Up Main and Down Second
- by Pat Murphy
The first block of Main Street in my youth had almost every type of business, from Hancock Bank to Kern’s Five & Dime Store, Mississippi Power Company, Magnolia State Building Supply, Bobbi Ann Bakery, Bressler’s Café, Dantagnan Realty, Peoples Federal/Treutel Insurance, Jitney Jungle Food Store and of course, the Hancock County Court House - with all of the lawyers' offices that accompanied it. My grandfather’s store stood at 126 Main directly across from the Masonic Temple building.
Main Street was still paved with red bricks. This brick paving extended from Beach Boulevard to at least St. Francis Street and probably further. This beautiful old brick paved street was dug up and destroyed when the city ran sewer lines throughout the city in the mid sixties. Progress, I suppose, but those old brick streets were really something.
Growing Up Downtown
My friend Carey Phillips and I used to hang out and play up in the lumber racks because Carey’s grandfather, Mr. Hippo Phillips, was one of the co-owners. Mr. Hippo had married into the Gex family, but his first wife, Weena Gex Phillips, had died and Mr. Hippo remarried. We could usually get free nails and scrap lumber to build stuff with whenever we needed it from Mr. Hippo.
Behind the Hancock Bank (in the building that is joined to the bank) was the post office, before a newer one was built down the street in the mid-1930s. When I was a child, the next building behind this was Hancock Insurance. At one time, this building was also the location of the W.L. Bourgeois Grocery Store and later Supertane Gas Company, run by several of Mr. Bourgeois’ sons. Mr. Pete Benvenutti told me that there was a big old house located where the bank parking lot is now. That was the home of the W.L. Bourgeois family.
The 126 Main Street location of my grandfather’s building originally had an old shotgun type house. Mr. Buster Heitzmann told me that at one time the grandfather (Papa Joe) of Joe and Rudy Labat ran an alteration, cleaning, and pressing business out of this house. Cornelius Ladner, an attorney acquired this property and my grandfather purchased it from him in about 1952. One of the terms of the sale was that my grandfather allow Mr. Ladner to build his law office onto the side of my grandfather’s building. My grandfather’s building at 126 Main Street still stands today and most recently housed Serenity Gallery and now Maggie May’s.
Across the street from my grandfather’s store, Stevenson Electric, was the Masonic Temple. This was Bay St. Louis’s answer to a skyscraper. At three stories it was about the tallest building in Bay St. Louis (now it seems that every bar being built on Beach Boulevard is three stories high!). When I was a youngster, Mississippi Power Company was located downstairs in one side of this building and Peoples Federal Savings and Loan was on the other side. The Masons had their meetings upstairs on the third floor of the building.
Kern’s Dime Store was like a F.W.Woolworth’s or McCrory’s and sold everything from fabric to toys and household items. I used to love hanging out in there. I bought the first Beatles album there and they had a pretty good stock of model cars and airplanes. This business was acquired in 1942 by the Kern family. Before Kern’s the business was known as B & F 5 &10 Store (Baxter & Fasterling). The (Papa Tony) Benvenutti family ran a plumbing business and supply (Bay Plumbing) before that in this building.
There was an old home that stood between Kern’s Dime Store and the Post Office where the parking lot is now located next to Bay Books and Serious Bread Company. This home belonged to a lady named Ms. Mame Parillo.
Between my grandfather’s business and the Bobbi Anne Bakery there were three houses. The house next door belonged to Dutch and Vee Manieri who ran Maneiri’s Restaurant. After Hurricane Camille destroyed their building on the beach, the Manieri sisters reopened the restaurant in this house but it was never the same and the restaurant closed within a couple of years. The house next door belonged to the Tudury sisters (more on them in the chapter concerning the picture shows). The next house belonged to Ms. Lizana who was Ms. Totti Jacobi’s mother.
My other favorite hangout on Main Street was right next door to The Bobbi Anne in a two story building. Bressler’s Café was run by Mr. Tom Bressler. Mr. Tom had great poboys, hamburgers, blue plate specials, pinball machines (that paid off) and a great juke box. I spent a lot of time at Tom Bressler’s also. Mr. Pete Benvenutti told me that at some point before Bressler’s opened, the Quintini family operated a meat market downstairs and lived upstairs in this building. Sometime in the early nineteen sixties, attorney Bill Frisbie bought the property, tore down the old building and built a new modern red brick office in this location. Mr. Tom Bressler relocated the café over on South Beach Boulevard in the duplex next to Mr. Eddie Marquez’s bar. This would have been around 1962.
On the other side of Mr. Frisbie’s office was the E.J. Gex building. This was a beautiful two story turn of the century building. Unfortunately this building was bulldozed by the owners with very little damage after Katrina. The next building had been the office of attorney Robert Genin, Sr. Now it is occupied by architect Ed Wikoff.
On the corner of Main and Gex Street was Jeanette Carmichael’s home and business, Carmichael Real Estate. Ms. Carmichael was an elderly lady and at one time had a pet monkey that escaped and attacked Mr. Pete Benvenutti’s sister, Lucille, as she was walking to school and the animal was shot by the police!! Ms. Carmichael also published a small - and apparently somewhat - controversial newspaper named The Light.
[Editor's Note: If anyone has a copy of "The Light," please contact Ellis Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org]
At the corner of Cue Street and Main in the block with the Methodist church, stood a two story building that I knew as the Methodist Church Sunday school building. This building had been around since the turn of the century and at various times housed The Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Maurigi the shoemaker and the original headquarters for Coast Electric Power Association. At one time one of the Maurigi family also ran a restaurant downstairs next to the shoemaker and the family lived upstairs. This historic old landmark eventually came to be owned by the Methodist church and was demolished to make way for a playground.
The beautiful old building that now houses Sycamore House was the old Mauffray home but it was not occupied when I was a child. The building was beautifully renovated in the late 1970s when The Landmark Restaurant opened in the old home. At the end of the block where the 220 Main Gallery is located, the building originally was reconstructed by Mr. Joe Scharff for his original grocery store. After Mr. Scharff constructed the Jitney Jungle at Main and Second, Mr. Joe Loicano ran a grocery store in this location. There also was a period of time when this building was an upholstery shop.
Across Toulme Street on the opposite corner from this building was Mr. Earl Raymond’s Appliance business. Mr. Earl Raymond and his wife lived just a couple of houses down from my parents’ home in the second block of Felicity Street. This building changed hands after Mr. Earl died and was renovated into what is now apartments.
Second Street had a number of businesses including Mr. Guy Bufkin’s Television and Appliance store. Originally Mr. Bufkin was located on the corner of Second and DeMontluzin. When Mr. Joe Scharff built a newer and larger Jitney Jungle food store, he bought Mr. Bufkin’s property. Bufkin moved his building to a piece of property closer to Main Street on Second right behind the old Jitney Jungle and built a new modern showroom on the front of the old building.
When Mr. Scharff built the new Jitney Jungle he also acquired and tore down The Promote Hall which stood on the corner of State and Second Street. The Promote Hall was a meeting hall for an African-American social aid and pleasure club. This old building was the site of many dances and musical minstrel shows, especially in the Dixieland Jazz era from about 1885 until around 1940. Promote Hall predated Bay St. Louis’ 100 Men Hall by almost 40 years because it was constructed in the eighteen 1880s. By the time Mr. Scharff tore it down; Promote Hall was vacant and had not been used for a number of years. Ames Kergoisen has told me several times that when he was a boy they used to trap pigeons inside of the abandoned old hall.
Mr. Manuel Maurigi ran a cobbler and shoe repair business in the little building in between Jerome’s Ladies and Children’s Department and the old Fayard home which is now The Mockingbird Cafe. Mr. Maurigi’s father started his cobbler’s business originally in the building at the corner of Cue Street and Main Street, that eventually would become the Methodist church Sunday school building.
The beautiful old Bay Emporium on Second Street was originally The Woodsmen of the World Hall. The second floor of this building was a grand ballroom with the high stamped tin ceiling. The Sea Coast Echo office was located in this building during my teenage years. Steve Wyatt’s mother taught ballroom dancing upstairs in the ballroom. My mother, in an effort to give me culture, I suppose, enrolled me with Mrs. Wyatt for ballroom dancing lessons.
Of course, past the cemetery and over the railroad tracks was the beautiful old Bay St. Louis city hall. The shoofly was not in existence at that time. Further down Second Street going the north, Dr. Leroy McFarland’s office was on the corner of DeMontluzin Street. I laugh when I think about Dr. McFarland and Doc Wolfe and the broad scope of their work. In those days, small town doctors like them did everything. There weren’t any specialists (at least in Bay St. Louis) so these doctors did it all - from setting broken bones and delivering babies to minor surgeries. They were it!!
Steve Benvenutti’s law office and Dr. Bert Keel, the dentist’s office, now occupy Dr. McFarland’s old building. On the opposite corner, J.C. Shubert had a barber shop that he opened in the early 1960s. The building that Shubert built for his barber shop still stands and is partly occupied by The Ugly Pirate Bar.
Mertz’s Dry Cleaners was also located further down Second Street, right across from where St. George Street opens onto Second. At one time, the building that was occupied by Mertz Cleaners had been Gulf Coast Oil, a gas station and garage with a drive through awning across the front. This station was run by Louie Taconi who later moved over on Ulman Avenue (Highway 90) next door to Pete Porter’s Gulf Station.
It is my understanding that Mr. Joe Burrows ran this cleaning business before he went to work for Merchant’s Bank and Trust. Mr.Burrows son, Billy, and his wife later opened Burrows Cleaners on Highway 90 around 1964. The other half of the highway 90 cleaners building was the location of Bay St. Louis’ first Pizza Parlor, Missile Pizza.