Natchez — Beautiful Natchez, the historic town on the Mississippi River, is getting a burst of new activity thanks to the efforts of Edward and Kathryn McCabe Killelea. This energetic couple, who married three years ago, moved to Edward’s hometown from New York where both worked for ABC Carpet & Home Store. Kathryn grew up on Long Island but has as much fervor for Natchez as Edward.
“I like the finer things in life and that’s why I like Natchez so much,” she said. “The people here are so well traveled and are appreciative of everything that is done here.”
The things the Killeleas are doing include opening downtown businesses and a bed and breakfast inn, encouraging local artists, refurbishing old buildings, bringing entertainment to town and serving in cultural and civic organizations. There is currently a lot of activity in developing old buildings downtown including the one they own on Commerce Street.
“I understand why it’s so hard to redo these old buildings,” Kathryn said. “We have to do ours in stages. Hopefully, in the spring we will start working on it. It looks like the Civil War just ended. We don’t want to fill in our basement and are waiting until we can afford to repair it.”
They also own a building on Main Street. That’s where Different Accents, their first Natchez endeavor, is located. It is housed in half of the building where Edward’s mother’s shop, Brown Barnett Dixon, has been a local favorite for many years. Different Accents grew out of the wholesale import business the Killeleas started while living in New York. They had quite a few customers from the South and branched out to include wholesale and retail in Edward’s part of the downtown Natchez building.
“It’s difficult to describe Different Accents,” Kathryn said. “We sell imported furniture, jewelry, clothing, gifts, soaps, candles, garden furniture and rugs — things that have some sort of story, history or meaning.”
But there’s a lot going on in the Main Street building now that there’s an art gallery in the back dedicated to showcasing artists who’ve never been able to display their work. “The space flows from one part to the next as the colors of the walls change,” she said. “We’ve also created a two-tier courtyard in the back and will eventually have a water fountain there.”
A bed and breakfast, Locust Alley Guest House, with hardwood floors and exposed brick walls, is in this back part of the building that fronts on Locust Alley. There’s a separate entrance so guests do not have to enter through Different Accents. It’s also where the Killeleas lived before they purchased a home and three acres of land overlooking the river on Clifton Avenue. There’s even a guest suite in their home.
Their next project is to open a coffee shop near the art gallery and Different Accents. It will be partitioned off from the shop. “We want someone to come in and run it,” Kathryn said. “Until then, we won’t have cappuccino and latte but will start selling gourmet coffee and offer a better cup of coffee than you can get here.”
Convincing someone to run the coffee shop shouldn’t be difficult for this industrious couple. They were instrumental in having friends move to Natchez and open up Planet Thailand serving Thai food and sushi.
“We were told that people here would never go for that kind of food but the restaurant has been open three years now,” Edward said. “We meet people in our store every week who’ve just moved here from other places.”
Edward convinced the Downtown Development Board to begin a street fair like those he and Kathryn liked in New York. The first annual Art & Soul Festival was held the first week in October. The art and music event featured 45 artists, but he says the jurists were lenient this first year.
“None of us knew what we were doing, but this first one actually made money,” he said. “All the businesses stayed open late and had a record week during a time that is usually slow. We closed Main and Commerce streets for stages and others want their streets closed next year.”
This entrepreneur hopes to bring more music to Natchez. Recalling his days of booking bands while a student at the University of Alabama, Edward has two groups booked for a concert November 30 to benefit the New Orleans/Natchez Connection, a group formed to boost the economy and help people who’ve been displaced by recent hurricanes.
“We want to raise awareness and create a music scene here so tourists will have music in Natchez and not just be sitting in a bar waiting for a band to play,” he said.
Looking ahead to next year, Edward, who serves on the board of the Historic Natchez Foundation, hopes to see a revitalized Commerce Street. “That has been my vision for years,” he said. “We’re trying to make it a segue from Main Street to Franklin Street. I want to keep pushing that. The carriages go down Commerce Street. It’s the heart of the city and needs to be bustling.”
Getting buildings on that street repaired is what he hopes to see, adding with a laugh that his own building is included in that inventory. He will also be pushing to get a new roof on the Ritz Theatre; a building owned by the Foundation that he hopes will be used as an entertainment center.
“I would love to promote theatre and music there. It would help the downtown,” he said.
Kathryn is working with the Natchez French Society with some teachers from France who are living in Natchez and teaching across the river in Louisiana. At least once a month they show a French film at Different Accents and sponsor children’s French classes at the Margaret Martin Building.
Regarding the many projects on the drawing board for her adopted city, she says, “I hope we can all pull together and make these things happen, staying focused and reaching out to others who’ve moved back here.”
Edward added that nothing has been done without the help and cooperation of others in his hometown.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.