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One year later, Coast small businesses are coming back

Many small retailers on the Coast were casualties of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath in 2005. Their recovery has taken different routes. Some businesses relocated and others are rebuilding. New businesses are also opening.

In hard hit Old Town of Bay St. Louis, the owners of Maggie May’s on Main Street reopened August 12 of this year, almost one year after the devastating storm. The gallery, owned by John Brennan and David Moyan, specializes in local art and American craftsmen and artisans from across the country with an emphasis on handmade.

“We had a loss well in excess of $300,000 and it was seven months before we got an insurance check,” Brennan said. “Since we reopened, business has been ridiculously good. It’s wonderful and absolutely encouraging.”

He adds that maybe he had low expectations but is pleased with the level of business Maggie May’s is having. About 90% of that is attributed to local residents whereas before Katrina business came mostly from tourists. That change in customer base has caused these retailers to change the way they operate.

“It puts us more on our toes,” Brennan said. “We must keep things moving and fresh to keep the shop interesting for our frequent shoppers.”

Maggie May’s and other small business owners in Bay St. Louis recently received recovery grants through the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce. The funds were donated by the chamber in Springford, Pa., who adopted the Hancock County organization.

The owners of Maggie May’s used their $1,000 grant to replace technology they lost. “First and foremost, it was very uplifting to be recognized for our effort and what we’re trying to do here,” Brennan said. “We used the money to buy a computer and fax machine because we could not prioritize those items when we were working to get open and could perform those tasks by hand.”

David Mayley also received one of the grants for his Pest Control Specialists in Bay St. Louis. His location was wiped out by the storm, but he was able to get it up and running in his home three weeks after August 29. His home had some damage but he considers himself lucky compared to seven of his 10 employees who lost their homes.

“We had to scramble and reinvent our business. The roof of our building on Main Street collapsed but most of our things survived,” he said. “Records are important in the pest control business and we were able to pull those and other things out.”

He credits pest control people from all over the state for coming to his rescue. These business owners know each other through membership in the Mississippi Pest Control Association.

“After the storm, I became licensed to do mold remediation and that’s been a strong part of the business,” he said. “The business is doing well. Sales and production wise, it’s the best year ever, but expenses wise, it’s the worst year ever.”
Mayley bought a building on Main Street with a Small Business Administration loan and has moved into the back and rents out the front. One of his trucks survived the storm and he was able to repair two others out of the 10 he had.

This business owner is happy to be an integral part of the rebuilding going on in his community and says he and his wife, Suzanne, never thought of relocating. The business provides full-time employment for seven people and part time for four in addition to the Mayleys.

“We do mold remediation for the damaged houses and termite pre treatment for the new ones being built,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to be a part of what’s going on here. I’m getting paid to do it, but I still feel I’m helping rebuild my community.”

Changed goals

The owners of Gulfport-based Aunt V’s Candies had a goal of opening a second store in the Jackson area in 2006. Hurricane Katrina, however, forced that opening in the fall of 2005. The confectionary opened in Magnolia Marketplace in Flowood and the Gulfport location closed.

“We realize that sometimes the man upstairs is in control and knows more than we do,” owner Cheryl Blackstock said. “We wanted to have a store here and when the Coast has stability, we will put a second store there.”

Although Aunt V’s building on Pass Road in Gulfport had minor wind damage, $8,000 worth of inventory was lost while there was no electricity. Cheryl Blackstock says $30,000 to $40,000 in revenue has been lost with 80% of its wholesale accounts gone.

The most devastating thing for the Blackstocks was the complete loss of their home in Pass Christian. With most of their equipment undamaged, the Blackstocks felt they had to move their business to keep it alive.

“The Coast is in a survival mode, and we knew we would not make it there,” Cheryl said.

With help from family and church groups, the Blackstocks installed equipment and opened Aunt V’s in the new location, a space that is adequate but smaller than what they had in Gulfport.

A year after that opening in Flowood, Cheryl Blackstock says business is going pretty good but is better at its newest location in Ridgeland in Madison County. Acknowledging the importance of location, she said they’re trying to find the best place to be and may move from Magnolia Marketplace to the new Flowood Town Center.

“There was a good opportunity in Ridgeland. It was too good to pass up,” she said. “If nothing else, we’ve learned a lot in the last year.”

Changed lives

Diane Carpenter and Teri Gandour have used the storm’s devastation to make changes in their lives. In mid-July of this year, they opened Belle Vita, a ladies’ boutique on Courthouse Road in Gulfport.

Prior to Katrina, Gandour sold real estate and Carpenter, along with her husband, Craig, owned Prestige Printing in Long Beach. The printing shop, which took on six and a half feet of water, had been in business 30 years. Facing an investment of more than $1 million to reopen the print shop and the loss of many customers, the Carpenters decided not to rebuild their business. Diane opened Belle Vita with Gandour and Craig went to work for Fannie Mae.

“The name means ‘beautiful life’ in Italian,” Carpenter said of Belle Vita. “We hope to make life beautiful for residents and offer our merchandise to those who need things.”

The shop has an eclectic mix of upscale and designer clothes, suits and cocktail dresses, shoes and accessories. Soon Belle Vita is moving to a larger location (also on Courthouse Road) and will carry furniture.

“People tell us we’re brave to open a new business on the Coast, but the time was right for us,” Carpenter said. “Things are going well. It’s something we both always wanted to do and we compliment each other.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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