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U.S. 90 corridor attracting business in Hancock County

By LISA MONTI

There’s been a string of new businesses opening in the past year or so on the section of U.S. 90 that runs through Bay St. Louis and Waveland. Starting near the foot of the Bay Bridge and stretching to the outskirts of Waveland, doors have opened on new antique shops, restaurants and health care and fitness facilities among other businesses. Ribbons were ceremonially cut this month on Pavolini’s Western Wear shop which is next door to the new Papa B’s Tamales. Last month the Chamber of Commerce helped cut the ribbon on a bridal showroom. More businesses are close to opening in the next few months, including a restaurant and a donut shop.

Location, availability of space, cost and population growth are some of the factors driving business owners to seek a highway address rather than one downtown.

Waveland, where the highway is the retail hub since Katrina, landed Planet Fitness that opened this month in a spot once occupied by a supermarket. Officials and residents celebrated Waveland’s selection for one of the 2,000 fitness centers in Planet Fitness’s fast growing portfolio.

“It is wonderful to see the business growth that Waveland has experienced in the past few years,” Mayor Mike Smith said in an email. “The Board of Aldermen and I are committed to addressing the blight left behind from Hurricane Katrina and making it easier to do business in Waveland which contributes to positive growth. “

Not all new businesses have to be large to attract attention. Residents driving by the former West End restaurant in Waveland are watching for the new Smiley Donut to open. The owner, who operates a Smiley Donut location in Louisiana, said he is awaiting approval of the health department to open.

Chefs Thomas and Dana Hirsch-Barrett opened Coffee Culture, their first coffee shop, in Bay St. Louis, in November at a location that previously housed a German-Italian restaurant. The owners said recently they already have plans to expand.

Competition between new and established businesses along the highway has been healthy. Donald Anderson opened his Wish List Flea Market a year ago on Highway 90 in Waveland, selling antiques, jewelry, DVDs, furniture and assorted merchandise. Sea Gypseas Antiques and Collectibles in Waveland and Worth Repeating, a home goods consignment store in Bay St. Louis, opened their doors in the last few months, and soon Anderson was handing his customers business cards to the newcomers’s shops. “We’re sending people back and forth,” said Anderson. “We help each other.”

Kerri Pellegrin held a grand opening of her business in November. The Wedding Collection is on the highway service road near the bridge in Bay St. Louis, which she sees as a growing wedding destination. She said she depends on local vendors for food, flowers, photography and other wedding needs. 

That kind of synergy can benefit the entire community. “Businesses in Old Town give the Bay a unique visitor attractiveness that makes the Bay an attraction,” Williams said. “Working together, these businesses can be portals to drive traffic from one district the other.”

Gary Knoblock, Bay St. Louis city councilman at large, believes growing population is partly driving the new business growth. He said that the small shopping malls found all along the highway corridor are mostly full. “What I see happening is, our population is increasing and that’s causing more demands for new business. People are seeing this and saying they want to go into business.”

Property costs in the city’s Old Town business district could have business owners looking at the highway. “You can’t touch anything in downtown, plus the traffic count is phenomenal,” he said. U.S. 90 has daily traffic counts of approximately 12,000 to 22,000 vehicles.

Still, Knoblock noted, interest in building in the city is strong. “We’re seeing more and more people contact us,” he said of the City Council.

Knoblock said interest will increase and more jobs and higher pay will result. He pointed to the multimillion dollar boutique hotel under construction in downtown and a tennis club planned on the beachfront. “People are investing in Bay St. Louis and people want to be here,” he said.

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About Lisa Monti