The Petal Shoe Shop has been around since the 1950s – 1958, to be exact – making it the city’s oldest business. Owner Hilton Holmes, who also calls himself the “zipper man,” has repaired shoes for as long as he can remember. In fact, he is among only a few shoe repair shops left in this day and age. Hilton doesn’t just repair shoes; he can also make a nice new belt out of that snake you just shot and skinned. He can repair your wife’s purse strap – or the high heel on her favorite Sunday church shoes.
Hilton also sells a wide variety of brand-name workwear, including Carhartt, Wrangler, Justin and anything else that could be considered essential for a Mississippi blue-collared man.The Petal Shoe Shop is located in the heart of the city of Petal, at 122 Highway 42. If you look at a map of the city, you’ll see a distinct cross in the center of the town – that’s where the shop first established its home.
The main business district was built around the intersection of Main Street and Central avenue. Remember that cross I was talking about earlier? This is where the very first businesses in Petal were located. This is where the people of Petal came to eat, socialize, attend a ballgame, watch a movie, pick up their prescription drugs, fuel up their tractors. In general, this was where Petal was born.
In 1995, Hilton’s wife, Jerene Holmes, established the Boardwalk Boutique at the shop, specializing in women’s clothing, boots, jewelry and accessories. Notable brands include Laredo, Ginger Snaps, Arena Bum and Ronnie Salloway. The shop can be reached by phone at (601) 582-9682, and online shopping is available at www.shopboardwalkboutique.com.
Q: What made you set up shop in Petal?
Jerene Holmes: Hilton is from Tylertown, and his father-in-law at that time was a shoe cobbler, and Hilton worked for him. Finally, it dawned on him that they were too crowded as a shoe shop for three men, because his brother-in-law was working there too. So he asked a sales rep where would be a good place to set up shop; he wanted to move. The rep told him Petal, so Hilton came over here, rented a place – I think it was a cleaners – and he’s been here ever since.
Q: How does it feel to be the oldest business in Petal?
A: I never considered it; I don’t consider myself old. I really don’t think about it because I’m about to maybe go into even another business. That’s all I do, is just want to grow. It makes me proud, maybe. But I don’t think they really known what we’ve done. We had one person tell us that we couldn’t do that – to be in business this long and to be the only person to ever run that business, and that’s what Hilton’s done. He came out of the hospital with a broken hip and came right down here. Sat in a wheelchair right at that door, and if I was gone, he was watching for me.
Q: The Petal Shoe Shop & Boardwalk Boutique was forced to shut down for five weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How did you pull through that as a business?
A: Well, for one thing, we don’t waste our money. We’re very frugal with it – we’re not really stingy, we just don’t blow our money. And you’ve got to take care of your business like it was your child, because that business doesn’t know where to go or what to do. You’ve got to guide it.
Q: Where do you see Petal’s business sector in the upcoming years?
A: I think all the towns close by are growing a little bit. And maybe the pandemic has scared people to say, “I better do something, or our town’s going to disappear.” They’ve been crawling, but they’re going to need to start walking now, and not just sit back and wait for somebody else to do it. They need to go out and trade with the businesses that are already here. It’s alright to get something new, but when your baby starts walking, just because they started walking doesn’t mean you don’t want another baby. That baby walked; the next baby’s going to walk. So you’ve got this town that’s already crawled; it needs to walk now. The people need to hold its hand and help it walk, and that’s by trading with them. That’s the main thing – they can’t stay in business if people don’t trade with them. That’s why they’re in business, is to sell.
Story & Photos by Cayla Camp Burns. Q & A. by Haskell Burns