The Pinch district, one of Memphis’s oldest neighborhoods, has fallen out of cultural consciousness with only a handful of businesses holding on to the 30-acre area. With the Bass Pro Shops
opening this year at the Memphis Pyramid and the upcoming MEMfix
urban revitalization event, many people believe that’s poised to change.
The district excels in “location, history and convenience,” says Tanja Mitchell, Community Development Coordinator at Uptown Partnership.
The Pinch district, which is demarcated by Front St., A.W. Willis Ave., Third St. and Interstate 40, is made up of some of Memphis’ original roads. Explorers in the 1700s turned their Mississippi River rafts into domiciles when they landed on the Pinch district’s high bluffs. Later, Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine of the 1860s settled into the area. Their bodies, wracked by famine and poverty, gave rise to the derisive name of the Pinch-Gut district.
Original Memphis city plan in 1819
Further populations of Italian, German and Jewish immigrants as well as freed slaves and sharecroppers set the tone for the Pinch district as a hub for entrepreneurship. One of the area’s advantages is that the existing structures still lend themselves to merchants who want to live above their stores.
“You can live and work in the same place. That’s the way it’s always been done. It’s zoned like that. Let’s take advantage of it,” said Jimmy Ogle, Shelby County Historian.
Linda Thomas has lived above her store Red Fish Gallery
on North Main St. for over ten years. She references the immediate area’s four restaurant owners by their first names. This is a close-knit neighborhood, but it needs more people. “We need people to come in now. The pyramid is going to be a miracle and a magnet to draw more developers,” she said.
What’s holding the Pinch back? Thomas and Mitchell agree that it’s the property owners. Multiple property owners make any kind of development push difficult, but they’ve been waiting to sell to the highest bidder since talks about the Pyramid repurposing began. The lack of a property owners or community association further isolates the parcels of the Pinch district. “Property owners need to get realistic about land prices,” Mitchell said.
“They’ve left a sea of parking lots,” Thomas added.
The upcoming MEMfix event on April 11 promises to bring the north Memphis neighborhood back to its roots as a center for diversity and vibrant business ownership. Livable Memphis and the Downtown Neighborhood Association
will energize the neighborhood with street vendors and pop-up shops.
“It’s been frozen in time and paralyzed seven years. I can understand their hesitation with the Pyramid (Regional Bass Pro Shop development being prolonged), but now it’s happening. Now is the time,” Thomas assures.