- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
The grand historic building that is home to Bay Emporium has always been a Bay St. Louis star. Built in 1909 by a fraternal organization called Woodmen of the World, the two-story structure towers above most of the other commercial buildings in Old Town. In the early 1900s, it was the center of town entertainment, offering dances, vaudeville performances and boxing matches.
Now, the building has once again taken its place as an entertainment center — this time with shoppers in mind. Thirteen different galleries, boutiques and antique shops are nested in the ground level. Later this year, parts of the upstairs level will be open to shoppers, as renovations continue.
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.
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.”
“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)
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.