From planning to cleanup, The Wedding Collection has everything needed for that perfect special day.
- story by Lisa Monti
photos by Ellis Anderson and The Wedding Collection
“We have about 30 gowns from four designers and will offering dresses by two more designers by the end of the year,” she said.
“The bride can come in and try on as many as she wants. We take one bride at a time to make sure the consultation feels super special.”
Plans are to expand into bridal veils, jewelry and mother of the bride and bridesmaid gowns.
The new bridal shop is Kerri's second local venture with husband Kevin Pellegrin and business partner, Daniel Clark, whom she makes very clear she couldn't do this without them by her side.
She also manages the day-to-day operation the Harbor House and Suites at 222 South Beach Boulevard which offers vacation rentals in a restored 1840s beachfront home.
Keeping with the local theme, Kerri says she makes every effort to work with local vendors for each wedding she’s involved in. “I couldn’t do my job without really great vendor partners, and we try to keep everything local.”
She remains mindful of the couple’s budget, keeping an eye on their bottom line. Catering is outsourced to local partners including Claiborne Hill and 200 North Beach.
“We look at the menu the bride and groom want and suggest the best vendor suited for them,” she says. “We’re very selective who we work with.” Also outsourced are flowers, the cake, the bar, music and photography, she says.
“We’re very hands-on and use a customized checklist,” she said.
That includes finding and securing the venue and designing the space. Kerri uses the city-owned indoor and outdoor venues including the Bay St. Louis Community Center, the park and duck pond at the depot, the Longfellow Community Center and the Harbor Event Deck plus the Balcony on South Beach Boulevard and a property in Biloxi.
No matter where the wedding is celebrated, she says, “We take a lot of pride in making sure the space looks and feels different for every bride.”
So far, she’s done nine weddings and four more are coming up. “We have one every weekend in November.” Locally, an average wedding has 150 invited guests, but Kerri is prepared to handle up to 600 people.
In keeping with her Louisiana family’s traditions, the couple have the option of having a formal receiving line at the reception and a second-line dance so the guests can join in.
Kerri said about half of the brides she’s worked with have been locals and others live in Jackson, Baton Rouge, Hattiesburg and New Mexico, among other locations. She expects word will spread far and wide that the Bay is a growing wedding destination.
The Wedding Collection will have a ribbon cutting and grand opening celebration Nov. 22. You’ll find details on our Shoofly Community Calendar.
The Wedding Collection
104 U.S. 90 W
Bay St. Louis
228-344-3212 (Shoppe) 228-365-3115 (cell)
Quality and professionalism are the hallmarks of every project at Hansen Custom Painting - and it shows, on buildings across the coast.
- story by Lisa Monti
"Handling it all" is not an inflated claim. Hansen's wife is Jackye Crane, president of Crane Builders, a company started by her father, Jimmy Crane in the 1980s. Jackye grew up working alongside her father, who developed a reputation for meticulous craftsmanship.
In 2010, Jackye graduated with honors from LSU with a degree in Construction Management. She officially took over the helm of Crane Builders in 2017.
She and Hansen worked together on many projects through the years and married in 2016. The couple enjoy working together on projects, each of them bringing experience and a love of their professions to the table.
The work and family environment extends to the Hansen Custom Painting crew, many of whom have been with Chris for years. He describes the team members as dependable and dedicated to the shared goal of providing quality service to each customer.
Safety also is something that’s important to Hansen Custom Painting and the crews carefully follow guidelines for coatings and equipment that are called for by OSHA.
Another thing that sets Hansen Custom Painting apart is the use of high quality paint products, which make their paint jobs look fresh for years. It’s an investment that Chris says, “makes our work an exceptional value.”
And Chris has a favorite quote when talking about making an investment in a home.
“Like my father-in-law says, ‘If you think hiring an expert is expensive, just wait ‘til you hire an amateur.’”
Studio Waveland creators Erica Larkin Gaudet and Mitchell Gaudet look back at their first year on the coast. “We've been successful,” Mitchell says, “with a lot of support from a lot of people.”
- story by Denise Jacobs, photos by Ellis Anderson
“The secret is getting out," he continued. "Artists from across the country are recognizing the robust environment and community resources we have here to develop, promote and support both established and emerging artists."
The artistic, entrepreneurial Gaudets find community-building through art “inspiring and exciting.”
“This is what we’ve always done,” says Mitchell, founder of Studio Inferno. “We develop distressed or underutilized properties into multifaceted cultural arts centers. This often includes other artists’ studios, a gallery, flex spaces for theatre and workshops.”
Mitchell adds that neither he or Erica are the type to work in isolation. They thrive in situations where their personal studios are buzzing with the energy and creativity that’s a natural payoff from having fellow artists working nearby.
Since February 2018, Studio Waveland & Gallery has opened its space to host glassblowing workshops, bring-your-own dinner parties, gallery exhibitions, yoga classes, and a host of other special events.
In January 2019 alone, Studio Waveland hosted the Hancock Arts Juried Show Deux, an exhibition featuring many talented artists from Hancock County; a coffee and art film screening by Hunter Cole, NOLA artist and scientist; and a black-light Phosphorescence and Fluorescence Exhibition.
The Gaudets say that Waveland Mayor Mike Smith and other public officials have been "super supportive" of the studio. Before they relocated, Smith visited the Gaudets in their Arabi complex and understood the positive impact the couple could have in Waveland. Alderman Jeremy Burke says the city is already reaping benefits from their presence.
"Erica and Mitchell have been powerful drivers of the transformation in the local community by increasing vibrancy," said Burke. "They are bringing a buzz to Coleman Avenue that Waveland hasn't seen before."
For the time being, Erica manages the business and creative side of Studio Waveland. She’s had plenty of experience. In 1991, after graduating with a degree in sculpture from Loyola University, she founded Toulouse Street Studio, where she taught metal sculpture in addition to creating her own pieces and a striking line of furniture.
Studio Waveland is the new home for her studio, where she fabricates and shows her hand-sculpted steel artwork, like the Lines of Strength piece, shown above.
Mitchell continues to work primarily out of Studio Inferno in Arabi, Louisiana. He compares the couple’s working dynamic to a weird multi-headed beast: “There’s me and my Studio Inferno. Then Erica’s career and her artwork. And then there’s Studio Waveland, which is where we hope to crash-land together.”
The vision involves incorporating Studio Inferno, an elaborate art space and glass foundry owned and operated by Gaudet since 1992, first situated in the New Orleans’ neighborhood of Bywater and currently in Arabi, Louisiana.
Moving a melting furnace (that holds 600 pounds of molten glass) and cooling ovens is not something the couple takes lightly, because of the difficult logistics and the enormous investment of time and money involved. Yet the Coleman Avenue building (designed by local firm Unabridged Architecture) lends itself to the couple’s vision.
Mitchell says, “The architecture of the building is perfect. Even though it’s relatively new, it has a rawness that lends itself to what we’re trying to do.”
Also, he adds, “The fact that Erica and I both fell in love with this building is unbelievable. We both have very strong opinions, but we agreed completely on this building!”
If style and comfort married, their offspring would be the elegant clothing found in this popular Old Town boutique.
story and photos by Denise Jacobs
Keenan has a most faithful following for good reason. While shopping for her Old Town BSL store, Keenan keeps in mind her returning customers’ taste in jewelry and color palette. You could say that Keenan carries both the basics and the flair, and her customers provide the style.
“Sometimes I add a little persuasion,” Keenan says, “and coax a woman into trying on something outside her comfort zone. It’s really rewarding when that works out and a woman falls in love with a new look.”
Thanks to Keenan’s extensive line of clothing, shoppers can choose from among the super chic, the subtle boho, classic black and white, and neutral flesh tones without sacrificing their personal style. From old standby brands like Flax and Matchpoint to Cut Loose, April Cornell, and Fridaze, Keenan carries the biggest and best line of Flax, wrinkle-resistant linen, and knits on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Between Keenan’s labels, her fashion knowledge, and her superpower buying skills, it is quite possible to build a strong foundation of timeless pieces that can be paired with almost anything in a woman’s closet.
“People come into the store from all over the country,” Keenan says. “And they often ask my sales clerks about the store’s buyer. ‘Who does the buying?’ they ask. The clerks point toward me, and, of course, I always look like I just fell off the turnip truck. Regardless—I’ve always liked putting things together. When I go to market, I don’t consider the trip a success unless I can come back with one or two pieces that will knock your socks off.”
Lots of local California Drawstrings customers wanted to get in on the action when they learned about this article. Kat Fitzpatrick, a local visual artist, modeled several jackets purchased from California Drawstrings through the years, each of them perfectly coordinated with a simple linen top and pants, also from California Drawstrings. Fitzpatrick’s jackets fall in the “knock your socks off category.” Members of a local book club - Club Nouveau - dressed in California Drawstrings attire for their most recent gathering.
By the time this story runs, new fall linens—a little heavier fabric in darker hues than typically worn in the summer—will have arrived. Shoppers will find a lovely linen tunic dress for sunny days, linen trousers, and linen jackets—all beautifully accessorized with Keenan’s choice of scarves and accessories. Stop by and find your bling - or your bliss!
In today's convoluted and rapidly changing tax world, it's critical to have an accountant who keeps up with the new laws. But having one who can actually explain how the regulations affect you - in plain English - is even better.
- story by Ellis Anderson
That’s the reason one of the firm’s core offerings now is small business advisory services. If someone is starting up a new enterprise, they can make an appointment with Rigby. During the session, they’ll discuss what type of entity to form (corporation? sole proprietorship? LLC?), decide which bookkeeping method to use, even talk about marketing strategies. The firm can then prepare most – if not all – of the required paperwork for the entrepreneur.
When a small business owner is ready to expand, Rigby can analyze and assess partnerships, legal issues and tax consequences.
Small businesses can also look to the firm for Quickbooks assistance and support.
“The Quickbooks software has become the dominant program for bookkeeping, yet small businesses, even individuals, often need our help,” Rigby says. “They might come to us with a one-time problem. Or they might sign up for monthly or quarterly services.”
Rigby notes that Quickbooks is a bookkeeping program only. There’s a big difference between bookkeeping and accounting. Accounting is the necessary review and adjustment of your books for income tax preparation.
“We can teach clients to do their own bookkeeping, but we can’t teach them to do their own accounting,” says Rigby.
In the past year, major changes in the tax laws have kept Rigby and his staff studying and reviewing the laws. In the most recent tax season, he took extra time with clients who might be impacted by the new laws. In the meeting where he delivered their returns, he discussed in detail how the new tax laws would affect their taxes going forward. In most cases, he even worked up a projection of how their return would have looked under the new laws.
Rigby asserts that the new tax law hasn’t changed much for the typical taxpayer. The changes result in smaller savings than many expected. In some cases, people will actually pay more.
For example, many entertainment expenses are no longer deductible under the new laws. Rigby felt this single change alone would affect numerous clients, so he wrote a short article about it to post on his website blog. He writes understandable takes on accounting and tax topics – short reads that deliver need-to-know information.
Rigby also offers individual financial advice, although he stresses that he’s not an investment advisor.
“But I’m here to listen and consult with clients about their particular financial situation, including retirement planning,” he says. “I’m happy to help them consider different aspects they hadn’t thought of and become more confident in their financial decisions.”
As an example, Rigby says someone may have inherited a piece of rental property. “I’ll ask them to consider whether they want to be a property manager or a landlord. Some people hate it and others don’t mind it at all. I can offer insights based on my experience dealing with so many people and situations through the years.”
Another core service is specialized auditing – something most small-town firms don’t offer. The CPA explains that these type of audits are called Financial Statements and Compliance audits. All government entities (think libraries, senior citizens programs, water and sewer, etc.) are required by law to have an annual audit provided by an independent firm. Non-profit organizations are required to have them too, although only some are audited annually.
“Auditing is a very specialized area and requires extended continuing education to be able to provide these services,” Rigby says. He’s also extremely knowledgable about non-profit organizations and routinely advises them on a pro-bono basis.
Tax preparation, of course, is another major arm of the accounting firm, and Rigby has worked hard to systemize the process over the years, so customers know exactly what information they need to provide and how much they’ll be paying for the preparation – up front.
Last year during tax season, Rigby opened a second office in Diamondhead. The response was so promising, now the office is open throughout the year. Gerald Rigby is collaborating with his brother, Quinn Rigby – who’s a CPA in Gulfport - to keep the office staffed full time.
The Diamondhead office offers the same full range of services as the Bay location and clients there can also meet with Gerald to take full advantage of his financial expertise – and communications skills.
“Explaining complex financial issues that clients wouldn’t normally understand is an ability that takes time to develop,” Rigby says. “I enjoy the process - and the interaction I have with clients.
"And you have to enjoy something if you’re going to be good at it.”
A savvy entrepreneur and nature lover finds that making camping easy for others isn't just fun - it's a growing business. Meet Kristine Lyons of Gulf Coast Camper Rentals.
- story by Lisa Monti, photos courtesy GCCR
Kristine Lyons has held on to fond childhood memories of family camping trips to Buccaneer State Park, exploring nature trails and pulling in fish and crabs on the seawall with her brother.
Those special memories were so strong that she wanted her own kids to have similar experiences, so Lyons continued the tradition of camping at Buccaneer with them as they grew up.
Lyons knew that the camping tradition was successfully passed when her daughter asked to go camping on a visit home from college. But there was a hitch.
“I had just sold my camper, and when we started looking for one to rent we couldn’t find one. I ended up buying one,” she said. Always the entrepreneur, Lyons decided on that very camping trip to start renting her new rig to help make payments on it. That was in late 2014 and in short order Gulf Coast Camper Rentals was officially in business.
A Facebook page and word of mouth quickly attracted customers, so she doubled down on inventory based on high demand. “I bought another one and it stayed booked. Then two more,” Lyons said. “Once I got to six I quit my day job. Selling furniture wasn’t my thing anyway,” she said.
Today there are 13 2017-2018 model campers for rent in an assortment of sizes for $120 to $155 a night with a two-night minimum. The largest can comfortably accommodate four adults and four children.
But Lyons takes it one step further by offering delivery and set up of the campers at several campsites in Hancock County and beyond. Her brother, Robert Miller, and his wife, Michelle, take care of delivery and pick up, servicing and cleaning up everything when you’re headed back home.
Yes, all the renters have to do is show up and, well, camp. “That’s what we do the best,” she said of the unique delivery, set up and pick up service. “We’re living in a society where nobody has enough time. They would rather me do the work so they can just show up and have fun. Our motto is, ‘We do the work, You enjoy the adventure!’ ”
Locally, Gulf Coast Camper Rentals sets up at Buccaneer State Park, long Mississippi’s most popular state park, McLeod Park, the campsites connected to the Silver Slipper Casino and Hollywood Casino and nearby Flint Creek in Stone County. The convenience will cost you an additional $85 for locations in Hancock County. Farther afield you pay by the mile.
Lately they have set up for campers at the new Reunion Lake facility in Robert, La., as well as at popular campgrounds in Lumberton and throughout Louisiana and over to Gulf Shores, Ala., and Destin, Fla.
Lyons said the campers aren’t used strictly for camping. They’re popular with participants at festivals, Cruising the Coast, ATV events and the annual Gulf Coast Winter Classic horse show in Harrison County. “People use them for mother-in-law suites in their yard and for weddings. Film companies use them when they’re shooting commercials and just to hang out in.”
She’s also thinking about adding some special packages for honeymooners and customized services customers may request.
“We’re flexible. We just want you to have good time.”
It seems that when people get a taste of camping, they enjoy it enough to want to do it again and that means plenty of repeat business for Gulf Coast Camper Rentals. “Some of our best customers owned campers in the past and are not interested in owning one now. They want to camp a couple of times a year and renting is cheaper.”
The success of the camper rentals led Lyons to buy a building on Highway 603 and open a camper store which is stocked with camper parts and supplies, everything from water hoses to backup cameras.
“We’re doing camper service now too,” she said. She and her brother are newly certified recreational vehicle inspectors available for those looking to invest in an RV. “We’re trying to be a one-stop shop,” Lyons said.
And she’s keeping the family camping tradition going these days by taking her grandchildren camping at Buccaneer. “Basically, camping is making memories. Even the most miserable times we had camping we still laugh about today.
Gulf Coast Camper Rentals
10381 Highway 603, Suite A
Bay Saint Louis, MS 39520
With a large new location, an expanded printing department, a new website and promotional product offerings and an expanded showroom of more than 2,000 products stocked in-house, S&L Office Supply is growing with a mission in mind: to become the one-stop-shop for local businesses.
- by Ellis Anderson
S&L Office Supply
1201 Highway 90
Bay St. Louis
Mon. - Fri., 8am - 5pm, Saturday, 10am - 2pm
For instance, the printing department has had room to spread out. Higher end machinery has doubled output capabilities and allows for printing of everything from flyers to brochures to invitations. Large format printers can handle blueprints and plans. Same day printing is available, and there’s never any additional charge for a rush job.
Another big “new” for S&L this year: they’re now printing outdoor banners, yard signs and even vinyl decals. All of it is done in-house with personal attention from Cochran and his staff.
“We are focused on developing products and services that customers can use to promote their own businesses and functions,” says Cochran. “We want to be a one-stop-shop for every local business.”
That focus has led to another expansion – promotional products. Anything that can be printed with a company logo is fair game. Think jump drives and pens and coffee mug and mouse pads. And more. A million more.
Cochran says that they’ve become members of Advertising Specialty Institute, which allows S&L to offer that incredible array of products to their local customers – all at “super” wholesale pricing.
But since a million choices can be overwhelming, S&L will assist in narrowing down the selection to work with a customer’s budget. They then make a mock-up of the item, so the customer can see a photo of what the product will look like – before they order.
Providing janitorial supplies and restaurant products now is another way S&L is simplifying the life of their customers.
“During 2018, that’s going to be one of our biggest pushes,” Cochran says. “We’ll have everything from paper towels to toilet paper to hand soap. Anything that a business or restaurant goes through on a regular basis. Now, instead of having to travel to buying-club stores to save money, they’ll be able to buy bulk products here in Hancock County.”
“Our prices are right in line with the shopping club prices, but you don’t have to take time out of your day or send an employee to make a 50-mile round trip,” Cochran explains. “Plus, we offer local delivery.”
The S&L showroom will soon display popular sanitation, janitorial and paper products that are sold in bulk and kept in-stock. Shoppers can check out the samples, order at the desk and have the products loaded in their cars.
To save even more time, customers can now order from S&L’s website, which is – you guessed it – new.
Launched the last week in November, the website allows customers to order print jobs, janitorial supplies, promotional items and more than 40,000 different office products. Customers can ask that the items be available for pick-up or delivered.
To speed up things even more, the new website shopping area has a “Quick Picks” section. Two thousand-plus popular items under “Quick Picks” are already in stock and can be picked up immediately.
“Chances are, we’ll have the product you’re looking for,” says Cochran. “If you order and pay for the products online, you can just drive up, we’ll put it in your car and you can go.”
There are even more perks for commercial customers – those businesses with a commercial location and regular business hours. Cochran says that qualified customers get additional discounts on the products they order most. Net 30 billing is also offered, as is free delivery with no minimum order (contact Chris to see about becoming a qualified commercial customer).
While Cochran’s strategy has been to build a loyal local customer base, he’s now winning new ones from Picayune, Slidell, and Gulfport.
Cochran says people are willing to make the drive “because we offer that one-stop shopping - with prices competitive to what they’re getting online. They also love the service here. They’re able to talk to someone who really knows their stuff and will take the time to learn their needs.”
He continues. “We’re growing fast because we have one thing in mind: we want to supply everything you need to promote your business and run your day-to-day operations, without having to leave Hancock County.”
Two artists with a proven track record of helping revitalize New Orleans neighborhoods through arts centers they've created may soon be moving to Waveland.
- story by Ellis Anderson
Waveland Mayor Mike Smith says that he’s visited Studio Arabi twice and both times was “amazed” by what he saw.
“They [the Gaudets] have their own studios, but they also lease out spaces to other artists,” said Smith. “I can see how what they’ve done has revitalized the community there. They’re proposing doing the same thing in Waveland. I’m really excited about the possibilities.”
Waveland Alderman Jeremy Burke agrees.
“Coleman Avenue has never really come back after Katrina,” Burke said. “This could breathe new life into Waveland. It’s the outside-the-box project that we’ve been looking for.”
The building under consideration was completed as the Waveland Business Center in 2012. The 10,000-square-foot facility has a striking contemporary design (by Bay St. Louis firm, unabridged Architecture).
Although a few tenants have come and gone and three businesses currently lease small sections of the building, Mayor Smith says that for the most part, the business incubator has not been utilized as was originally hoped.
Earlier this fall, Waveland published calls for proposals to lease the entire facility. The Gaudets, who have been scouting out Waveland for some time as a possible location for their next project, thought the Coleman Avenue building met all the requirements for another thriving arts center. They submitted a bid. It turned out to be the only one.
But Mayor Smith is not disappointed. “My expectations are high for this particular proposal.”
Smith says that he hopes the bid will be formally accepted at the first Alderman’s meeting in December (December 5th). Then negotiations will be entered into for the lease, which could be finalized later in the month. All parties stated that they hoped the Gaudets – under their Studio Waveland, LLC - would have possession of the building by the first of January 2018.
“The minute we sign the lease, my wife is packing the truck and moving her studio over,” said Mitchell Gaudet. “Or rather I’ll be packing the truck and she’ll be telling me what to pack.”
“We envision a quick build-out and then beginning our programming in March or April. We’re already arguing over what the theme of the first art show will be,” he said, laughing.
“We see this also as a place where the public can interact with workshops and classes and lectures and art openings, with a cool gallery space. Nothing hoity-toity.”
Since the city built the incubator in partnership with other government entities, they won’t own the building in entirety for another year. According to Mayor Smith, that necessitates a one-year lease at this time.
The Gaudets are hoping that after the initial year, they’ll be able to secure a longer lease that would warrant the $120,000 investment required by the Gaudets to build-out and equip the building for Mitchell’s glass-making.
“Erica will move her studio over this first year,” said Gaudet. “And then we’ll move over full time… If we can really crush it that first year, we can create more live-work spaces in the area. It could be huge. We’re really excited.”
Gaudet says that the New Orleans art community is buzzing as well. Bay St. Louis is already seen as a popular arts center and the Waveland facility would add to Hancock County’s reputation as an arts destination.
The Gaudets have already driven artist friends over for tours. Gaudet points out that New Orleans and the Bay-Waveland area are “sister cities of sorts,” so many people in the city already have familiarity – and fondness – for the area.
“There are still a few hurdles ahead, but they’re getting smaller,” said Gaudet. “We’ll do whatever it takes. I’m already growing a beard and mustache to look more like George Ohr.”
Meet Mitchell Gaudet
Brehm Bell, Attorney At Law
A personal injury attorney with nearly three decades of experience, Brehm Bell offers the hometown advantage and one-on-one attention for his clients.
- by Ellis Anderson
Bell’s personality reflects his legal style: he’s a compassionate and empathetic listener, then dynamic, purposeful and energetic when he’s making a point.
Like when he explains how the insurance claims process has changed dramatically over the past several years. Accidents that involve personal injury, now more than ever, can present a mine-field of obstacles for someone who’s been hurt.
“Five years ago, if you had an accident, in many instances, you could handle things yourself,” says Bell. “Now, almost everyone needs an attorney advocating for them. The liens, the paperwork, the processes – it’s all gotten extremely complicated, time-consuming and confusing.”
As an example, he cites the way accident victims often sign paperwork in the emergency room – a decision that can negatively impact their health insurance for years to come. One type of form is called an “assignment of interest.” That means that the hospital will try to get payment from an insurance company first (which will pay full price on procedures), rather than a person’s health insurance (which gets a big discount on charges).
“When you’ve been in an accident and you’re in an emergency room, you’re usually stressed and hurting and just want to be seen by a doctor,” says Bell.
That’s the main reason that Bell has come up with a handout listing the things people should do – or not – if they’re in a serious accident. He recommends you keep the card in your vehicle’s glove box (click here to download the pdf and store on your mobile phone).
If a case goes to trial, Bell points out that there’s an enormous advantage in being represented by a hometown attorney. He should know, having grown up in Pearlington and graduating from Bay High School before attending law school at Ole Miss.
Bell says, “It’s important that insurance companies know you have an attorney who is a part of the community. It matters. A representative from another place won’t have the in-depth knowledge of our county. But if you’re injured and can’t work, I understand all the ways you’re being affected on a personal basis.”
Bell’s concern for his community carries over to his personal life, where he and his wife, Jenny, volunteer for several organizations. Brehm focuses on education, and has served as chair of the Hancock Chamber’s education committee, helping found the annual teachers appreciation dinner and the popular Bookworms program. He and Sherry Ponder were pivotal in persuading Pearl River Community College to open a branch in Hancock County. Bell also sponsors an annual scholarship that goes to a local high school graduate who has expressed an interest in law.
“I just try to live in my world and help my people,” he says.
Next, people meet with Bell in person. The initial consultation is free. He takes all their information and listens to their concerns. After Bell agrees to represent a client, all calls from health insurance, health providers, insurance companies and collection agencies are simply referred to back to his office from that point on.
“I tell my clients ‘you just need to focus on getting well,’” Bell continues. “I’ll handle the claim part.”
While Bell says that this country couldn’t have been built without the insurance industry, he also says that now corporate offices sometimes press people to take quick settlements - before they know the full extent of their injuries.
Hancock County's most popular business event of the year is also one of the most fun: the annual Salute to Business and Industry Awards Gala.
- story by Ellis Anderson
The business and industry award-winners are lauded in short, well-edited videos shown on large screens. The year’s ten Outstanding Citizens are introduced in another video, leading up to the hold-your-breath moment when one of the ten is named Citizen of the Year.
The gala’s been called the local version of the academy awards, because of this suspenseful finale. But a few behind the scenes changes makes the announcement even more meaningful.
Beginning in 2016, the individual business winners (Bay St. Louis, Diamondhead, Waveland and Hancock County/Kiln), as well as the Citizen of the Year, are chosen by polling members of the Hancock Chamber. Organizers say that since the winners are selected by votes instead of a committee, it reflects the will of the membership.
While the business winners and the Outstanding Citizens are announced in June with much fanfare, the Citizen of the Year selection is held close to the vest. Even chamber members have to wait until the announcement at the gala to find out the winner’s name.
Individual tickets to the event are $75 and tables are available with event sponsorships. They can be purchased online.
The 2017 business honorees:
The ten 2017 Outstanding Citizens were chosen from a field of 18 nominees.
To read more about the 2017 Business of the Year winners and the Outstanding Citizens,click here.
Here's a video of the 2017 Outstanding Citizens - congrats again!
Hansen Custom Painting
Third-generation painting contractor Chris Hansen explains the philosophy behind the success, which has become a family motto: "Quality control is everything."
- story by Ellis Anderson
Crawford Realty Group
Having deep roots in both New Orleans and the coast turns into a passion for one local entrepreneur and real estate professional.
- story by Ellis Anderson
“In the real estate business, I have a unique opportunity to do something I have a passion for and love to do,” says Crawford.
Holding real estate licenses from both Louisiana and Mississippi gives Crawford lots of options when assisting clients who are shopping for commercial, investment, or residential property. And since Crawford came to real estate with a degree and years of experience in both management and marketing, he’s got the knowledge to get maximum exposure for properties he lists for sale. Crawford even holds the trademark to advertise as a “waterfront specialist.” In fact, he will sometimes take prospective clients on his boat so they can look at properties from the water.
“There’s not a tributary or waterway in this entire area that I haven’t been on,” says Crawford. “Here on the coast, we all have salt in our veins.”
Much of the realtor’s knowledge of local waterways he learned as a boy. While Crawford went to school in New Orleans, his grandmother had a house in Pass Christian, so he spent every holiday boating, crabbing or fishing. His father also rented a cottage every summer in the Bay and an uncle built a home just past Cowand Point near the Dunbar Avenue Pier.
After graduating from Ole Miss with degrees in marketing and management, Crawford moved to the coast full time and began investing in the area. Eventually, he started studying real estate to better understand “what agents were doing on my behalf.”
When he obtained his license, he immersed himself in the business. “I knew if I wanted to be successful, I’d have to give it 110 percent, so I ate, slept and breathed real estate for years.”
While he believes that all real estate agents care about their clients, he says that his job is just beginning at the closing table.
“The reality is that my clients are coming to me to establish a relationship, so I can offer guidance throughout the time they own their investment. It’s a way to set myself apart.”
Crawford also believes in continuing education: “No one knows everything.” He’s currently signed up for a program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and is part of an advance management development program in real estate. “I love learning,” he says. “I can’t help my clients unless I’m constantly trying to be better and that’s what I strive to do.”
Crawford has been married to Laura Gleason Crawford for eleven years, and the couple has two children they’re raising in the Bay. They’re both active in the community, with Stephen serving as one of the co-organizers of “Pirate Day in the Bay.” The event, produced by The Mystic Krewe of Seahorse earlier in 2015, engaged locals and attracted thousands of visitors. He’s vice president of the Seahorse Krewe, which was formed specifically to help promote economic development in the downtown Bay St. Louis area.
“Being involved with things like the Krewe of Seahorse is a fun way to build relationships and let everyone know they’re included,” he says. “It’s not an exclusive club. It’s just a wonderful vehicle for families to take part in unique events.”
With an eye to the future, Crawford sees the recent growth coming from a new source: young families wanting to live in the area full time. Crawford calls that new uptick “incredibly encouraging.” The time-tested historic model of families living between the city and the coast is also back in full swing.
“When someone comes to me and says ‘I just want a place for my kids,’ I know what they’re thinking. They want to share and create memories in a wholesome environment. I excel at finding just the right place for them to be able to do that.”
While the realtor says that a community always wants positive economic development, he understands that the unique culture of Bay St. Louis, Waveland and the rest of the coast is what has “people pouring in.”
“In a time when everything is so vanilla, it’s not about getting a Starbucks on every corner, or a strip mall that looks like every other one in the country. The answer is in embracing what we have so that it keeps its charm and its culture.”
Calling Bay St. Louis “one of the most unique small towns in the country,” Crawford thinks that while change is inevitable, it can be “smart growth.”
“It’s like watching a young person growing up and entering adolescence. You hope that moral fiber has already been instilled. In the rejuvenation of Bay St. Louis, we hope we’ve done a good enough job and have given the community enough guidance to protect its core values. I believe we have done that here.”
Crawford says that while people are attracted to the Bay because of the water, the art and the small town charm and the easy-going, family-friendly social scene, he believes one asset rises above the rest.
“It’s the undercurrent of the goodness of the people in this community that makes this place wonderful. That is our biggest asset.”
Southgroup Insurance - Angelyn Treutel-Zeringue
How irrepressible optimism and leadership values have helped build the largest Independent Insurance company in the state.
- story by Ellis Anderson
A wall filled with awards testifies to her effectiveness as a leader and as a business owner. Since 1998, her insurance firm has been recognized as a Best Practices agency and is among the top 100 privately held Independent Insurance Agencies in the nation.
She’s been tapped as one of the Ten Leading Business Women in the state, and is nationally recognized as one of the “Elite Women of Insurance.” Rotary International named her a Paul Harris Fellow and Hancock County has honored her as Citizen of the Year.
While Angelyn holds ten different licenses, ranging from insurance to CPA to real estate, she credits more than her education for her success.
“At one point, my family had a farm,” she says. “As a girl, I was driving tractors and hauling feed sacks and riding horses. Even now, I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. I won’t ask anybody to do something I’m not willing to do.”
Born in New Orleans, the entrepreneur grew up in several places across the South due to her father’s business concerns. Angelyn made the most of each home, building lifelong friendships along the way. After living in Covington and Nashville, the family moved full time to the Mississippi Coast, where the young woman shone as valedictorian of Our Lady Academy. At University of Mississippi, she majored in accounting, also graduating with honors. Then for the next sixteen years, she served as Senior Financial Supervisor and CPA for ExxonMobil Corporation in New Orleans.
While her home and family remained on the coast, Angelyn commuted daily to the city. When an opening came up in the family’s insurance office, she grabbed the opportunity to make a change for the better. Weary of corporate life and commuting, she opted to work in a local environment where she'd be closer to her two sons.
Once she was based in the Bay, Angelyn began to work with the local schools and help with educational fund-raising efforts. She remains an active volunteer and frequently spearheads community projects. For instance, this past spring, SouthGroup Insurance Services, which sponsors and hosts an annual Make-A-Difference 5K Race in Ridgeland, presented a check to Friends of Children’s Hospital in Jackson for $35,000 from the proceeds of the 2015 race. In the past five years, they’ve donated more than $100,000.
She sees insurance as yet another way to serve her community.
"It’s a really rewarding career,” she says. "You can help people get the right coverage, save money and if there's a major catastrophe, help them rebuild their lives."
Angelyn has now been working in the insurance industry for nearly two decades. In 2011, she helped start SouthGroup, a locally owned and operated insurance franchise. SouthGroup has 24 offices throughout the state. As part of a franchise, offices benefit from a centralized payroll and technology sharing.
“We make our computer systems work for us. The automation gives us time to do the things we’re supposed to do, like service and take care of our clients.”
With more than 170 employees now, SouthGroup has become the largest independent insurance agency in the state. That's gives the company a big edge when it comes to negotiating in insurance markets.
“Because of our size, we’re able to access the best markets and the best rates,” Angelyn says. “That’s why business is booming.”
But she cites her employees as the key to SouthGroup’s success. Optimism is one of five core values that is a common focus. The others are integrity, excellence, innovation, and trusted partnerships. Angelyn leads by example with her own irrepressible smile, believing that optimism is contagious.
Each employee is held to a high standard, but once they're working with the company, “you’re family.” Indeed, two of Angelyn's staff actually are family. Her mother, Loislyn Scardino, works with Angelyn in the Bay St. Louis office, while her youngest son, Alex, works out of the Biloxi office.
Meanwhile, life — as well as business — on the coast is good.
“We work really hard on a regional and national basis to get the message out how great things are in Mississippi. We have such a hidden treasure here. And people are finding out about it."
A boutique named after California becomes an iconic Louisiana business and then branches out to Mississippi? It's a trifecta of success, boasting three decades of comfort, style, and quality at California Drawstrings.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
And she’s branded California Drawstrings as a name synonymous with apparel that magically combines two traits: comfort and standout design.
As the store’s buyer, Keenan seeks out only comfortable, well-made clothing, with styles that can’t be found elsewhere. She carries lines that can fit all sizes, from extra-small to plus. She prefers clothing that is made in the U.S and leans always toward natural fibers, like those made by Flax and Matchpoint.
The shop’s a mix of artsy designs balanced with clothing that’s more classically styled, created with deft touches that set them apart. Keenan believes accessories like jewelry and scarves can “jazz up” an outfit easily to “look like a million dollars.” The staff are trained to help put statement-making ensembles together. Customers frequently report back with success stories about the many compliments they receive at social events.
Although styles have changed dramatically since Keenan began her business, she’s remained true to her central criteria over the past thirty years.
“If you want to blend into the woodwork, you can shop in the local department stores,” she says. “But if you want to feel comfortable and look a little different – yet be confident you still look fantastic – we have it.”
Keenan currently manages and buys for three locations – with a fourth opening soon. In addition to the Old Town Bay St. Louis shop, the Chicago native oversees the mother-ship location in the New Orleans French Quarter (812 Royal Street) and a third store on Magazine Street (3650 Magazine Street). And in mid-July, an outlet store, California Drawstrings Last Call, will be opening in the heart of Covington, Louisiana (827 Walker Alley, right off Lee Lane).
Each location is staffed with salespeople who are extremely knowledgeable about the clothing they sell. They know which lines run large or small and which designs best complement different shapes. Most of them have been to market with Keenan and are genuinely enthused about the clothing lines they represent.
Keenan believes her sales staff is one of the main keys to her success. She’s been in sales herself most of her career, beginning as a broker in the real estate market, working in both Illinois and North Carolina.
But while visiting New Orleans one fall thirty-odd years ago, she decided to try a southern winter instead of heading north toward snow. To obtain her Louisiana broker’s license, she signed up for school. To support herself in the meantime, she began selling clothing in the French Market.
She quickly discovered that the fashion world appealed to her more than real estate and switched gears. Keenan began to rent a series of storefronts, soon winding up with the prestigious Royal Street location - where she’s been a mainstay for than thirty years.
The first clothing she sold was a line of comfortable cottons for both men and women with legions of diehard fans - California Drawstrings. Made in the U.S. out of domestic fibers, the brand was the only one Keenan carried for years and then became a shop staple as she grew.
“It made sense for the shop to also have the name of the clothing line,” says Keenan. “Now we have regular customers from all over the country who know our name, so, of course, we’d never think of changing it.”
The Bay St. Louis shop opened in 2011 when Maggie May’s owner, Nancy Moynan - who knew Keenan from New Orleans - had a space available. Moynan believed California Drawstrings would be a great fit for the Bay. Bay St. Louis mayor Les Fillingame agreed. For years, he and his wife had been regular customers of the Royal Street location. While Keenan had been coming to the Bay for years, the invitations coincided with a suddenly stronger longing to spend more time on the coast.
After opening in Maggie May’s, Keenan rented a townhouse on deMontluzin and began spending more time in Bay St. Louis. Then, last year, she purchased a historic building on the second block of Main Street. After renovating, California Drawstrings moved into their expanded – and permanent Old Town quarters. And although she still officially resides in Mandeville, Keenan spends as much time as possible in the Bay.
“It’s not like I’m a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city,” she says. “I can be in either Mandeville or New Orleans in an hour. But here, I can wake up and have my coffee listening to the sea gulls.”
The laid-back lifestyle in the Bay hasn’t shifted the entrepreneur’s business philosophy though.
“I want people to say ‘wow’ when they walk in the store. And I want them to feel great when they leave.”
“For me, that’s great fun.”
Artistically Afire in Old Town
by Ellis Anderson
- This month - It would appear that we’re artistically afire here in Bay St. Louis again, a happy conflagration that feeds creativity – and our economy.
Just around the corner on Second Street, Antique Maison, Social Chair, Bay Emporium, and the Mockingbird Café are longtime venues for local artists. The new Smith & Lens Gallery has stellar aspirations and is cometing toward region-wide recognition in the few months it's been open.
Toward the beach, on the first block of Main Street, Twin Light Creations, Maggie May’s, Jean Anne’s Fashion Express and the new Bay Life all feature work by superb local artists. By all means, one can’t forget the iconic Jim Bonner at the Bonner Collection on Beach Blvd (in French Settlement).
Back in the pre-Katrina salad days, Bay St. Louis residents always bragged about being included in Art Villani’s book, The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America. The city disappeared out of later editions after the storm.
Yet the art flame never burned out in Bay St. Louis. Only two weeks after Katrina pulverized the town,a small group met in the ruins of Old Town to celebrate the Second Saturday Artwalk, just to keep the flame alive. It was a small gesture with big symbolism. The artists in this town were going to help it rebuild. And they did.
By October, Jenise McCardell and husband Mark Currier had cleaned up one of the only viable commercial buildings left in Old Town and hosted a real Second Saturday Artwalk. The tattered remains of the community rejoiced at the fellowship and the determination evident that night. For many months, Second Saturday was held every Saturday and became a community life raft.
Gallery 220 evolved out of those times and for almost a decade, has served as one of Old Town’s artistic anchors. Twenty-two artists show work in the front gallery, while Jenise and Mark’s Clay Creations studio and shop are located in the back part of the large art deco building.
But between the oil spill and the economic downturn, somehow the artists started disappearing. The galleries that opened after Katrina faltered. Some closed.
Now, it would appear that we’re artistically afire here in Bay St. Louis again, a happy conflagration that feeds creativity – and our economy. Although sales of art comprise a relatively small portion of retail sales overall and have a minor effect on the apparent economic health of Hancock County, there’s the Social Capital factor. These factors accountants can’t push into columns have enormous impact on our economic and cultural well-being.
For instance, let’s imagine several big corporate entities checking out facilities at Port Bienville or Stennis Airport. While the Port and Harbor Commission might be able to offer everything these businesses need as far as infrastructure and location, the corporations will be bringing along people. Lots of them.
These people will want to live in interesting, vital communities. Places with historic buildings and great restaurants and natural beauty. They will want to live in places where walking and bicycling are common forms of transportation. They will seek out cities that treasure their artists and encourage creativity in the community. They will want to live in places that authentically feel alive and exciting and fun.
Even the real estate market recognizes the importance of creative people clustering together. The phenomenon actually has a name – the “Artistic Dividend.”
That would be us.
Bay St. Louis is going to grow, whether we want it to or not. That’s a fact. It would seem the best thing to do if we want to grow in a healthy manner is to attract new businesses and residents who will treasure and cherish our heritage, our history and our environment. We need people who will help nurture our artists and foster our collective creative spirit, because those things feed our souls. The economic boost is a fortunate lagniappe.
We have a lot of things to celebrate this year in Bay St. Louis and foremost among them is our creative community. It doesn’t really matter if we make it into the next edition of The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.
We already know we’re one. Perhaps what matters most is keeping it that way.
by Ellis Anderson
- This month - A Dream Playhouse is the chosen class project of Leadership Hancock County 2015, but it's hardly child's play. Find out about the Leadership program and the 2015 class goal to raise awareness for CASA!
The class’s project culminates with a “Raising the Roof” party taking place on Saturday, May 9th at the Ground Zero Museum in Waveland (335 Coleman Avenue). From 1pm to 3pm, there’ll be a “Raffle Pull” open to the public.
Procrastinators will be able to purchase tickets at the last moment and the drawing will take place around 3:30pm. The family-friendly event will also feature cook-out food (courtesy of Tri-R Bar & Grill), free tours of the museum and music – as well as fun and games for children.
The Raising the Roof Patrons’ Party for the event’s sponsors will begin immediately afterward at 3:30pm, lasting until 5pm. In addition to the cook-out food, wine (donated by Rosetti’s Liquor Barrel) and beer (donated by Lazy Magnolia Brewery) will be served.
Raffle tickets are $5 each or five for $20 and can be purchased online here.
The purpose of the project is two-fold: the class hopes to raise both awareness and money for the CASA program, as well as showcase the Waveland Ground Zero Museum.
The Hancock Chamber began the leadership program in 1996 to “identify and prepare the community’s existing and future leadership resources.” The group meets for an entire day each month for field trips and classes that develop an awareness of the community, develop networking skills and teach participants to make the most of their leadership abilities.
Since the program was introduced nearly two decades ago, thirteen classes have produced 320 graduates, many of whom have gone on to become “change agents for the good of Hancock County.”
For the past three years, Janell Nolan has served as the chair of the Chamber’s Steering Committee for Leadership Hancock County (LHC). She calls the program a community effort, saying that it wouldn’t be possible without the support of volunteers, sponsors and local businesses.
Nolan says that each September the new leadership class kicks off with a leadership assessment and an alumni meet and greet. That’s followed by a two-day retreat in October that focuses on team-building and leadership skills. That session sets the foundation for the next six months where the classes take a close look at the six building blocks integral to economic and community development in Hancock County: social infrastructure, workforce development, Stennis Space Center, economic development, civic infrastructure, and cultural heritage and preservation. The program also tasks each class with a project. LHC participants receive a certificate of graduation and celebrate their dedication and hard work in June, with a graduation ceremony and dinner.
Nolan’s a graduate of the 2006 leadership class and says she wouldn’t trade the experience “for anything.”
“The personal and professional relationships that are built in the leadership classes are invaluable.”
Nolan has observed a few things about the program. “Every year, it is truly inspiring to see how the LHC participants – whether collectively or individually, digest the nine-month experience and immediately begin working on fulfilling a need or taking on challenges to improve the quality of life in Hancock County. The 2015 class came up with an innovative plan that would benefit both CASA and the Ground Zero Museum.”
“The LHC Class of 2015 has been working on this fantastic project,” says Nolan. “It’s been nothing short of amazing to watch them pull it together. They’ve involved the school districts, the children, the faculty and staff of the Career and Technology center and built partnerships with many local businesses.”
“In just a short period of time, they’ve already increased awareness of CASA’s mission exponentially. It’s a win-win for everybody – especially our future - the children of Hancock County.”
For more information on the Raising the Roof event, click here.
To read about CASA’s annual Mardi Gras Gala, click here for the January “Talk of the Town.”