BAY ST. LOUIS — This unique town on the Bay of St. Louis has an easy-going charm and an Old Town area that draws shoppers and browsers to its fascinating mix of antique stores, gift shops, art galleries and restaurants. It now claims as its own one of New Orleans’ best known antique stores. As of this month, Charbonnet & Charbonnet Inc. have totally relocated to this Hancock County town.
For 32 years it was an institution on New Orleans’ Magazine Street, a mecca for antiques lovers. The store’s founder, Millicent Charbonnet, was one of the first dealers to open an antique business there and was instrumental in making the street known to antique lovers worldwide. Charbonnet & Charbonnet was housed at three different locations but always on Magazine Street.
According to the Charbonnets’ son-in-law, Mark Britton, their most recent Magazine Street building, with 8,000 square feet of space and off-street parking, has been sold and the business is officially closed there.
“We’ve all moved here and embraced the lifestyle here,” he said.
The Charbonnets, like many New Orleanians, have had a long affinity for the Mississippi Gulf Coast and spent weekends and summers at their home in Pass Christian. After Sid Charbonnet retired from his law practice several years ago, they spent more and more time on the Coast.
“At first, the Bay St. Louis location was a branch. We started in March of 2003 with 500 square feet to test the waters,” said Britton, the company’s business manager. “Within a short period of time, we knew we had a winner. Now our focus is over here”
Charbonnet & Charbonnet purchased and renovated a lovely old home, complete with picket fence and garden walkway, at 216 Main Street. The business moved into the new space in July 2003 but soon realized there wasn’t enough space there either. Just this month they leased 2,000 square feet in the back of Serenity Gallery at 126 Main Street. Now, they are preparing to open a third location on Main Street, a house formerly known as the Kullins Cottage. Here the Charbonnets will have office space and workshop space for custom made furniture and refinishing.
“You couldn’t find a better reception than we’ve had here,” Britton said of the Bay St. Louis business community. “We honestly were overwhelmed with how we were received here.”
The family quickly became involved with the Old Town Merchants Association. Britton has already served as vice president, and Millicent Charbonnet is currently the group’s treasurer.
“To have a business of the caliber of Charbonnet & Charbonnet, which has an international reputation, come to our community is the highest compliment we can be paid,” said Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a tribute to our area that they will relocate their business here.”
Williams said the community has totally embraced Charbonnet & Charbonnet, which has brought along a great enthusiasm and love for the town.
“When I found out about their move here, I felt great pride that they think that much of our community,” she said. “They’re a lovely family and have great class and commitment.”
Britton, who married the Charbonnets’ daughter, Millicent Jr., lived in New York until they moved here one year ago to manage the coastal store.
“When I talk to friends and family up North, I tell them I live in Mayberry,” he said. “The people are fantastic. I could go on and on about Bay St. Louis and South Mississippi. I can’t say enough nice things.”
Charbonnet & Charbonnet specializes in country antiques with an emphasis on pine furniture. Millicent has well-established relationships with dealers throughout England and Europe. She travels to England and Europe to hand select traditional pieces. They recently expanded their collection to include country Chinese antiques.
Additionally, the business is well known for its uniquely designed furniture that is custom built of antique pine, cypress and bargewood. Its beds made from old cypress doors have been popular with customers for 30 years, too.
Along with antiques and reproductions, Charbonnet & Charbonnet carries hand-embroidered linens and home accessories such as lamps and prints. They also do monogramming. Coastal clothing is a new offering since the relocation to Bay St. Louis.
“These clothes are light-weight cottons and linens,” Britton said. “Millicent Charbonnet likes to add a coastal flair to everything she does.”
Millicent, who does the buying, has lots of assistance. “We thought we would start with ladies linens and having three daughters and one daughter-in-law, I knew I would have great help in developing our lines of ladies clothing,” she said.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.