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Challenges, opportunities define daily life for small businesses

All along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, owners of small businesses have been coping with numerous challenges since Hurricane Katrina paid her devastating visit two years ago. The hardships range from complete loss (often with loss of homes, too) to damage to facilities and equipment to loss of or reduced customer base.

Solutions to the problems have been varied. Some businesses folded their tents and re-opened elsewhere. A few of those include Alberti’s and McElroy’s restaurants of Biloxi, both of whom re-established in Ocean Springs. Grate Grills & More re-located bigger and better from Biloxi to Pass Road in Gulfport. Aunt V’s Candy of Gulfport moved inland to Florence in the Jackson metro area. Dibs, a business and restaurant supplier, moved from near the beach in Gulfport to Pass Road.

Some did not re-open and went on to do other things. Andrea Yeager did not re-establish Andrea’s Annex in Long Beach, nor did Diane and Greg Carpenter re-locate Prestige Printing of Long Beach.

Others who lost businesses seized new opportunities, such as Susan Daigle, owner of the destroyed Bookends bookstore in Bay St. Louis, who is now selling modular homes in the area. With the newly opened Bay Books, Kay Gough is filling the bookstore void in the heavily damaged old town section of Bay St. Louis.

‘Holding on for the ride’

Jay MacAniff owns Aok in Bay St. Louis, which he describes as cool stuff for you, your place and your tribe. His Old Town facility was a total loss for which his insurance company paid him $2,000. He obtained a Small Business Administration loan and re-opened on U.S. 90. Last November, he and several other business owners opened an artists’ cooperative on Main Street in old town.

“The biggest challenge was relinquishing knowledge of our customers,” he says. “We don’t know who they are now or where they are or whether or not they will come back. We are holding on for the ride.”

The cooperating business owners took turns working to get the shop open while also mucking out their homes and individual businesses and dealing with the daily hassles and paperwork of life post-Katrina.

“That was the only way to get it going and it helped a lot of us get back on our feet,” MacAniff says.

He says Christmas 2006 was successful. Business remains steady but there is room for growth. He is optimistic that traffic will increase now that the U.S. 90 bridge across the Bay of St. Louis is open.

Optimistic entrepreneurs

Another optimistic entrepreneur is Linda-Lou Nelson, who moved to Bay St. Louis shortly before the hurricane of 2005. She bought property in the depot district, the town’s original downtown that was established in the 1870s, and several blocks away from the beachfront.

“We were the only area up and running soon after Katrina,” she said. “Now, we are thriving with shops, a bed & breakfast inn and restaurants.”

Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, sees different areas of the county merging together and working as clusters.

“They are finding they can do more that way,” she says. “The depot district is emerging as a new-old area and enjoying a renaissance. Other areas include the Highway 90 corridor, old town, Waveland and Diamondhead. All kinds of things are happening as we recover. We’re letting people know we’re still here.”

The fashion district along Blaize Street is a new area that’s adjacent to the depot district, according to Nelson. Leading that emergence is Jet Set, a trendy apparel shop owned by Kerrie White.

To further boost the depot district, Nelson is building new commercial property consisting of four buildings that will be compatible with the area’s existing architecture. The row of buildings is being constructed of poured concrete and should resist anything Mother Nature sends their way. They will also have high ceilings and balconies.

“They will be great commercial property, each sold individually, that will blend with the existing row of buildings and have an attractive brick facade,” she says. “They are zoned commercial and can have apartments on the second floors.”

Nelson hopes the buildings will be complete by the end of August and will go on sale at that time. The space will cater to mom-and-pop businesses that know and serve local residents. “In other words, there won’t be a McDonald’s there,” she adds.

The first ever Depot Days were held in late July and promoted the area with sales, food, entertainment and the re-opening of the Alice Moseley Folk Art and Antique Museum.

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


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