An Unbroken Chain
- story by Ellis Anderson, photographs by Ellis Anderson, Joe Tomasovsky and courtesy Vicki Niolet
Many people attending the Second Saturday Artwalk in Bay St. Louis on August 8th will be celebrating more than art show openings. This month marks the tenth year since the cultural event became one of the community’s psychological and economic lifesavers.
The artwalk has been a town tradition for more than two decades. In the mid-90s, locals and visitors from across the region began flocking to “the Bay” on the second Saturday each month for shopping, dining, live music, and festivities with a family-friendly spin.
By 2005, the event had become a beloved and much talked-about part of the state’s culture.
Second Saturday Column
A few months later, Katrina’s unprecedented surge had torn the beach road into rugged slabs of asphalt. Most of the buildings facing the coastline had been crushed or stood as gutted hulks. The majority of the town’s residents were homeless or trying to cope with houses that had been flooded, in many cases to the roofline.
Yet, less than two weeks after the storm, a small group of artists, shop-owners and residents gathered on the rubble at the intersection of Beach and Main to observe the September Second Saturday. Their intent was to keep the chain of events – and the community’s spirit - unbroken, even amid the ruin.
By the second Saturday in October, gallery owners Jenise McCardell and her husband Mark Currier welcomed crowds of survivors and volunteers to Gallery 220, one of the few intact commercial buildings in Old Town. The overwhelmingly positive response encouraged the couple to host a Second Saturday event each week for the next several months. The gatherings became an important source of positive energy for flagging survivors.
Artist and co-owner of Bay Emporium, Vicki Niolet, is one of the original organizers of the Old Town event. She was also one of the plucky few who gathered at the foot of Main Street in the aftermath of Katrina to carry on the tradition. A passing stranger snapped a photo of the group. Everyone is smiling, even though the ruins of a building form the backdrop.
Niolet says the camera didn’t catch everything.
“I still remember my mama sitting on the curb with her head in her hands. Those were tough, tough days for us all.”
The tough times seem to have passed. A decade later, the Second Saturday Artwalks now attract larger crowds than the pre-Katrina events. Old Town merchants and restaurants report brisk business. Most of them credit the event to helping reestablish a loyal and diverse customer base.
City leaders also point to Second Saturday as playing a critical role in rebuilding the community’s national reputation as a vital, creative place to visit and to live. The trickle-down is apparent in the new harbor, where slip rental rate has far outstripped early projections. Real estate values in the historic district rank at the top statewide.
Vicki Niolet says that over the past twenty-plus years, the artwalk has evolved into an organic part of life in the town.
“Second Saturday is not just an event held for the community anymore. It is the community. It’s part of the fabric of Bay St. Louis.”
Each month, two businesses take the limelight during Second Saturday. The August “Hot Spots” are Social Chair (201 Main Street) and Identity Vintage (131 Main Street).
131 Main Street
The joy of buying a record album, taking it home to spin on the turntable and then spending hours listening, while absorbing every image and credit on the cover.
Identity Vintage on Main Street is going to change that.
The Bay St. Louis diva of the Vinyl Revival, owner Suzi Walters is now stocking nearly 1000 albums in Identity Vintage. Some are highly collectible – and all in pristine condition.
The local trend follows the national one. Older music buffs are enthusiastically embracing the return to vinyl, while the younger set is beginning to understand the sound quality they’ve been missing in digital – and the artful packaging that can’t be duplicated in tiny, plastic CD cases.
The record section is only part of Identity Vintage’s new expansion, which includes the addition of a new jewelry line and décor items created from mid-century fabrics, both created by Walters herself. Yet, the fine quality vintage clothing, accessories and hats that have built the shop’s regional reputation over the past 15 years will remain a mainstay.
“I’ll always be attached to my first love, vintage clothing,” says Suzi.
Yet her goal is for Identity Vintage to be a full-fledged, independent record store by the end of next year, with thousands of albums in stock. Many of the albums are first pressings of recordings over half a century old. The back wall of the store currently showcases albums by the Beatles, Bob Dylan and early Bruce Springsteen. Each record has been professionally cleaned, re-sleeved and in the case of the rarer ones, play-tested.
“The records were produced using the analog method, so the music sounds live and has a much warmer tone,” Walters says.
By the holiday season, Identity Vintage will also carry turntables (some new and some vintage), representing a full range of quality. Entry-level players will start at $50. Album prices range from $2 to $100 for truly rare records. Sales have already been brisk as word has spread.
Meanwhile, Suzi’s new jewelry line, called “Beni” – French for ‘blessing’ – are keeping her creative side busy. Each piece is individually designed and crafted using charms, crystals, and religious medals she’s collected over her career.
The average Beni bracelet consists of 30 – 60 individual pieces assembled by hand. A basic bracelet is $35 - $40 in stainless, more for precious metals.
With a two or three week lead time, pieces can be customized by adding family keepsakes and charms. Suzi created more than fifty custom pieces during the 2014 holiday season and anticipates more orders this year. The bracelets have also become popular first communion gifts.
“When I do a custom piece,” says Suzi, “I want the customer’s breath to be taken away when they see the finished product.” She grins. “Usually, they are.”
But while Suzi is exploring new ventures in retailing collectibles, one thing won’t change: Identity Vintage’s location.
“I’ve been in business in Old Town since 2000,” she says. “I was here before Katrina and I’m still here. I’m proud to be in Bay St. Louis. I can’t imagine being in a better place.”
201 Main Street
To celebrate their Hot Spot status, the Pohl family Band will perform at Social Chair from 5 – 7:30 pm. Refreshments will be served. Free Social Chair fan with a $10+ purchase.
The business in the historic building at the intersection of Main and Second streets might be called a gift shop. It’s certainly that, stuffed with all sorts of fun items for both kids and fun-loving adults.
But it’s also a boutique, offering trending fashion accessories, like jewelry, scarves and handbags. Home furnishings and décor? Yep. Social Chair is the headquarters for interior designer/owner Yuki Northington, so shoppers will find fanciful chandeliers, hip furniture and luxury bedding.
The synergy is palpable. And unforgettable. Social Chair has been tapped as Mississippi Magazine’s favorite shop in the state. Twice. And HGTV snagged Yuki for appearances on their Design Star series.
Yuki, who holds degrees in fine art and interior design, opened Social Chair shortly after Hurricane Katrina demolished the town ten years ago. Despite the devastation that surrounded her, she spotted a niche to be filled.
“People needed to have better local shopping options as they began to rebuild or restore their homes,” says Yuki. “At that point, they had to settle for whatever they could find in big box stores.”
Social Chair began by carrying mostly home furnishings, along with some fine antiques. As Bay St. Louis has recovered, the focus of the store changed.
“My business is evolving as the town is evolving,” says Yuki. “Now, our number one seller is jewelry.”
While the finer jewelry lines she carries make important gift-giving occasions easy, Yuki’s focusing more on trendy jewelry with accessible price points.
Locally-created Helen Marie Swarovski crystal pieces are especially popular now, sparking up everything from casual wear to formals. Prices range from $25 to $98, and since the pieces are made locally, custom orders can be picked up in just a few days. Accessories like hats, scarves and tote bags complement the jewelry lines.
Those shopping for their own homes will find furniture, tableware, and now, luxury bedding by Bella Notte. The bedding is all garment piece-dyed and made from linen, silk and velvet.
But when it comes to holiday home décor, Yuki’s built a coastal reputation for being the go-to place.
“We go over the top for the holidays at Social Chair,” she says. “People love being able to decorate for the season and make their houses even more interesting and beautiful. We’re after the “wow” factor.”
The “Red Hot” sign over Social Chair’s door would seem to confirm that. However Yuki says it’s a nod to a business that used to operate out of the same historic building, which is one of the oldest commercial structures on the coast.
“People can spend the same amount of money at Social Chair that they’d spend at a discount store,” she says, “and go out the door with a better gift that is wrapped and beautiful. And that’s a pretty hot concept.”
More August Second Saturday Happenings!
Open from 4 - 8pm on Second Saturday with amazing selection of antiques. Serving refreshments!
Bay Books - 131 Main Street - Laura McNeill, author of Center of Gravity will be at Bay Books signing his book on Saturday, August 8th from 5:00-7:00.
Bay Emporium - 112 S. Second Street - "Beat the Heat!" Come on inside for cool deals on antiques, gifts, art, clothes, and home decor. "Steampunk Curiosities" documents the record-breaking temperatures with outrageously awesome weather machines. "In 2 Details" brings attention to the details of the coastal lifestyle. "Boesch and Co." transforms salvage into fine custom furniture. "Voila!" features French inspired goods, furniture and accessories. "Charbonnet and Charbonnet" combines antiques and reclaimed architectural doors and windows. "Armoire Noir" has a special summer sale rack of cool sundresses. And don't miss a new exhibit of assemblages, "Private Stock" by Vicki Niolet, on display inside "Paper Moon". All this and more in thirteen cool shops at Bay Emporium, full of fun in the heart of Old Town.
Bay Life Gifts - 111 Main - This exciting new shop and gallery has gifts and art for everyone including Crabtree Evelyn products, Caspari napkins & placemats and Tervis Cups and Crestview lamps. Also at Bay Life you will find Mississippi products like Oxford soy candles, Thimblepress Greeting cards, and AO Jewelry. Featured local regional artists include the popular Tehle McGuffee's coastal art as well as Tracy Steiffel's hand- painted pillows , Lisa Hymel's seaglass artwork and Shirley Kautz's colorful bouy's . And each Second Saturday serving our refreshing non-alcoholic Bay Punch!
Bay-Tique - 125 Main St. - Summer Clearance Sale! All Swimwear 50% off; Shorts 20% off; Sun Dresses, maxis, Tops, Accessories 20-50% off!
Bonner Collection - 108 South Beach Blvd., Suite D
Visit the Bonner Collection to see our new Summer home decor, gifts, jewelry, art arriving almost daily. Would love to see you and enjoy some refreshments. Cheers!
California Drawstrings - 216 Main Street - 25% off STOREWIDE, both men and ladies' clothing, jewelry, and accessories all day Saturday! Serving prohibition tea!
Carroll House Bed & Breakfast - 304 Carroll Ave. August Special: $99 any weeknight stay, all rooms in the Main House!
Gallery 220 - 220 Main Street - Always one of the liveliest places during the Artwalk, this co-op features work by more than 20 artists (who are usually there, which accounts for the liveliness!), refreshments and live music. Featured artists is Deanne Clark.
Bay Books - 131 Main Street - Laura McNeill, author of Center of Gravity will be at Bay Books signing his book on Saturday, August 8th from 5:00-7:00.
Flair - Inside Bay Emporium -112 South Second St.
Huge shipments of the wildly popular Mad Mats indoor/outdoor rugs continue to arrive at Flair, where you'll find dozens of these no-fade, no-stain rugs in a wide assortment of sizes, colors and patterns. As durable as they are stylish, Mad Mats are pet, child, dirt and sun-friendly and virtually maintenance free--just rinse them with a garden hose!
French Potager - 213 Main Street. Host of Imagination Station sponsored by The Arts, Hancock County- Join artist and musician, Connor Paschall, for a "tour"iffic Imagination Station at The French Potager @ 213 Main St. In addition to conducting the travel-themed art activity, Connor will be selling his artwork to benefit the Tanzania clean water project. Connor will travel to Tanzania to aid in a five-year water well installation/maintenance project that will provide the residents with the gift of clean water. Donations and information on the Tanzania water project can be found at gofundme.com/ConnorsEpicJourney
George’s Girls - 108 S. Beach Blvd. Ste B, (inside the French Settlement building).
Purveyors of Fine Linens. George`s Girls has you covered for the back to school season! The Spartina Day Planner will keep you organized all year long! Our FacePlant pillow cases can cozy up any dorm room and make it your own, and don`t forget about our Yala tops are perfect for comfy class days! Come see us today!
Magnolia Antiques, 200 Main Street. If you haven't seen the totally rearranged shop, it's definitely worth a stop! We have completely turned it around. And of course, we'll offer snacks and bargains!!
The Mockingbird Cafe - 110 S. Second Street Live music by Rochelle Harper, starting at 7pm. New works by artists Kat Fitzpatrick, Thomas Jackson, Marsha Prejean, Tim Waldrop, Barbara Speer and J.J. Foley. Delicious beers are on tap to pair with the ever popular Mockingburger (veggie or meat lover's).
Serious Bread Bakery - 131 Main Street, Suite D - Along with signature artisan breads, flatbreads and sweet things, you can also try pesto, hummus and our special tomato sandwiches. As always, we offer samples of our baked goods.
Smith & Lens Gallery - 106 S. Second Street - Show of work by Julia Reyes : CONFETTI & SMALL TALK at Smith & Lens. Paintings and mixed media. Gorgeous show. Fabulous prices.
Fashion Express - 126 Main Street - Jean Ann now features Comfy yoga capris and long slacks in five colors size small to XX Lg, Tyler candle collection and new arrival of seaglass jewelry! Come and check it out at the front entrance of Lulu's Restaurant!
Identity Vintage - 131 Main Street. HOT SPOT! During Second Saturday, the Sones Family Band will be performing in the parking lot adjacent to Identity Vintage from 6 – 8pm. Suzi has created a gift basket she’ll be giving away as a door prize, no purchase necessary. Refreshments served.
Social Chair - 201 Main Street - Hot Spot! To celebrate their Hot Spot status, the Pohl family Band will perform at Social Chair from 5 – 7:30 pm. Refreshments will be served. Free Social Chair fan with a $10+ purchase.
Something Special - 207 Main Street - houses 1,200 sq feet of antique, vintage and re-purposed items while representing the work of 22 local artisans. Stop by to find "your" something special!
Time After Time Antiques (Inside Bay Emporium), 112 S. Second St. - Offering a unique array of antiques, furniture from different eras, collectibles, and home decor. Between the hours of 4PM and 8PM we offer 20% off furniture. New shipments of Pottery Candles, Melts and Wax Melters have arrived with more on the way with new fragrance offerings! Hope to see you soon.
Twin Light Creations- 136 Main Street It’s summer! Great time to come enjoy Old Town. This Second Saturday is right in the middle of all of the festivals. New arrivals daily will give a good selection for your secret garden space. Come enjoy the elements of nature and take a little of the “Light” with you! And yes, contrary to the rumors, we are still open! You must see for yourself.
The Ugly Pirate - 144 DeMontluzin St. - Come to a family and pet friendly place to enjoy great Pizza, Gyros and more. We have 16 Craft Beers, as well as various bottled beer. Live music every Saturday night beginning at 6 PM. We are family and pet friendly, so bring the dogs, and kids to have a fun time together at the Pirate.