Be Golden

A lot of things are golden — rules, ratios, the Laurel High School mascot, silence — and most of the visitors to our hometown are golden as well. But an issue has arisen in our city that we cannot remain silent about any longer. The safety and comfort of our neighbors is being invaded, and we wouldn’t be good neighbors ourselves if we didn’t address it. If you live or own a business in Laurel, please read this. If you’re a fan of our hometown and you’re planning a visit, please read this. If you’re bored at work, heck, you can read this too.

What We Learned in Waco

When Laurel learned that it would be broadcast into homes across the country, the city leadership formed a book club and read What to Expect When You’re Expecting a TV Show, and met each week for coffee and discussion. KIDDING! If only it were that simple! In actuality, several of our city leaders took a trip to Waco, TX, the home of Fixer Upper and the Gaines’s empire. They spoke with business owners, homeowners, and city leaders there, and learned about what we should expect and how we should prepare. The team learned from the mistakes Waco made in the wake of the Fixer Upper frenzy. They decided on the way home from that trip that the city of Laurel, and any organization that worked in cooperation with the city, would never offer tours, maps, or reveal the location of homes featured on the show. The merchants of downtown Laurel whole-heartedly agreed.

It’s Personal

Laurel has welcomed Home Town fans from across the country and around the world. Through all of this interaction with such a vast cross-section of people, we have noticed that good manners and the notion of being a good guest mean different things to different people.

Some of our friends and neighbors have experienced some uncomfortable situations, but many have experienced things that are downright scary. The stories we’ve heard from friends and neighbors sound like they could be the beginning of a true crime TV show, but they’re actually the result of a home improvement TV show.

You may be wondering why Laurel Main Street, an organization that is committed to the economic vitality of downtown Laurel, is addressing this. To that, I’ll say, “It’s personal.” Its personal to all of us because this is our town. It’s personal because we loved Laurel before it was popular and we’ll love it long after the Home Town hype has faded. Laurel Main Street has worked for over a decade to make Laurel a great place to live and work, and we’d like it to stay that way.

If Good Fences Make Good Neighbors…

You know the saying, Good fences make good neighbors”? Its not about tall pieces of wood between two houses; its about respecting boundaries. For the first few years of the show, Home Town fans were happy for a glimpse into The City Beautiful on TV. Visitors to Laurel enjoyed driving down the avenues, trying to spot the homes, and we welcomed those visitors into our town and into our stores with open arms. However, in the past year, a new breed of fan has emerged. These fans don’t love our town. They don’t care about being good neighbors, and they’re not very respectful visitors either. We understand that many guests feel that Laurelites are their oldest and dearest friends. What can we say? Our locals are pretty amazing! Whether you’re a guest in someone’s home or in someone’s hometown there are a few guidelines to follow to make sure you’re respecting their boundaries and will remain friends even after you’re gone.

1. Follow the House Rules

Before you arrive, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the way things are done to avoid any misunderstandings.

  • Respect the personal space of others. Don’t ask where Home Town cast members live. Say hello if you see someone you recognize in public, but respect their privacy when they’re at home.

 

  • Don’t trespass. We have beautiful streets and avenues lined with sidewalks, and we LOVE seeing guests walking around, admiring the architecture and trying to guess who might be behind the front door. However, when someone enters a yard, garden, or porch uninvited, they are trespassing and nobody likes a trespasser.

 

  • Keep the noise to a minimum. Part of the reason that so many people choose to call Laurel home is because of its sleepy, small town qualities. Please don’t drive past homes while honking and yelling at the homeowners.

 

  • Observe polite parking protocol. If you suspect that you have found a home that was featured on Home Town, please do not park in front of it and wait for the home owners to exit. Please do not block driveways in the hopes that a local celebrity will come to personally ask you to move your vehicle and take a photo with you since they’re there.

2. Act More Appropriate Than Usual

Represent your neck of the woods. Make your mama proud. Put your best foot forward. There’s about a dozen ways to say it, but the bottom line is to be your best self. Isn’t that what Home Town does for you? The show features the best parts of small-town life and then invites you to experience it for yourself. Surely, you can return the favor when you visit.

3. Leave Things Better Than You Found Them.

  • Clean up after yourself, your pet, your kids.

Accidents and awkward situations are bound to happen. Be ready with an apology or a helping hand to try to mend the situation as quickly as possible. If you forget everything else, just follow the Golden Rule:

do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

(Matt. 7:12).

Would you want strangers peeking through the slit in your curtains to see what books are on your coffee table? Probably not. Would you want a group of tourists posing for pictures on your front porch swing? My guess would also be no. Would you want a strangers trying to photograph your kids while they play in your house? What about while they play in the yard? Is that ok? That’s a hard no. Children should be off limits.

There’s more to being a great guest than just showing up and being the life of the party. And speaking of parties, the city of Laurel and Laurel Main Street host multiple public events each year, and you’re invited to them all! This is a great way to get a feel for the city, and even to spot some familiar faces you might have seen on Home Town.

We have opened our town to you. We have invited you into our magical piece of the planet, and we are so glad you love Laurel. You can show your appreciation by being kind, courteous, and respectful.

Laurelites, be trustworthy. Show your neighbors you care by checking on them, looking out for their home and property, and protecting their privacy.

For the sake of our city and those who love it, we are asking you to Be Golden. Our city will thank you. Our neighbors will thank you. The Home Town family will thank you. We can make the world a better place one act of kindness at a time.

Loblolly Festival: Things to Know Before You Go

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — It’s time for Loblolly Festival!  This year’s festival is one you won’t soon forget and here are some tips to help you enjoy Loblolly Festival, whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned veteran.  The Loblolly Festival is one of Laurel’s biggest events with over 12,000 people attending annually, so lace up your walking shoes, it’s festival time!

Beat the Crowds:

The festival officially starts at 9am, so if you want to get first pick of the merchandise or avoid the crowds, come early.

Get a T-Shirt While You Can:

Stop by the Laurel Main Street trailer, which will be station on West Oak St., and purchase a commemorative Laurel Main Street 10 year anniversary t-shirt or a Loblolly Festival t-shirt.  Make this one of your first stops because these shirts will go fast!

Wear Your Walking Shoes:

Loblolly Festival covers almost all of the central business district of downtown Laurel and includes over 120 vendors, crafters, performers, and activities. You’re bound to see a lot of people you know and some you forgot you knew!

Check the map and entertainment schedule:

When you arrive be sure to pick up a map.  It will help you get the lay of the land, and if you’re a strategic shopper, this will definitely make it easier for you to find any specific vendors you came to see.

 

Bring cash:

Some vendors accept credit cards, but not all do.  There is an ATM located downtown at the Laurel Welcome Center inside the First National Bank building as well as BancorpSouth.

Be sure to check out the brick and mortar merchants too:

Most downtown retail stores are open during the festival and many offer sales, specials, and live music.

Check the weather:

Loblolly Festival is a rain or shine event so check the weather and dress accordingly.  The Laurel YWCO will be open and available to the community from 10am – 2pm during the Loblolly Festival.  Come in to cool off and enjoy your lunch in the tea room! 

Sip & Stroll:

The walkable downtown area comprises a social district, which allows downtown patrons to “sip and stroll” as long as their beverages are in a “to-go” cup.  Open container laws are still in effect.  Please drink responsibly.

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!