Beale Street reaches the end of an era - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Beale Street reaches the end of an era

(WMC-TV) - World Famous Beale Street will make history on January 1 when the reigns are handed over to new management.

John Elkington has managed Beale Street for the last 33 years. But he will turn it all over to the Downtown Memphis Commission when the clock strikes midnight.

When John Elkington's company, Performa Entertainment, took over Beale, the streets were dust, the paint was peeling, and the sound of the blues was a distant memory.

Since then, Beale Street has generated $60 million in sales for the city. The street is now bustling and there is talk of expansion.

Before John Elkington began managing Beale Street 33 years ago, Memphis suffered through four failed attempts to the landmark back to life. A hardware store and A. Shwab Dry Goods were the only retailers on the 1.8-mile strip.

"They were just buildings, destroyed or falling apart," he said. "It wasn't magic. It wasn't a miracle. It was hard work, dedication, and perseverance."

Elkington credits Memphians who "believed" for making Beale Street what it is today.

"This was not anybody from out of town. These were people who lived here, grew up here, loved the city," he said.

According to Elkington, the sights and sounds of Beale Street were deliberate.

"We only had neon signs, we wanted to make sure we emphasized the history, music, and the culture."

Elkington says 30 percent of Beale's businesses are owned by African-Americans and more than 70 percent of the employees are African-American.

He also credits three turning points for making Beale the Most Iconic Street in America: B.B. Kings, Hard Rock Cafe, and Action News 5.

"When Channel 5 decided they would have New Year's Eve on Beale Street, that was a huge, huge marketing thing for us," said Elkington.

As the lawsuit over Beale Street control ends, Elkington is relieved to turn over a legacy in good standing both financially and in reputation.

"It's a lot of pressure to be the person that's constantly criticized or it's your fault," he said. "You get a whole lot more criticism than compliments."

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