Stores & Theatres of the Bay
The Clothing & Department Stores
One of the really fun things about this whole project is how much I am learning as I go along. While I am trying to concentrate primarily on the 1950s and ’60s of my youth, there is no way to not dip back into the ’30s and ’40s on occasion. Some of the theatres and clothing stores that were in existence when I was a youngster date all the way back into the ’30s and ’40s. It has been a definite learning experience.
When I was a youngster growing up in the ’50s into the early ’60s, there were only five places to buy clothes in Bay St. Louis. Outside of Ramsey’s, Delph’s, Jerome’s, Engman’s or Luxich’s, the only other options involved driving to Gulfport or New Orleans. Gulfport was closer and offered a big Sears & Roebuck Store, a J.C. Penney and several other smaller department stores, including Saloum’s and Anderson’s. Of course, an occasional trip to Canal Street (especially at Christmas with Mr. Bingle!!) in New Orleans was the supreme treat.
Growing Up Downtown
Ramsey’s Department Store was located on North Beach Boulevard in the first block, on the Main Street side of Sunshine’s Ice Cream Parlor. The owner was Dr. B.O. Ramsey, a dentist, and his office was on the second floor of the building. This store started as Ramsey’s Gifts on one side and the Bay Café on the other side of the building.
When I was young, Ramsey’s was the upscale full service department store in Bay St. Louis. There was a full Men and Boys’ Department, including dress and casual clothing, shoes and accessories, as well as a Ladies’ Department, including lingerie and shoes. Doc Ramsey also had a full Children’s Department as well as a Ladies’ Beauty Shop on the mezzanine floor at the rear of the ladies’ department.
Doc Ramsey and Grandpa George were close friends and were always in and out of each other’s stores. There was an older gentleman named Myron Smith who ran the men’s department for Doc Ramsey for years. This man, although not British, had the air and feel of an old-timey guy working in a men’s haberdashery. Mr. Smith eventually left Ramsey’s and opened his own men’s clothing business, The Campus Shoppe, renting from Grandpa George.
I mentioned earlier that Doc Ramsey was a dentist. He was an orthodontist as well and put braces on a lot of the local kids’ teeth. Both of my sisters and I were having our teeth straightened by Doc Ramsey. If my daddy was still alive, he’d probably still be paying Doc Ramsey $25 a month for straightening all three sets of his children’s teeth.
Delph’s Department Store
Delph’s Department Store was located on South Beach Boulevard in the first block, just south of Hancock Bank. This store was operated by the Octave Delph family. Mr. Oc Delph was married to Alden Mauffray’s sister and originally, the Mauffrays had owned both the store and the hardware business next door. Mr. & Mrs. Delph acquired the dry goods operation in 1939 and ran the business as Mauffray’s Dry Goods before changing the name to Delph’s in the early ’50s.
Delph’s was the other upscale department store in Bay St. Louis, but their specialties were mainly ladies clothing, lingerie and shoes, along with children’s clothing and shoes. They also sold fabric, patterns and sewing supplies. What I remember most about Delph’s is that this was the place to get Keds brand tennis shoes. Everybody went to Delph’s for their Keds.
My mother was into sewing a lot of clothing and making her own dresses and so on, so she frequented this store a lot. Mr. and Mrs. Delph were very kind and giving people and their employees worked for them for years. It seems to me that Mrs. Evelyn Favre and Mrs. Gertrude “Zudi” French worked at Delph’s for as long as I can remember. Ms. Francis Faucetta worked there also.
Mr. and Mrs. Delph’s youngest daughter, Julie, is around my age, and we have always known each other. One funny thing that Julie told me about her dad was that he was very perceptive and was able to adapt to the times. Julie made the comment to me that her dad had sent her to college on double-knit polyester. She said that in the mid-’60s, more and more women were leaving the home and joining the work force. Women were drifting away from wearing stockings, which were a big item for Mr. Delph. Stockings snagged, ran and generally were a big expense. When double-knit polyester pantsuits first came on the scene, Mr. Delph seized the opportunity and became THE store in town for women to buy wash-and-wear polyester work suits.
This store was located on both sides of Main Street at the north and south corners of Second Street. The women’s and children’s department was on the south corner. It had previously been the Boston Shoe Store, run by August Schiro back in the ’40s.
The men’s department was on the north corner in a building that has been there since the 1800s. W. A. McDonald had been at this location at one time, and later, a business called the Red Hot Store. Perry’s Department Store was there before Jerome’s. The Carver Family ran Jerome’s Department Store. In my youth, Jerome’s son Harold was running the business.
Jerome’s handled primarily work and casual clothes for men. This was always the place to come to buy Levi's blue jeans. Jerome’s always sold overalls and western shirts and boots. In the ’60s, Jerome’s added a Tom McAnn shoe franchise. When western shirts became standard hippie-wear with Levi’s jeans, I bought a lot of western shirts from Jerome’s. My friend Peggy Givens used to work in the men’s department at Jerome’s.
Luxich’s was located in the depot area of Bay St. Louis at the corner of Blaize Avenue and Sycamore Street (Devil’s Elbow). Obviously, the store was run by the Luxich family. My family didn’t do much business there so I don’t remember too much about the store. I do remember that my mother would buy school uniforms for my sisters at Luxich’s. This store opened in the early ’50s and I think mostly handled women’s and children’s clothing. Mr. Luxich, who was a really nice guy, used to come into my grandfather’s store and buy cases of light bulbs from him.
Engman’s Department Store
Engman’s was located on Bookter Street across from “Rip University” (the St. Stanislaus back school). The store was just down the block from Tony Beningo’s barber shop. Engman’s had been in operation since the turn of the century. In my youth, the store was kind of dated as far as clothing went. I seem to remember that they sold some toys and fabric and sewing supplies. Old man Eddie Engman ran the store.
There was another old guy named Freddie Fayard who worked in there. He was a little old skinny guy who was bald-headed and he smoked a cigar. As a child, I remember that this cigar seemed to be bigger than Mr. Freddie was. It’s funny remembering him walking down the aisle of the store with his hands behind his back and smoke just billowing out of that great big cigar. These days you can’t smoke in public places, but Mr. Freddie was like an old locomotive coming from the back of the store.
Mr. Eddie Engman died in the mid-’60s, and the store closed after his death. I remember that around 1969 there was still stock, like suits, shirts, slacks and dress hats in the store when they bulldozed the building. The old Engman home still stands proudly at the corner of Bookter and Hancock Streets. There is a newer home that was built in the location of the old store.
Anthony “Tony” Loiacano renovated the building on the water side of North Beach Boulevard that had housed a fish market and then a used furniture store next to Manieri’s Restaurant. Anthony opened Anthony’s Menswear in 1965 and the store was immediately a hit with the high school, college and young professional males of Bay St. Louis. Anthony handled everything from the conservative business suits, slacks, shirts and ties to the hippest casual wear. It was a welcome change for the local fashion scene and a warm, friendly place to hang out downtown.
I vividly remember that Anthony was the first person to ever give me a credit account when I was still in high school. Tony was just an all around good guy. Unfortunately, Anthony’s original store washed away in Hurricane Camille in 1969, but Anthony relocated temporarily to an existing family-owned strip center on Necaise Avenue. Within a year or two, Anthony was constructing a new building located at Main Street and Saint Francis. Anthony died from cancer at much too young of an age, but his younger sister, Pam, carries on running Anthony’s Menswear in the same location, on Main Street at St. Francis.
The Campus Shop
I am not sure of the details, but sometime in the early ’60s Mr. Myron Smith, who ran the men’s department for Doc Ramsey, left Ramsey’s and opened his own business. Mr. Smith came from and reminded you of the old-time men’s haberdasher. He opened his new business, The Campus Shop, in a small rented space in my grandfather’s building on Main Street.
Mr. Smith was a nice old guy and did well for a while, but he was very old-school conservative and really didn’t have a feel for the changes that were taking place in men’s fashions. He would do things like wait to put popular items in stock and then load up on them six months after they went out of style. He did this with those banded collar suits that the Beatles wore when they first became famous. By the time he put them in the store, everybody was wearing Nehru jackets!
Mr. Smith was also a little too trusting. I think that often he extended credit to some individuals who never did pay him. Once Anthony’s business became established, Mr. Smith’s clothing store’s business slowly dwindled, until he finally closed at some point around 1970.
The Dress Shops
Vickie’s Tots & Teens
Ms Vickie Becker opened Vickie’s Tots & Teens on the water side of North Beach Boulevard around 1961. The shop originally was across from Sunshine Ice Cream Parlor. One or two years later, Ms. Becker moved to a space across from my grandfather Stevenson’s store on Main Street, located in the first floor of the Masonic Temple Building. This business closed in 1969.
The Sea Chest
The Sea Chest women’s clothing store was originally opened by Margaret Hadden and Shirley Whitlow, who had worked for Doc Ramsey running the ladies’ department at Ramsey’s Department Store. Later Laurie Poindexter bought out Margaret Hadden’s interest in the business. The store opened in 1967 and was located in a building in the triangle where Phillip Street meets the Highway 90 service road.
After Hurricane Camille in 1969, the business moved to the strip mall next to the A&P shopping center on Dunbar Avenue and later, across Highway 90 Marketown Shopping Center. Shirley Whitlow eventually became sole proprietor. This business was in operation until around 1980.
In looking at the history of most of these clothing stores it really becomes apparent what a seminal event Hurricane Camille was, and the effect that it had on Bay St. Louis’s businesses. Another big factor was the opening of national chain stores like TG&Y, and the migration of businesses out onto Highway 90.
When I was a kid growing up in Bay St. Louis, there were three theatres in town. The first one was the A&G, which was downtown at the corner of State Street and North Beach Boulevard, across the street from Trapani’s Knock-Knock bar. The second was the Star Theatre, which was down South Beach Boulevard at the corner of Washington Street, across from the American Legion home. The third theatre was The HiWay Drive-In out on Highway 90, on the property that now includes La Chula Mexican Restaurant, all the way up to the hospital property line of today. This business was a classic old drive-in theatre (right out of Route 66).
As far back as the early 1900s there had been other picture shows in the area. The Nicholson Cinema was on Nicholson Avenue in Waveland, just over the tracks on the right as you go towards the highway. Mr. Ed Ortte opened a theatre on Coleman Avenue in Waveland named The Gulf Theatre in 1937. Mr. Ortte played a huge part in the movie theatre scene in the Bay, as well as the whole Gulf Coast, eventually owning at least three theatres in downtown Gulfport, as well as three in the Bay-Waveland area. Ortte also was involved in politics, serving on the Hancock County Board of Supervisors.
I have recently learned of the existence of another small theatre that was in the depot area strip center. Albert Piazza talked about it and remembered that Primo Fayard was the projectionist. Janelle Kern remembers her aunt bringing her to this theatre as a very young child. This theatre would have been in operation probably in the mid-1940s.
One interesting memory that has been passed on to me by more than a couple of the older local ladies (I’m not mentioning names) is that Friday and Sunday nights were the really popular nights to go to the “picture shows.” These were the nights that the St. Stanislaus boys (boarding students) were allowed to attend the movies and meet up with the local ladies. Saturday nights were date nights.
The A & G Theatre
The A&G Theatre was located (and the building still stands) at the corner of North Beach Boulevard and State Street. The “A” and “G” stood for Ames and Gaspard. This business started out at the turn of the century, across the street from where the building now stands. Originally, it had been an open-air pavilion where they showed moving pictures.
There are several things that stick out in my mind about this theatre. The A&G showed all of the horror movies that I was too scared to go see as a kid (remember the futuristic Frankenstein 1970?), and they also showed a lot of Elvis movies. Gene Autry’s sidekick Smiley Burnett made a personal appearance at the A&G when I was a kid. For whatever reason, this theatre always had personal appearances by different celebrities. I also seem to remember a traveling exhibit of Bonnie and Clyde’s bullet-riddled car being on display on the sidewalk out front. This stuff was a big deal for a little town and all of us kids! The A&G also used to have talent shows in the ’60s, and I remember that my friend Squeaky Hille’s band, Henry Jay and The Starfires, played at several of these affairs.
One very clear memory that I have about the A&G Theatre concerns the fact that they charged sales tax at the concession stand! Your folks would give you a quarter to go to the show, fifteen cents to get in and a dime for the concession stand. A five-cent candy bar and a penny tax and your dime was blown. You couldn’t buy anything with four cents except penny pieces of gum out of the gum machine. Who wanted Chiclet gum?
Two old ladies, the Tudury sisters, ran the A&G concession stand. They lived in a house just a couple of doors down from my grandfather’s building on Main Street. They both wore too much makeup and rouge. They also were pretty short-tempered with the kids. One of them looked somewhat like Mae West, and she tried to project that image.
The lady who ran the concession stand down at the Star Theatre, Ms. Oliver, was a much sweeter lady. The kids all loved her and besides, she didn’t charge us tax at the concession stand. She was really cool!
Sometime in 1965, the A&G was renamed “The Surf Theatre” and had an extended life for another several years, but by spring of 1968 this picture show closed down.
The Purple Pickle Story
Around the summer of 1968, a new chapter in the life of The A&G began. Bay St. Louis’s A&G became home to The Purple Pickle. The Purple Pickle was Bay St. Louis’s answer to the Fillmore East. Some would-be entrepreneur opened a dance/concert venue in the old theatre. Whoever the owner was, he opened a similar venue in an old theatre in Slidell, also named The Purple Pickle.
I attended shows in both venues and witnessed some pretty fair traveling musical groups. Both of these venues were alcohol-free and welcomed teenagers. I remember seeing the Twenty-First Century Indians (which was a pretty big-name rock band out of New Orleans) in the Slidell Theatre. I saw an excellent band named Flavor from the Washington, D.C. area put on a memorable show in Bay St. Louis. Both locations featured a psychedelic light show on the screen behind the band as they were performing. For small-town Mississippi, it was a pretty cool thing, and very popular for awhile with the local kids.
Maggie Dantagnan Hayden and her family acquired the old A&G Theatre building in the 1970s, and it became the home of a popular sno-ball stand that operated out of the front box office section. This historic building withstood the water and winds of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Although substantially damaged, the building was still structurally sound and was renovated on the exterior to again bring it to weather tightness. It is my understanding that Maggie’s family—including her son (and my friend) Lee—have specific ideas concerning the preservation and future of this historic downtown structure.
This theatre was located at the corner of Washington Street and South Beach Boulevard. This pre-1900 building was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. Originally, it had been August Kellar’s store.
It was vacant for some years and then housed the yacht club in the 1920s. The club, I’m told, was run by “Uncle Charlie” Breath, the father of Charlie “Junior” Breath. Later, about 1932, this location was home to a night club and dance hall named Uncle Charlie’s Night Club, again run by Charles Breath, Sr. He sold the nightclub in 1937.
Mr. Ed Ortte (my friend Ree Elliott’s grandfather) opened the Gulf Theatre on Coleman Avenue in Waveland in 1937 and eventually relocated to the former location of Uncle Charlie’s at Washington Street in about 1943. This new establishment was the Ortte Theatre.
Sometime in the mid-’50s, this operation was taken over by Mr. Joe Scafidi, who renamed it the Star Theatre. This is the theatre that I most remember from my youth. Mr. Ortte had by 1950 opened the drive-in theatre on Highway 90 in Bay St. Louis. The Ortte family would eventually own three theatres in downtown Gulfport.
One of the things that stand out in my mind about The Star Theatre (aside from them not charging sales tax at the concession stand) was that this was the place that showed all the biblical Charleston Heston movies. The Robe, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and Sampson and Delilah were all shown at the Star. It might have had something to do with the fact that Scafidi family was very active in the Catholic church. Another thing to be said concerning this subject is that Bay St. Louis has always been a predominately Catholic community, and actively supported these films.
By the mid-1970s, this building was purchased by Kelvin Schulz and for a year or two, Schulz attempted to run it as a movie theatre. Schulz re-christened the business “The Big E” (after his wife, Emily, the granddaughter of my grandfather Stevenson’s first business partner) and operated a grocery, seafood market and sno-ball stand there for many years. This historic old structure was totally washed away during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre
This theatre was opened to much local fanfare in 1950 by the Ortte family. At the time, the drive-in theatre concept was very modern and cutting edge. The Hi-Way Drive-In presented all the popular movies of the day and Bay St. Louis embraced the concept with open arms. There were newspaper ads with instructions on how to properly enter and exit the theatre, and carhops were even available to provide delivery service of refreshments.
I’m not sure how long this theatre operated, but I know that it changed hands once or twice and began to get kind of run down. By the mid-’60s, the establishment had gone out of business. When Mr. Ortte first opened in 1950, the venue even presented live country music shows on a big stage out in front of the big screen in the parking lot. Mr. Ortte apparently was a country music fan and at one time was encouraging his daughter, Marian (my friend Ree Elliott’s mother), to try a singing career. Ms. Marian’s stage name was Patsy Ettro (Ortte spelled backwards). The Hi-Way Drive-In also had Christmas pageants on the stage during holiday season, with live entertainment and gift giveaways.
By about 1975, all of these theatres were out of business and in disrepair. It would be twenty years before a multi-screen cinema would finally open in Waveland off Highway 90, behind the McDonald’s. Unfortunately, in this day of rental DVDs, premium movie channels, pay-on-demand and streaming movies, there aren’t many theatres that still operate in this area. More progress, I suppose, but there is still nothing like seeing a good movie on the big screen of a theatre. And besides, the popcorn tastes better.
The Waveland Cinema is presently under renovation, ten years after flooding and sustaining major damage during Hurricane Katrina. As of September 2015, it is scheduled to reopen soon.