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Thank God for ‘Hoop Skirt Mafia’

was in line at a store in Natchez recently waiting to check out and overheard two young women — early 20s I would guess — talking about the Hoop Skirt Mafia. I wondered what in the world? Yes, I was eavesdropping. I admit it.

It soon became apparent whom they were talking about when they referred to the Hoop Skirt Mafia as “the garden club ladies who stop all of the progress from coming to Natchez.”

At that point I had to stifle a chuckle. Then, as they continued to discuss things about which they clearly knew nothing, I nearly bit a hole through my tongue for fear I was about to interject myself into their conversation and take these naïve, misinformed young women to school.

Every resident of Natchez should drop down to our knees and thank the good Lord for our Hoop Skirt Mafia, as they referred to them.

Natchez is what it is today because of a group of savvy women who, as a necessity in the aftermath of the Great Depression, took poor economic matters into their own hands and through imagination, lots of hard work and determination laid the foundation for what is today’s thriving tourism industry here.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the Pilgrimage Garden Club, as was my mother before me. My mother was never active in the club, and I have been an out-of-town member, but that’s about to change with my move back home.

Economies are cyclic and Natchez is in a rebuilding phase, but we have such a leg up on so many others who weren’t blessed with the historic assets we have. Natchez is going through the same economic difficulties so many other communities are having to face, as well. Imagine going through it without our tourism industry.

Tourists have evolved, and it is obvious in recent years those involved in the tourism industry here are working to evolve with it. Seeing the Natchez African American community take an active role in providing tourists with an accurate version of what Natchez was like pre-civil war for all people here — not just the genteel plantation owners but slaves, too — is something that should have happened long ago. And that involvement and collaboration will give birth to the next generation of our community’s tourism story.

Nonetheless, it all started with this group of ingenious women who recognized how precious our historic structures were to all in our community and fought and won some very difficult battles through the years to protect them.

Today we all in Natchez are beneficiaries of their good work.

And, women of Natchez — all of us together — should consider what these women did and challenge each other to lead the way into what becomes the next economic salvation here.

Maybe it means further developing retail sales from simply sales of goods into more of an experience. In many ways, the “Women of Main Street” are doing that and have been doing that for some time. The women who lead these retail businesses have together developed a very successful “brand” known as downtown Natchez. What they have created has us known among tourists who travel up and down the Mississippi as a not-to-be missed shopping destination.

Someone told me recently a bed and breakfast owner who works hard to please his guests, has been getting lots of questions from international tourists — men and women — about where they can go to shoot a shotgun. He’s struggling to provide that experience. Think about it. People who live in other countries don’t enjoy the gun rights we do in the United States. And they want to shoot a gun while they are here. Imagine the experience we could put together, which could be an incredible draw for international tourists into our community.

These are just a couple of ideas. No doubt together we could come up with a myriad of ways to build a bright and prosperous future for our children and grandchildren.

We should be so lucky as to be known as members of the Hoop Skirt Mafia.

Jan Griffey is general manager of The Natchez Democrat. You can reach her at jan.griffey@natchezdemocrat.com or 601-445-3566.

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