Colleen and Todd Read opened Da Beach House in Bay St. Louis after moving back to Mississippi from Hawaii.
BAY ST. LOUIS — A year ago Colleen and Todd Read were living in “paradise,” Oahu, Hawaii. The beach there has been named one of the most beautiful in the world, and both had great jobs in addition to having launched a non-profit inspirational organization.
“We had some golden opportunities,” Colleen Read says. “But then our son, Johnny, said he wanted to move back to Mississippi to go to school with his cousins. I looked at my values, which I had written down, and clearly ‘family’ was written at the top of the list. So we came back, not knowing what we were going to do when we got here.”
The Reads stopped at the municipal pier located on the 600 block of South Beach Boulevard, which is south of the main commercial district of Bay St. Louis, and considered what to do next. They wanted to find a business that would fit the needs of the community. Right across the street from the pier was a building that had been abandoned for nearly a decade.
“What happened next is basically a miracle,” Read said. “We said, ‘Okay, we’re back in Mississippi. We have to do what we love. Let’s go for it.’”
In May the Reads opened Da Beach House, a store which has everything you might find in a beach house: kayaks, bicycles, swimming gear, beach clothing and marine-themed artwork. In addition to providing free kayak demonstrations, Da Beach House hosts a wide range of free cultural and educational opportunities ranging from poetry readings and musical entertainment to presentations on local history.
There are Friday night drum circles at sunset, lessons on kayaking and kayaking clubs. The business also throws luau parties for weddings, birthday parties and other events.
Da Beach House has been a great addition to the city that has rejuvenated the beachfront area near Washington Street, says Carleen Moran, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce.
“It is amazing to see what they have done with an old building,” Moran said. “If you saw the building before, you wouldn’t believe it is the same building. The Reads have opened their arms to embrace the community, and we just like having them here.”
For a long time there was a nice beach in that part of town with parking and a pier, but no perks for visitors. Moran enjoys driving past early in the morning and seeing people sitting at the beach area, and at tables outside the business enjoying the sunrise over the bay.
“You’ll see adults enjoying some peace and tranquility before going to work,” Moran said. “The business is a no-stress atmosphere offering some high-end educational and cultural experiences for people who wouldn’t normally get it, particularly the youth. It is a very family-oriented kind of place.”
Da Beach House is decorated with a Hawaiian theme, and a lot of the merchandise comes from Hawaii. Murals are painted on the walls and ceilings, and the center of the business has comfortable couches and chairs for lounging or listening to one of the special programs. A small room is reserved for educational videos on topics such as swimming and water safety, kayaking and protecting the marine environment. Kayaks, bikes and windsurfers are available for rent.
Live, love, work and play
Read said their motto is live, love, work and play all at the same time. “And this business has allowed us to do that,” she said. “If we can work and share and play, and do things we love at the same time, that is what makes life so wonderful. I’m really happy we came back. We have so many wonderful natural resources here. It is really a positive environment. To be here at this time of change is an extraordinary gift.”
Although making a living is important, the Reads also wanted a way to support their non-profit organization, Earth Events. Read has been involved in non-profit organizations for 15 years, and originally moved to Hawaii to be director of the American Heart Association. Then she was hired by Wyland, one of the world’s leading marine life artists, to do marine environmental education programs. At one point Read and her colleagues did environmental education for schools in 50 states in a total of 70 days.
The intention of Da Beach House is to have income to support the Reads’ desire to continue doing non-profit work. “The real reason we produced the business is because we have a not-for-profit that does inspirational programming,” Read said. “We wanted to develop a business that would mirror our program by creating an environment that would inspire people to healthier lifestyles.”
Read thinks the “play” part is important. And she believes good self-esteem is critically important. She says people aren’t likely to develop healthier eating and exercise habits or work to clean up the environment unless they feel good about themselves.
“You want to reach out and help others when you feel best about yourself,” Read said. “We inspire people to be who they are, and not compare themselves to everyone else. We come up with activities that make people feel good about themselves.”
One such activity planned by Todd Read is teaching six-man competitive canoe racing. He says that type of sport attracts kids who aren’t necessarily into other sports like basketball and football. Competitive canoe racing is popular on the West Coast, the East Coast and Hawaii. Todd hopes to launch a similar program here on the Gulf Coast working first with schools in the Bay St. Louis area.
One of the reasons why the Reads promote kayaking is that it is one of the few sports that puts you in the middle of nature without a motor.
“The water here is one of our greatest resources,” Colleen says. “That is why we are excited about it. You can get close to nature. A guy kayaking the other day got next to a pod of dolphins, and was able to watch them feed and play. We try to let people know that life and nature go together. We are not separate from nature. It is all one and the same thing.”
The business that is not yet a year old is already expanding. They have obtained an annex in Waveland in order to have a kayak trip from Bay St. Louis to Waveland. Visitors kayak to Waveland, and then pick up a bicycle to ride back to Da Beach House along the new 10-foot-wide bike path along the shoreline.
The Reads are also renovating an 1856 building north of Da Beach House that formerly was home to Bay House Collections. Programs and classes are outgrowing the space in Da Beach House. The Bay House will be used for art classes and studios, yoga and meditation classes, prosperity workshops and other programs. Also in the works is a community project painting a large mural on the seawall next to Da Beach House.
A short distance away, the Reads are renovating an old carriage house dating from the 1840s for use as their residence. Their current home is a 1921 house that was formerly a grocery store in Gulfport. The couple is also considering launching a similar bike and kayak rental shop in either Biloxi or Ocean Springs.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.