After Hurricane Katrina tens of thousands of Coast residents needed to replace their home furnishings. But about the only place open near Bay St. Louis for a while was Walmart. That is when interior decorator Yuki Northington, who owns the firm Art & Interiors in Bay St. Louis, decided to open Social Chair to help bring businesses back to Old Town Bay St. Louis that had been devastated by the storm.
“People needed more options,” said Northington, who has college degrees in art and interior design, with minors in art history and business. “Social Chair grew out of the wish to give people more choices of where to shop after the storm. We were grateful that Walmart was open, but residents needed more. I buy in small quantities and rarely buy the same things twice. I like to keep it fresh, so we get at least a dozen shipments a month.”
After the storm, all the downtown buildings within a block of the water were out of commission. So the store was originally located in the second block. After repairs were made to the historic building that now houses Social Chair on the first block next to the water, they moved up.
The unusual name Social Chair comes from the experience Northington had as social chair of her college sorority. And it reflects her intention to create a really fun shopping experience.
“We have a good time,” she said. “If is wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it. I have great employees who work for me and they all truly enjoy their time in the store. We are in a fabulous 150-year-old building in the heart of Old Town Bay St. Louis. Not only do we have extremely loyal local shoppers, we get tons of traffic from out-of-town visitors, meeting new people from across the country everyday.”
“Super cute, often hilarious and always unique,” is how customer Ann Madden describes the store. “I can always find the perfect gift at Social Chair, plus the prices are great. The staff is super friendly and helpful without being pushy. I like to take my time when I am there because there is so much to see. I want to be sure I don’t miss anything.”
Another customer, Farrah Seal, said the shop has many things you don’t see in other stores.
“She has different, funky things, but with the traditional mixed in,” Seal said. “I’ve decorated my house for just about every holiday with things from the Social Chair.”
The most popular items in the store are Northington’s art prints, including those made for local festivals, home decor items, jewelry, cards, Pass Christian Soap, and Oka B shoes. Also popular is the local art by artists such as Jenny Bell, Roger Fielder, Brandi Barrett and Regan Carney.
In addition to being a boon to the downtown and the economy of the city that has been named one of the Best 100 Small Art Towns in America, Northington is also a Bay St. Louis booster who sells the town to her out-of-town customers.
“I tell my customers, ‘You need a second home here’”, she said. “That way we get them when they retire.”
Northington and her husband fell in love with this quaint seaside town after watching a beautiful sunset over the bay while on a trip through the area. Later her husband was looking at jobs around the country including in Texas, Hawaii and Florida. They chose Bay St. Louis.
“People come here and fall in love with it,” Northington said, speaking from personal experience.
After the storm you could hardly recognize the Old Town Bay St. Louis. But April 4 the new $13 million, 21-foot-tall seawall was dedicated, marking a huge milestone in the city’s recovery.
“Every year it gets a little bit better,” Northington said. “When the harbor is here and the marina is set up, it will be even better. In Bay St. Louis, you can live close to water in an affordable, small town where your kids are safe. There is a lot of art. Everyone plays an instrument. Everyone likes to eat. It is a fun, fun place to live.”