A historic showstopper of a building is now home to Bay Emporium - 13 different shops under one enormous roof - with plans to grow!
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Neglected for decades, the building was in poor shape before Hurricane Katrina, which ripped off the roof and poured water into the second floor. The current owners, Doug and Vicki Niolet and Vicki’s mom, Ann Tidwell (also owner of 200 North Beach Restaurant) purchased it just ten days before the storm. The family team has spent years resurrecting the behemoth, which contains about ten thousand square feet — not counting porches.
An “emporium” is defined as a place where all kinds of merchandise can be found, and 112 South Second Street lives up to that name. Vicki’s own gallery Paper Moon is located right inside the main door. The light-filled, cavernous building beckons visitors down a few steps to a lower level or up a few to a mezzanine.
Antiques, apparel and accessories, jewelry, home décor, and art are tastefully arranged and offer temptations to all ages. Whether one is shopping or not, the interior structure of the building is worth marveling over, with massive exposed beams at every turn. The front porch rockers invite all comers to sit and watch passersby on Second Street. No one’s ever in a hurry to leave Bay Emporium: the vibe is welcoming and relaxing, as if by crossing the threshold one has stepped back in time.
Vicki, who manages the Emporium, is a respected mixed-media artist with a closet full of art awards from across the region. Many of her works reflect the charm and humor of a bygone era, a fanciful world where the building would ring with music and hundreds of dancing feet. She tells of a time when family life centered around happenings there.
“People came from New Orleans in droves,” she says. “They either had houses here or would stay in one of the hotels. On Saturdays, they’d go to the beach and fish all day, spend the time with family. But after church on Sunday, they’d come here to watch a play or attend a concert or a pageant before heading back to the city in the evening.”
Niolet says that most activities took place on the second floor of the building, which has been closed to the public since Katrina. If things go according to plan, people will be walking up the stairs later this year, rocking on the balcony porch and perusing antiques on the upper level as well.
“It’s a huge space, so we’re working our way back slowly,” says Niolet. “Eventually, we’ll have the entire building open again.”
Vicki understands that big dreams take time. She laughs when she quotes the ancient poet Rumi, who advised: “Start a huge, foolish project, like Noah.… It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you.”
But in Vicki’s case, she has a track record that has garnered her respect in the community. For over two decades, she’s worked in the Old Town Merchants Association. She’s also served on the board of the Arts, Hancock County. In 1997, she and a friend revamped a defunct little event called the Second Saturday Artwalk with no financial or organizational backing. It was an example of what’s now called guerilla marketing. Today, the event is one of the economic drivers of Old Town and the county at large. The convivial, family-oriented art and music event attracts people from around the South, and garners the attention of national media outlets like Southern Living Magazine. The magazine recently named Bay St Louis one of the "Top 50 Places to Be in the South Now." Bay St. Louis came in at #18.
“If you’re looking for someone to thank for Bay St. Louis catching the eye of Southern Living, Vicki and her family would be a good place to start,” says Old Town Merchants Association president Janice Guido. “They’ve done so much through the years.”
And apparently, they’re planning on doing a lot more.
2016 Bay Emporium sign
The Shops of Bay Emporium 2016 (listed in order of longest tenancy)
Paper Moon - Contemporary art, vintage/collectibles, and handmade steampunk jewelry.
Boesch and Co. - Custom furniture, antiques, and reclaimed architectural pieces.
Time After Time - Antiques, furniture, collectibles, and Swan Creek Candles.
Flair - Coastal home decor, gifts, handmade driftwood art, Mad Mats.
Walrod's Upcykle - Steampunk art and functional curiosities, lamps, clocks, tables, weather machines.
In-2-Details - Antique furniture, coastal accessories, vintage, and traditional gifts.
Wendy deBen Art Broker - Art from local and New Orleans artists.
Voila! French Inspired - Repurposed furniture and contemporary home decor.
Bella Mar Boutique - Contemporary fashion for all ages, jewelry, accessories, and Swell bottles.
Lagniappe - Vintage, retro, repurposed and primitives for the treasure seeker.