Start Small — Do Big: The Power of Baby Steps

The Power of Baby Steps

The Laurel Mercantile has a fantastic print and now a mug with the uplifting saying, “We have the POWER to do this.”  This phrase was coined by the director of the HGTV series, Home Town, during their first summer of filming in sweltering South Mississippi.  However, this phrase can be applied to anything.  We like to apply this winning saying to our efforts as a Main Street America Accredited organization.  

What started as a small, grass-roots movement to bring back Laurel’s downtown to its former glory has become a booming trend!  It didn’t happen overnight or even over a year, but with a series of small, incremental improvements, these efforts provided momentum for long-term economic transformation and improved quality of life in our community.  In the world of small towns and Main Street organizations this is referred to as “incrementalism.” Incrementalism is not flashy.  It’s several small changes that take place over a period of time… like a domino chain reaction in slow motion. 

Incremental Work

For decades, the community and economic development field was hooked on what Patrice Frey, President & CEO of the National Main Street Center calls the “silver-bullet solution.” Shrinking budgets sent city leaders on a search for the “one big thing” that would transform their local economy, whether it was a big new commercial development, a pedestrian mall, or a convention center on the outskirts of town.  Those of you who lived in Laurel through Urban Renewal will definitely remember the development of all these things.  However, through years of research, we have learned that what our town has is much more important than what it’s missing.  By focusing on what sets our community apart from others, Laurel Main Street, together with the City of Laurel and our partners, has been able to restore a thriving city center in downtown.

One of the special things about being part of Main Street America is that we aren’t doing this incremental work alone. We rely on a national network of partners and supporters.  We are incredibly thankful for our city leaders for creating the environment for success by adding wayfinding signage,  improving our streets, adding lighting, bike paths, ad valorem tax credits and continuing to work toward improving city services that businesses rely on.

Some would say that a town’s exports are the measure of its success, but at Laurel Main Street we believe it’s the people, not the products that are the heart of our town’s success story. These small steps and small victories have provided Laurel residents with an optimism about the future, a true sense of community pride, and a productive spirit of unity.  We consider that a true success story.

The Market Beautiful is Coming to The City Beautiful!

Attention shoppers: this is something you won’t want to miss!  The Market Beautiful is bringing their award-winning show to town!  Over 80 vendors, both local and out-of-state, will line Front Street this weekend with fabulous vintage finds and handmade merchandise.  Local stores and merchants will be open as well, and some will even extend their store hours.

The Market Beautiful started in a garage in 2010 with 5 vendors and has grown to shows in 5 states with over 100 vendors and 5,000 attendees on average at each show. This marks their first show in the south and we can’t wait to shower them with our southern hospitality!  Jana Roach and Vanessa Pleasants work full-time to bring an amazing and unique experience to customers, along with the most wonderfully curated vintage finds! In between markets, Jana and Vanessa run their blog and manage their online community via Instagram which has grown to nearly 100,000 dedicated and engaged followers.  Jana and Vanessa carefully select and curate vendors for each show to ensure shoppers are treated to the very best of the best.  Many vendors travel with them because of the success they’ve seen. They truly care about their vendors and customers alike, as well as keeping the show fresh, exciting, and unique!

There will be something for everyone at The Market Beautiful.  Enjoy live music from Tasche De La Rocha, food trucks and sweet/cold treats, coffee, and free kids activities.  Laurel’s own Clairmont & Company will have a kids craft area and Six Point Furniture will present a workshop.  Erin and Ben Napier, hosts of HGTV’s Home Town, will help kick off the inaugural market with a meet and greet too.  The Market Beautiful also offers prizes for the first 50 in line and a lot more!

The Market Beautiful (formerly Vintage Whites) has been named one of the top 4 markets in the United States and voted a top 5 not-to-miss market by Country Living Magazine!

Enjoy the market on Friday night, June 9th for early shopping night. Early shopping tickets are $25 and include a free drink and admission for Saturday! Early shopping night is a more leisurely shopping experience and you get first pick at the merchandise!  Vendors restock on Saturday morning and gates open at 10 AM for general admission. The market goes until 5 PM and is free for kids 12 and under! 

Downtown Home Town Celebration

Join us on Tuesday, May 23rd in Downtown Laurel as we celebrate the season finale of Home Town on HGTV and toast to the upcoming second season!  The homeowners from Season 1 will be in attendance for a meet and greet.  Don’t miss this opportunity to welcome your newest neighbors!

Due to inclement weather, the screening of the show will be held at the Laurel Little Theatre.  Doors to the theatre will open at 8:30 p.m. and the show will begin at 9:00 p.m.  Be sure to check our Facebook page for a complete list of downtown merchants who will be open late!

Many thanks to our generous sponsors: BancorpSouth, Magnolia State Bank, Community Bank, First State Bank, and Citizens Bank, and to the Laurel Little Theatre organization for allowing us to use their space when weather threatened the event.

Top 10 Reasons to be a Tourist in Your Hometown This Summer

Summer is universally known as THE season to travel.  I’ll never understand why traveling while it’s hot as the surface of the sun outside is so appealing, but my family (along with millions of others) does it every year.  It’s expected.  It’s tradition.  We want to make memories and share experiences with those we love, so we research, plan, load up the minivan and hit the road.  There’s a joy and excitement that comes with traveling some place new and discovering something for the first time.  There’s also that wonderful familiarity that comes from returning to the same beach town and restaurants that you’ve frequented for years.

But what if you flip the script this year?  What if you combine the excitement of discovery with the comfort and familiarity of being in your own town?  There are so many new and wonderful things to discover in Laurel, and so many things you may have forgotten all about.  The slower pace of summertime provides the perfect opportunity to be a tourist in your own hometown.  

I don’t know about you, but when I plan a trip, I think about three things: eating, activities, and shopping.  Laurel has all three of these things in a compact and walkable downtown area!

10. Home Town Sightings

In case you haven’t heard, Home Town, the hit show on HGTV that focuses on restoring old homes and welcoming new families to town, has been renewed for a second season!  Although the exact filming schedule hasn’t been finalized yet, you can always spot the hosts of the show, Erin and Ben Napier around town.  Closer to the end of summer, you’ll probably find the film crew too.  If you don’t have any star sightings, you’re sure to notice some of the homes from the first season of the show and get some inspiration for your own home!

Ben & Erin Napier of HGTV's Home Town in the Laurel, MS historic district

Ben & Erin Napier of HGTV’s Home Town in the Laurel, MS historic district / Photo by Bethany Byrd

9. Laurel’s Only Craft Brewery

If you’re looking to kick back and enjoy a cold one in a place with awesome atmosphere, look no further than Slowboat Brewing Company.  Take a tour of the brewery and see what it takes to make some of the best beer you’ve ever tasted.  Slowboat also hosts regular trivia nights and live music acts that you won’t see anywhere else.  Saturday afternoons at Slowboat are completely family friendly with board games, giant Jenga, and food trucks to satisfy everyone. Guided tours begin at the top of every hour. Tours include six 6 oz of samples of Slowboat beer. Children, designated drivers, and pets are welcome and tour for free.  

8. Public Parks that Pack a Punch (of history, that is)

After sampling local craft beer at Slowboat Brewing Company, you might want a nice place to sit and take in the scenery.  Gardiner Park and Mason Park are the perfect spots for this.  In the early 1900s, Laurel was experiencing rapid growth.  The amazing mansions that line 5th Avenue today were brand new and the City Beautiful philosophy had taken hold.  Mrs. Catherine Gardiner, decided that the cutover lands that her husband’s timber business had left behind would be the perfect place for public parks.  As a wealthy and well-travelled woman, she insisted on hiring only the best architects she could find.  She engaged the firm of Fredrick Olmsted, known as the “father of American Architecture” to design a city parkway system for tiny Laurel.  He had already designed New York City’s Central Park and the grounds surrounding the U.S. Capitol so Mrs. Gardiner believed he was just the person to bring her vision to life.  As a result, Laurel was soon declared by the National Recreation Association as having the best park system of any small town in America.  Laurel’s public parks are well-preserved, serene and beautiful places to enjoy an afternoon with family and friends.

Gardiner Park

 

7. Arts & Culture

Laurel has always been an epicenter for arts and culture.  Every elementary school child in Jones County takes a field trip to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art** to see the Native American basket collection, but did you know that this museum also hosts some of the world’s finest traveling art exhibits too?  Who needs to travel to a large city and go to a crowded museum when you can visit your local museum for FREE?  LRMA is also the host to Free Family Art Days, summer art camps, and even art classes for adults.  Check their website or call for a complete schedule of summer events and special exhibits.

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art

The Laurel Little Theatre** recently brought back the roaring 20s when they celebrated the 90th anniversary of the grand opening of the Arabian Theatre.  Not only does the Arabian Theatre boast amazing architecture, but it hosts amazing performances as well.  I spent countless summers of my childhood involved with the Laurel Little Theatre and will never forget the sense of pride and accomplishment when we finally got to perform for a live audience after weeks of rehearsal.  Those who attended performances at LLT also made an indelible mark on those of us who performed.  It showed us that we were not an isolated community of small-town actors, but that we were part of a community who supported our big-time dreams.  This summer, LLT will host its annual Kids’ Camp, which will culminate in the performance of Disney’s The Lion King Jr.  In August, LLT will kick off their 57th season with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a high-energy musical spectacular that has been a favorite of theatre goers for decades. 

The Arabian Theatre

6. Central Sunbelt Summer Series

The Downtown Laurel Farmer’s Market** and Downtown Movie Night are some of the most anticipated summer events in Laurel.  The Farmer’s Market is held at The Brickyard in Downtown Laurel each Thursday in June from 3:30 – 7:00 p.m.  Farmers, home cooks, and artisans come from all over Mississippi to bring you homegrown produce and handmade goodies.  Fresh bread, heirloom tomatoes and fresh squeezed blueberry lemonade are always local favorites.  Plus, admission to the Farmer’s Market and Downtown Movie Night is FREE.  

After the Downtown Farmer’s Market winds down, meander over to The Backlot for Movie Night.  Bring your lawn chairs and picnic blankets to enjoy a movie under the stars with a hundred or so of your neighbors!  Family-friendly films such as “Finding Nemo” are shown each week on a giant outdoor movie screen.  Food and drinks are available for purchase or you can bring your own and enjoy a picnic under the stars!  Movies start at 8 p.m. 

4. The Market Beautiful

The Market Beautiful is coming to The City Beautiful June 9th-10th!  Formerly known as The Vintage Whites Market, this one-of-a-kind show offers live music, great food, fun family activities, vintage-inspired and trend-setting artisans, but most of all, FABULOUS VINTAGE FINDS!  The owners and organizers of The Market Beautiful host vintage markets across the United States and have been ranked among the Top 4 markets to visit by Romantic Homes & Flea Market Style!  The vendors chosen for The Market Beautiful specialize in repurposed furniture, architectural salvage, industrial pieces, primitives, antiques and other vintage items.  You’re bound to find something here that you can’t live without.  Tickets are on sale now! 

3. Speaking of Shopping…

Hello, my name is Carrie and I’m a shopaholic.  I enjoy shopping for anything, for anyone, at anytime.  A LOT has changed in Laurel since the inception of Laurel Main Street 10 years ago.  One of the biggest changes has to be the shopping and I couldn’t be more thrilled!  Gone are the days of driving to Hattiesburg (or further!) just to find a dress for Easter Sunday, or a baby gift for your neighbor.  There haven’t been this many unique and thoughtful shops in downtown since I’ve been alive and I just want to go inside each one and high five all the brave business owners.  If I were to write a little something about each and every shop in downtown, it would be enough for a book, so I’m just going to list them below.  Trust me, there is something for everyone. 

Places to Shop:

7th StyleAdam Trest HomeFine Art by Amy LukerBaptist Bible & Book House | Bella BellaCloset CandyElegant Evenings | Guild & Gentry* | Goodness Gracious | HAND+made by Clairmont&Co.* | J. Parker ReclaimedJack & Jill Children’s ConsignmentThe Laurel LeafLaurel Mercantile Co.The Loblolly BoutiqueLott Furniture Co.Misty’sMolly Renee’s New LookOffice Products CenterPatina’sPeddler’s JunktionQuarter Century** | Six Point Furniture | The Paper Studio | The Rusty Chandelier** | Southern Antiques** | Woodcut Funhouse

3. Dining

My other favorite thing is eating.  I plan every trip I take around the food, and a “trip” in my hometown is no exception. When you’re on vacation, you try to cook as little as possible, right?  When you’re on a STAY-cation, the same rules apply.  Laurel itself has plenty of restaurants to choose from, but we’re going to focus on downtown.

Did you know you can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in 1/4 of a mile?  You can literally eat your way through downtown if that’s your thing.  Whether you want a sit-down dinner, food truck fare, a casual lunch, or specialty coffee and breakfast, you’re in luck. 

Places to Eat:

BackRoad BistroCafé La FleurLee’s Coffee & TeaThe Knight ButcherThe LoftThe Pearl Diner* | Phillip’s Drive-In (P.D.I.)Sweet Somethings Bakery

2. Horse Drawn Carriage Rides Downtown

What do you do when you go to New Orleans for the first time?  Catch a ride in a horse drawn carriage of course!  New York City?  Horse drawn carriage.  Laurel, Mississippi?  HORSE. DRAWN. CARRIAGE.  Sweet Somethings Bakery and Sweet Somethings Bed & Breakfast now offer rides in a carriage fit for a Disney princess.  Could you imagine a more magical and romantic thing than riding in a horse drawn carriage under the lights of downtown?  We didn’t think so.  Guys, if you’re looking to wow your sweetheart or (gasp!) PROPOSE, this would be the way to go.  You won’t find them hanging out on the street corner though, so be sure to call well in advance to make your plans.

1. Lauren Rogers Museum of Art Blues Bash

On June 2nd, The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art** will host their 24th Annual Blues Bash on the front lawn of the museum.  The music is always top notch, as is the barbecue!  Everyone sets up picnic blankets and lawn chairs, and the crowd spills out onto picturesque Fifth Avenue and the lawns and porches of neighboring houses.  You’ll see everyone you know and some people you forgot you knew.  The Blues Bash provides an atmosphere that could even rival that of The Grove on gameday.  Yes, I said it.  Blues + Barbecue = Summertime Perfection.  Advance tickets are available at the museum and online or you can buy them the day of the bash.

LRMA Blues Bash

 

Put on your walking shoes and leave your luggage at home!  Look at your hometown through the eyes of a tourist and you’ll be surprised what you see.

 

*Business opening soon!

**Best of Mississippi/M-List Award Recipient 2016

We Finally Got a Piece of the Pie

We Finally Got a Piece of the Pie

Hospitality is a staple of the South.  It’s what we’re known for.  As part of Laurel Main Street’s mission to promote economic development in the downtown area, we’ve implemented signage to help visitors find their way around town, the Laurel Welcome Center, multiple beautification projects, welcoming banners, and, most recently, lights above our streets.

This year, our beloved city stands to see more growth and tourism than ever before and it’s important that we all put our most friendly faces forward.  Tourism in the United States is a TRILLION dollar industry.  If we can become known as a place that provides excellent customer service to its tourists, our city will thrive, and continue to attract more people who will fall in love with “The City Beautiful.”  We’ve finally got a piece of that trillion dollar pie and it’s time to serve it up with a smile!

Laurel — We’re At Your Service

I’m sure the readers of this blog don’t need a lesson on the importance of first impressions, but you might know someone who does.  The fact is, each person, each point of contact, can add so much to the ‘welcoming’ experience for guests!  Each business in Laurel is a stakeholder in the tourism industry, and it’s up to you — business owners and employees — to make the most of your investment in our community.  In a recent conversation with Mayor Magee, we discussed the hospitality industry and our desire for Laurel to be known as a place that is literally “at your service.”   After all… company’s comin’!

Welcoming Beyond Words

A welcoming feeling is easy to create.  In fact, the smallest gestures can make the biggest impact.  Offer a warm welcome — Direct eye contact, a smile and sincere words.  Introduce yourself and check on your guests often.  In short, be the best version of yourself.

Unfortunately, an unwelcoming feeling is just as easy to create.  Looking down while speaking, no introduction or use of names, rushing customers out the door, or being discourteous can all contribute to the feeling of being unwelcome.  When someone feels unwelcome, it makes them uncomfortable. Guests who feel unwelcome become less inclined to spend more, come back again, or refer others. Why would they? They did not feel welcome or welcome to come back!

A warm and friendly feeling is something that definitely starts at the top and trickles down. If you are a business owner or manager, you can start by ensuring that your employees feel welcome in their own work space.  Welcome them to work each morning. Post signs in break rooms and make sure that a welcoming feeling begins each day.

Another way to be helpful to those visiting Laurel is to be aware of what’s going on around town.  You’re more likely to recommend something to a visitor if you’ve experienced it yourself, right?  So get out and explore your city.  Familiarize yourself with new businesses or points of interest.  Be ready with a suggestion for places to eat and things to see.  If you draw a blank, you can always refer them to the welcome center, or better yet, be of service to them and offer to find out.   Remember, it’s the little things that make visitors feel welcome, and sometimes, after a long car ride, the best way to be of service to someone is to point them toward a good meal.

While we have amazing architecture, stores and restaurants, the people of Laurel are the cornerstone of our community.  Residents are walking, talking advertisements for the city.  You have the opportunity to give tourists a heaping serving of southern hospitality.   How will you choose to be remembered, Laurel?

Bravo to business leaders who are already making this effort!  Keep up the good work and feel free to share your tips for a friendly and generous reception to our guests.  Creative welcomes and unwavering courtesy and congeniality will keep our guests wanting more.  When you create an unforgettable welcome, you welcome referrals, repeat business, and additional income!  The City of Laurel and the Laurel Main Street organization are at your service.  Join us!