Downtown Fans

When it came time for Steven Kelly and his wife to anchor their business, only one place came to mind: Petal.

As many have before them, the Kellys found the Friendly City is conducive to the atmosphere where they wanted to live, grow, worship and raise their children. So it was that in 2014, Kelly opened his first Alfa Insurance location at 127 South Main Street in Petal, across from the Petal Library. About nine months ago, the business moved to its current location at 122 South Main Street.

“This town has as much potential as I’ve ever seen to have flourishing businesses,” Kelly said. “It’s small enough to know everybody and to be involved in everything, but it’s big enough to have plenty to do and plenty to see.  “I love the community; it’s great, and I really would not desire to live anywhere else. This is where we enjoy, and this is where we like to be.”

Kelly became a member of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce in 2014. He admits that move was, at the time, a way to get his business’s name out there, as he didn’t know quite what to expect from membership.  “That’s a given, that people will know us by way of the chamber, but what really has helped is the fact that we have known, met, and have had relationships with all different pillars of the community,” he said. “That’s really, really important when it comes to business because you want to know people, and you want to know who owns some of the land and companies around here.

“You also have the ability to be in the know of when activities are coming, and you’re in the know when advertising things come around. If I wasn’t involved in the chamber, I don’t believe that I would’ve been approached about the Petal Duck Derby, which will sponsor a new park for us. I probably never would have been involved in that, and since our child is just a toddler, that means something to us because we want him to grow up with a nice little place in town he can go play.”

Soon, Kelly can see his organization grow from a moderately small agency to one that’s the premier insurance company in Petal. That will rely on marketing, commerce, and the networking he’s been able to do. “The roots were planted there with the chamber and those who are involved in the chamber,” Kelly said. “When you’re in a town this size, people take it seriously, and the (Area Development Partnership) takes it seriously.

“I can’t speak for Hattiesburg or anybody else in the Pine Belt, but I can say that we try to make the commerce as serious as we can make it. Serious about improvements, serious about getting things accomplished. And I’m not just saying that; I really believe it. And (chamber director) Valerie Wilson is an integral part of why it’s successful – she does a fantastic job, and you can’t say enough about how much she cares.”

Story by Haskell Burns

Just a little Ssipp!

Petal’s nickname of The Friendly City extends to its businesses as well, as a resurging downtown and a bustling Evelyn Gandy Parkway can attest to. Downtown, in particular, is home to two ends of the business dynamic, hosting the oldest business in the city with The Petal Shoe Shop & Boardwalk Boutique and one of the youngest, The Ssipp Café.

Chris Puckett opened up The Ssipp Café about a year and a half ago at 128 North Main St. in Petal as part of what he calls a commitment to the community.

“I didn’t want to keep seeing Main Street die, and I didn’t want to see more storage units go up on Main Street,” said Puckett, who also owns Connect Chiropractic in Petal and Hattiesburg. “I’m trying to serve the community a quality cup of coffee and make it affordable and a place that people like to go hang out.”

The Ssipp Café offers a wide variety of classic drinks, such as the Americano, Café Au Lait, Hot Chocolate and Latte. Customers can find frappes, iced lattes, Strawberry Dream, milk, and lemonade on the cold side.  There are also smoothies and specialty drinks like the Crooked Letter, Main Street, Panther and To The Top. Customers also can find drip coffee, teas, kolaches, muffins, soft pretzels, bagels, crepes and merchandise such as shirts and hats.

The Ssipp Café is open from 6 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m.-noon on Saturday. The café is closed on Sundays. For more information, call (769) 223-6995.

Q: Why a coffee shop in Petal?

Puckett: Because there’s not one. We’re really the only one where you can get an espresso, anyway.

Q: How has Petal treated you in the year and a half since you opened?

A: Good. Of course, all businesses take a little while to open, and we didn’t have a big advertising budget, so it’s been word of mouth. Business is growing every day.

Q: What is it like being one of the newest businesses in Petal?

A: Just like any new business, it’s a struggle for finding that market and letting them know that we’re there. We’re going to try to do our best to stay there.

Q: What makes Petal a business-friendly city?

A: My father opened his first business 35 years ago, and I’ve been in business myself for 20 years in Petal. Petal has always treated us good, and the people of Petal are great. They’re supportive of what’s popular, for sure.

Q: What’s next for The Ssipp Café?

A: We’re going to start trying to do some live music and maybe some special events at night, whether it be open mic, karaoke or game night. Especially with the new deck that we have built on there, we’re looking to maybe expand a few nights a week to include those kinds of things.

Story by Haskell Burns, Photos by Cayla Burns