A Passion for the Bay
story and photos by Ellis Anderson
When Bay-tique’s owner Jane Alford first moved from Maryland to the Gulf Coast, she didn’t plan to stay. She’d found an excellent job in Mississippi that would further her career as an occupational therapist, but her real home was outside of the cosmopolitan city of Washington, DC.
While she arrived on the coast with a great attitude - positive she’d enjoy her short stay - “short” was the operative word. Alford committed to five years, then planned to head north again.
“I absolutely fell in love with the area,” she says. “I have a real passion for Bay St. Louis.”
That passion shows in the two lovely historic houses she’s renovated in Old Town Bay St. Louis. One serves as home for Alford and her fiancé/business partner Kevin Kulpeksa. Next door, at the elegant Carroll House Bed & Breakfast, the couple play host to visitors from across the country, many of whom who are discovering the area’s mystique for the first time.
Inside, coastal-style clothing and beachwear mix it up with locally crafted jewelry and souvenirs. Shoppers will notice that the merchandise is heavily weighted to items made locally or in the state of Mississippi. “Local pride” gift items like hats, mugs and t-shirts are a mainstay, as are the popular brands of casual clothing she carries.
Shoppers can feel confident that they’re likely to be choosing items that are made locally. Alford explains that she has a three-tiered system when it comes to choosing what makes up the boutique’s inventory.
“When I’m purchasing for the shop, I look for work by local artists first,” she says. “The next tier is to stock apparel and goods made in Mississippi. My third tier is made in the U.S. My goal is to have 75% of my merchandise within that system. It’s harder than you’d think , but I’m committed.”
Alford could go into that “local artist” category herself. Her distinctive sense of style hits the mark every time when she’s producing “Bay-Centric” designs. She designs several lines of apparel in the store, including a show-stopping Bay St. Louis t-shirt made to look like a vintage baseball team uniform.
Kulpeksa (who also owns a landscaping business) keeps the gardens lush and well maintained. Some of the food that Alford prepares for her guests is even grown on-site. Another popular feature includes being able to visit with Alford in the enormous open kitchen while she’s cooking breakfast. The screened back porch is a favorite as well – most guests can be found sipping wine and conversing with fellow lodgers each evening.
The B&B’s high number of top ratings on Trip Advisor is something any business would envy. For the second year in a row, Carroll House has received a coveted Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor, based on the number of four and five star reviews from guests.
However, many guests at the B&B asked where they could purchase locally made gifts and souvenirs to take home. Alford and Kulpeksa realized there was a need for an Old Town shop that specialized in Bay-wares. They rented a shop front last year on Second Street, and Bay-tique was born.
The store quickly gained a local following and visitors from out of town were delighted to have a wide range of locally made offerings in one place. Yet, when a space became available in the first block of Main, it proved irresistible to Alford and Kulpeksa. Although it was a much smaller space, the location and charm couldn’t be beat.
As if two businesses didn’t fill enough hours, Alford was recently re-elected to her second term as president of the Old Town Merchant’s Association.
“We have a passionate and diverse group of business owners,” says Alford. “This year we have a new budget and we’re going to work on marketing. We also want to form working alliances with other local organizations to help promote our area. For instance, we’ll work hand-in-hand with The Arts, Hancock County, to make this year’s Arts Alive! celebration in Old Town a success for everyone involved.”
Alford’s happy the word’s getting out nationally about what “a cool place the Bay is.”
“At the Carroll House, nearly everyone who comes to Bay St. Louis falls in love with it. The authentic character is so rare elsewhere and hard to find. Within the last year, I’d say 50% of our customers are wanting to move here and be part of the community. They’re either shopping for property or buying property.
“Bay St. Louis has a great vibe and a great spirit. I’m so happy to be a part of it and am looking forward to seeing it grow and thrive.”