In the stressful post-Hurricane Katrina days, shopping is challenging for Gulf Coast residents. Many retail businesses were destroyed or heavily damaged. For some, reopening for holiday shopping is crucial from a financial standpoint and psychologically for weary residents who’ve had limited local shopping choices.
Biloxi’s Edgewater Mall plans a hard opening for November 16 complete with holiday decorations and Santa available for photos with children. Marketing director Michelle Rogers expects the majority of stores to be open on that date with others opening at different times because of re-construction and staffing problems.
“We may not be at 100%, but the majority will open on November 16 in time for the holidays,” she said. “A number of stores are expected to open but I can’t say exactly when because of their different construction needs. I know people have been at a bit of a disadvantage for shopping because other malls are not completely open either. Our opening will afford a choice for those who’ve been driving out of town.”
It’s difficult to predict the financial value of the season, but the large mall’s reopening is not about money, Rogers says. “We want to be here for the community. It’s important for the community to see things returning to normal and to have the holidays,” she said. “People need and deserve that.”
She notes that the mall’s food court and inside restaurants are ready to go, a welcome development since many area restaurants are closed, but reminds that eating at O’Charley’s, Wendy’s and McDonald’s will not be possible. These restaurants that were located around the periphery of the mall’s parking lot were completely destroyed. “I don’t know if O’Charley’s and Wendy’s will rebuild, but I know that McDonald’s is going to rebuild,” she added.
Also, shoppers will find that a few shops with temporary leases chose to leave. However, there will be no dark spaces in Edgewater Mall. Those businesses that are not open in mid-November have building work going on inside. “Shoppers will not see any dark spaces,” Rogers said, “and they will find that few shops chose to leave. We are filling the spots of those that did.”
One of the mall’s anchor stores, Sears, is presently open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and has been for several weeks. Another anchor, McRae’s department store, opened November 4 and Penney’s will open about the same time as the mall. The fourth anchor, Dillard’s Department Store, is not expected to open this year due to significant damage incurred at its waterfront location. Rogers said Dillard’s is taking this opportunity to completely remodel.
Gulfport retailer Ferrell Alman has owned his independent clothing business, S.F. Alman, Ltd., for more than 25 years. The Courthouse Road establishment had extensive damage, but a host of workers are racing to have the business ready to reopen by mid-November.
“The holidays are always really busy for us, and we are not going to miss this season,” he said. “We will be ready for our loyal customers and all others who want to shop with us. They will not be disappointed.”
Restocking the many brands shoppers have come to expect at Alman’s is not a problem and stock is arriving daily, he said.
Bayou Belle, an independent dress shop in Ocean Springs, was fortunate to receive no damage at its Washington Avenue location but was closed for two weeks. Sales associate of 14 years, Barbara Capalbo, said the shop is very busy and is currently offering 20% discounts on everything.
“We will continue to have the 20% off until after Christmas,” she said. “This is our way of helping the shoppers in this area. A lot of our customers are people who don’t have any clothes, and we want them to have a normal day of shopping here.”
Capalbo said that customers are coming from all Coast cities despite the U.S. 90 bridge that links Biloxi and Ocean Springs being out. “They’re coming on Interstate 10 from all over,” she said. “If the Christmas season is anything like what we’re having, it should be good.”
At Prime Outlets in Gulfport, a soft opening is planned for November 21 and a grand opening for November 25 with about 50% of the businesses. “Most of the stores want to come back with a whole new look. The millwork and fixtures take weeks to come in and some might not be ready,” said general manager Pam Meinzinger. “Another wave of stores will open by Dec. 1. We’re working with each tenant on opening times.”
The outlet mall was heavily damaged in the storm. Approximately 85% of the air conditioning units were lost and roofs were ripped off, causing rain to ruin merchandise inside stores. Although many stores had to be gutted, Meinzinger said the Nike store, the mall’s largest shop, was not damaged. Nor were Kaybee Toys and Perfumania.
“I expect the best season we’ve ever had based on the number of calls we’re receiving,” she said. “People plan shopping trips, and we’re already scheduling those. We’re saying ‘Come on, we’re open.’ People need a place to shop locally, and we’re ready for them.”
Meinzinger said holiday hours will be shortened this year due to staffing issues that businesses are having. “It won’t be longer hours like we usually have, but it’s important to be open,” she said. “We urge people to shop locally for the morale of the area and to help everyone rebuild.”
Businesses are rebounding in heavily hit Hancock County, too. “We have over 100 businesses up and running right now,” said Chamber of Commerce executive director Tish Williams. “They might not be in the same place they used to be, but they’re here. Some, like Trapani’s Restaurant, are looking for a place to reopen in time for the holidays.”
Second Saturday, a popular event where shoppers stroll the Bay St. Louis downtown area during extended hours and enjoy live music and free food, is now being held every Saturday. With waterfront shops destroyed, the shops in the second block have become the focal point and are still unique, she added.
Clay Creations, owned by Jenise McCardle, is the only shop standing in the first block of Main Street. A New Orleans transplant who lives in the shop, McCardle invited 13 local artists to move their wares into Clay Creations.
“We’re open seven days a week because I’m always here. The visiting workers are supporting us wonderfully. They want things from the area to take back home,” she said. “It’s helping us get our tax base back.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.