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

It’s personal for Executive Director Judi Holifield

I don’t often make things personal in public, but, as I considered what I wanted my Main Street family to hear, it seemed appropriate.

In the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” Meg Ryan asks for advice from her email pal about her business. After the classic godfather reference—“Go to the mattresses”—he says, “It’s not personal it’s business.” Meg Ryan’s frustrated response: That just means it’s not personal to you.

Laurel, Mississippi is personal to me. It’s the town where I marched in my first parade as a Drum Major in 1969. It’s the town where the Laurel Retail Merchants Association supplied almost all of my outfits for a week in Washington D.C. when I won the Voice of Democracy speech writing competition. It didn’t seem to matter that I was Judi from Soso; they were proud, and I felt at home.

1977 began my teaching career at Northeast Jones High School, and I found my way back to downtown to help Clinton Harrington Piano Co. and the merchants desperately trying to survive Urban Renewal. I filmed TV commercials, co-hosted radio shows, did voiceovers, hosted street dances and battles of the bands and talent nights, and got all my choral friends to bring their choirs downtown to usher in the holidays.

Youth, ignorance, and a touch of tenacity aren’t always a successful combination. I had no clue how to do any of it, but “Fake it ‘til you make it” has served me well. And, for whatever reason, be it “Lord! We’d better stop her” or “Lord! We’d better help her,” I’ve always had help along the way.

In 1981, I brought my firstborn home to a gingerbread house on N 5th Ave. and learned the sidewalks of that area well as I strolled a colicky baby outside every evening in an effort to preserve my family’s collective sanity. I then left Laurel for the next 13 years.

In 1985, I appeared on national television representing Mississippi teachers in a strike. I coordinated with NBC throughout this time, lobbied the legislature, and spoke to districts encouraging them to walk out. I left teaching soon after.

In 1989, I returned to teaching, this time at Watkins High School, and worked in the Laurel school district until finishing my music educator career at Nora Davis Magnet School in 2002. I was offered a job directing the Whole Schools Initiative; I literally laughed in the face of the person making the offer. Well, I got the job.

Looking back, I’ve sometimes thought they wanted the program to fail, so they hired what they assumed was “country dumb.” However, we are the sum of our experiences, and the choice is always ours to make the most of ourselves; most of us just need to coach to tell us he thinks we can.

In my head, failure is not an option.

I know my connection to Laurel Main Street. My life has been several boxes of chocolates, and—because I’ve done it myself—I’m confident when I tell our local entrepreneurs and creatives to walk through the door and take the opportunity that’s in front of them. We’re here to help you figure it out and watch you ride the waves. It won’t last forever, and you’ll be glad you did it, whatever it is, for however long it lasts.

One great thing about being 62, I’ve eaten a lot of elephants: it’s always one bite at a time. That’s what I told Ben and Erin Napier when they were presented this unbelievable chance with HGTV. It’s personal; this is where we choose to live.

Honestly, I’m not sure we could have marketed ourselves into this position. We’ve done nothing to deserve this opportunity, so let’s do all we can as a community to graciously respond because “company’s comin’ y’all.”

Home Town will feature Laurel as a main character, and we are all players on this stage for a season. We’ve got a short time to prepare. Laurel Main Street is working hard to make sure we are all as ready as we can be, and some interesting changes will arrive soon. And if you want to help move our city forward, vote here to help us win the title of “America’s Main Street!”

We are a community of bootstraps and artisans; we are the town that timber built; we are Laurel, and, no matter how many times I leave, I always find my way back. It’s personal to all of us because this is our town, soon to be America’s hometown, and forever my hometown.

Thanks for reading,

Judi