The Corner. It is where county judiciary meetings are held, where lawyers house their firms and where residents travel to worship.

Surely they have found Oxford’s center. But drive down Jackson Avenue, which branches off the Square, and you will find a Wal-Mart and other retail supercenters, workout facilities, tanning salons and restaurants on the avenue.

With sprawling suburbs and new businesses sprouting up to meet the increasing demand, it becomes easier for many Oxonians to bypass the Square altogether.

“Maybe we are at a point where there are two hubs, one on Jackson and one on the Square, which just adds to the diversity of Oxford,” international studies major McRae Mayfield said.

Mayfield is not alone when she says she values the small and diverse city compared to her Atlanta hometown.

The urban sprawl of Oxford has gained the most acreage in the past decade.

“I don’t necessarily like it,” student Ann-Marie Herod said. “But I think what they’re doing is going back and trying to meet the needs of everybody.”

As a result of the increased commercialization on Jackson, the small businesses on the Square may begin to face challenges. With recent growth, comes the physical expansion of businesses off the Square.
Amy Wells-Dolan, associate dean of higher education, said she remembers moving to Oxford and discovering certain unmatched characteristics about the Square that separated it from everywhere else.

“I found unique surprises that were incredible, but they may deceive the eye,” Wells-Dolan said. “Ajax has its toothpicks. The Square has double decker busses. That’s something I didn’t see at home in Kentucky.”

Even 10 years ago, the Square was Oxford’s center. Businesses in town such as Neilson’s, City Grocery and Square Books were symbols that made the Square the town hub.

Today, however, the chain businesses on Jackson are demanding more consumer attraction that takes attention away from the Square.

As more students enroll in the University, consumers spend increasing amounts of time in traffic on Jackson buying necessities for everyday life and entertainment, rather than shopping at the upscale retailers on the Square.

Jackson Avenue now provides services like washing and dry cleaning, chain restaurants, kickboxing gyms, entertainment centers and Walmart, which are definitely not bad businesses to have in a bustling college town like Oxford.

“Everything closed up at 5 o’clock,” Ole Miss graduate Susan Scott Oliphant said. “There were no restaurants, and nothing was open on Wednesday afternoons. I hate that the younger crowd doesn’t get to see how the Square used to be.”

Similar services to those presently on Jackson used to be located on the Square, according to Oliphant.
On a stroll around the Square in 1963, there were three drugstores, including Blaylock’s Drug Store – now Square Books – a hardware shop, a small grocery store, banks, law offices, movie theaters and an old hotel above what is now Yaya’s Frozen Yogurt.

Ann Dedmon graduated from Ole Miss in 1992 and said she loves the small-town feel of the home to the University.

“Being from Houston, Texas, I wasn’t mature enough to go to another big city,” Dedmon said. “Oxford seemed like a great place to spread my wings.”

Article by Hailey McKee who is a journalism student at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media. For questions and comments, email us at hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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