Petal Chamber Offering Potted Plants to Downtown Businesses for Beautification Efforts

Officials from the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce are taking another step in the beautification of downtown Petal by offering business owners the chance to purchase potted plants to spruce up the landscape.

During the effort – which is being handled by the chamber’s Beautification Committee to Revitalize Downtown Petal – any business on Main Street and Central Avenue can purchase a fully-potted plant for $65.

“Our goal is just to have a coordinated look throughout the city so that people start to notice these planters across downtown,” said Valerie Wilson, executive director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “(This will) add some color to our downtown, and really bring awareness to our businesses and our families downtown that we are attempting to beautify the area.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot; by working together, we can definitely improve the look.”

Available plants include Purple Fountain Grass, Asparagus Fern, Coleus, and Sweet Potato Vine. Any downtown business owner wishing to participate can call Wilson at (601) 583-3306 to purchase the plant, which comes fully potted and ready to place.

After payment is made, the planters will be delivered to the location. Businesses do not have to be members of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce to participate.

“These are plants that we feel are easy-care, and that will last,” Wilson said. “They won’t require an awful lot of maintenance.

“They can go beside doors, on the sidewalk, on a porch. We just ask that they put the planter in a prominent location so that it can be seen by the public.”

So far, at least 13 businesses have signed up for the effort, and chamber officials are waiting until the current cold spell passes to deliver the plants.

“It will be an ongoing thing, as long as we have access to the planters,” Wilson said.

Story by: Haskel Burns

Downtown Walkability

Valerie Wilson, executive director for the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce – along with other city officials – is looking forward to a project more than 10 years in the making that will see a pedestrian/bicycle path stretch along Matthews Branch in the Friendly City.
The path, which is made possible with an $862,560 grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation last year, will run along the branch from the area of Southern Bowling Lanes on South Main Street past Petal City Park, near the Petal Family Branch YMCA.
“It’s going to increase our walkability score; it’s going to be a complete addition to what we already have available,” Wilson said. “It’s going to make downtown so much more available for people to walk from Point A to Point B and that kind of thing.

“It’ll allow people to walk safely in downtown Petal. It’s not a new idea; I’d say it’s been floating around for a minimum of 10 years.”
Walkability scores are typically seen as good if the number is 70 or above, and many real estate search sites, such as Trulia and Zillow, feature walk scores prominently. Petal’s current walkability score is 42. A 90 or above is considered a “walkers paradise” where no car is needed, and most daily errands or activities can be accomplished on foot.
If all goes according to plan, work on the new route will begin in approximately a year.
“The way I understand it, it will almost connect with Central Avenue,” Wilson said. “So it will be an excellent way for kids to get to the YMCA, to get to the upper elementary, to get to the ball fields, and to not be on the street.
“I think it’s going to be extremely well-used; it’s a beautiful walkway. But it’s not just a nature trail; it makes accessibility to different places available to anyone that lives in downtown Petal. I feel certain that different groups are going to want to add maybe benches to sit – even some public artwork along the way.”
The path was approved at a recent meeting of the Petal Board of Aldermen. The upcoming route will take the place of a previously-approved sidewalk that would have run from West 10th Avenue and South Main Street down Morris Avenue near Petal Middle School.
That idea was taken off the drawing board based on information provided by city engineer John Weeks, which saw the project had a high potential of cost overruns and deadline issues.
“One of the things … that I didn’t like (about the original plan) was that it wasn’t going to be business-friendly,” Mayor Tony Ducker said. “It would have possibly put at least one business out of business, and shut businesses down during the construction phase.
“When you get around Ace (Hardware), up in that area, those folks don’t have a lot of land to give; a couple of them actually use that for parking. (Also), we already have some sidewalks on the other side – that we need to do some work on, admittedly – but this actually opens up an entire different part of town.”
Ducker said the Matthews Branch route will give officials fewer issues with land and property owners, as there is no land in that area that is buildable.
“We’re not going in and taking land that’s currently being used by anyone,” he said. “We actually run our sewer down Matthews Branch as it is, and we maintain that area by cutting the grass so we can have access to our sewer infrastructure through there.”

Graphic provided by Drew Brickson

Why we LOVE Petro Nissan!

Tony Petro can lay claim to being one of the longest-serving car dealers in the Hattiesburg area, having opened Petro Nissan on September 14, 1990 on North Main Street in downtown Hattiesburg, at the current site of Grover Brothers Restaurant Supply.
A year later, Petro purchased the former Oldsmobile dealership before acquiring the Lincoln-Mercury dealership on West Pine Street. A few years ago, Petro Nissan moved to its new location at 6248 U.S. 98 in Hattiesburg, in the Oak Grove area.
And although Petro has been a Hattiesburg mainstay for more than two decades, he is also one of the biggest contributors to the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, showcasing why anyone – even outside the Petal city limits – can benefit from being a member of the chamber. Petro recently took the time for a phone interview to discuss his business and the perks of being a chamber member.

Petal Area Chamber of Commerce: Being a Hattiesburg-based business, what is your connection to Petal?
Tony Petro: One of our best markets, as far as market penetrations, is actually in Petal. My brother grew up in Petal and I grew up in Petal – my dad was a Hattiesburg boy, but (he and my mother got married) and we lived in Petal forever. It’s a funny story; I was in the ninth grade and my mom said she would never leave Petal. My dad was working in the car business at Dossett Pontiac at the time working six days a week, long hours, and he came home one day and said “pack your bags, because we’re moving. I get stuck by that train (in Hattiesburg) every day, and I’m tired of waiting on it.” Had the Evelyn Gandy (Parkway) been there at the time, we’d still be living in Petal.

Q: Speaking of the Evelyn Gandy Parkway, which was officially opened in 2006, that thoroughfare has contributed to some significant growth in The Friendly City.
A: I have family in Petal, and Petal – really in the last 10 years, since the Evelyn Gandy was built – has really experienced an explosion of growth. It’s got the Number One school system (the Petal School District) in the state, year in and year out. They do a great job, and that’s why we joined the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, probably eight or 10 years ago.

Q: Have you thought about bringing a dealership to Petal?
A: I was hoping to be able to (do that) on the Evelyn Gandy, and the one I was looking for, somebody else bought it. But that’s why we joined the chamber, and (executive director) Valerie (Wilson) does a great job with the chamber over there, and Petal does a great job. There’s a lot of commerce, but the one thing they don’t have is a dealership. Car dealerships are high-ticket items – they’re high transactions – so car dealerships generate a tremendous amount of tax revenue for the local tax base. The one thing that (Petal) doesn’t have is a local franchise, new car dealer over there. We might be able to seek one over there one day, but by that time I’ll probably be retired anyway.

Q: Even if you don’t bring a Nissan dealership to Petal, have you thought about other options in that avenue?
A: I don’t want to call any names, but I had spoken to a couple of new car manufacturers that are not represented in Hattiesburg. I told them what my plans were, and I actually told Valerie about it, and right now they’re just selling all the cars they can make. So yeah, if I could do it right now, absolutely. But the (current) Nissan store is going to stay where it’s at; it’s got way too much reputation and staying power on Highway 98, because we were the first new car dealership out there. Now, pretty much all of them are moving out there.

Q: What benefits have you seen from being a member of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce?
A: We do it to support the city, to support the commerce and business for Petal. We sell a lot of cars, percentage-wise, than we do just about anywhere else. We always advertise during the Petal football games; in fact, I’m the one who came up with it. I heard they had a Jumbotron there, and I called the school and said … I’d be interested (in advertising). So I’ve been putting ads before the game, during the game, at halftime, at the third and fourth quarter. So it’s a lot of money for the school and the football program. We joined the chamber just to be good neighbors – we do a lot of business in Petal, and we really didn’t have an investment over there. But Petal is really coming into its own, as far as business and opportunity, housing, schools. They’ve just done a great job over there, and we wanted to support them in any way we could.

Let’s (re)Develop Downtown Petal

In June 2009, local developer Jay Estes, working with officials from the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Petal, drew up a blueprint for a long-term redevelopment plan for downtown Petal, particularly the areas of Main Street and Central Avenue. Although officials weren’t able to kickstart that plan right away, now may just be the time – and the chamber is looking for feedback from all sectors. To that end, the chamber will host a meeting from 4:30-6 p.m. on Jan. 11 in the Magnolia Room at Petal Civic Center on South Main Street, where participants will be encouraged to discuss ideas and concerns.

“(We and Estes) just took a look at that plan and decided it was a good time to redevelop that plan,” said Valerie Wilson, executive director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “(The original plan) was very ambitious, and it was wonderful, but things have changed tremendously. “At the time, a lot of those projects and plans were out of our reach, but we’ve come a long way since 2009. So as a chamber, as a city, as individuals and business owners, we just felt like it’s time to go back and see what we had talked about doing several years ago and put it into a context that makes sense for today.”

Business owners, property owners, and interested citizens are invited to the meeting to give their input on what they want to see for the downtown area. “Let’s take a look at what we want – is it the same thing we were looking at several years ago, or have those plans changed or altered?” Wilson said. “I know that so many discussions have already been held, and it’s important for people to have accessibility in downtown, meaning nice sidewalks and a way to get from Point A to Point B without having to drive. “(There’s) beautification efforts, which may include some underground wires – taking some of our poles and above-ground wiring and putting it underground. That’s a tremendously expensive project, but something that we should look at. Why not see if it’s a possibility, and put it on our wish list for the future?”

Other projects may include façade improvements at downtown businesses or business incubators in the area. “It’s wide open,” Wilson said. One of the significant aspects of Estes’ original plan was a mixed use-development at the vacant lot next to Subway on West Central Avenue. Ideas for that site included a combination of apartments and retail space and a community area that could host events such as fairs and festivals. “In all these years, that area has not been developed yet,” Wilson said. “It’s still sitting there, so it’s a good time to take a look at it.
“Also, it’s a good time to take a look at what we consider downtown Petal, and what our alternatives are. Especially now, there are several builds and funds available for communities. It’s a good time to see what may be available to our community.”

Wilson said positive things are already underway in Petal – such as the vacant Rite Aid building recently being purchased by Dollar Tree – and she wants residents to know what a good position the city is in currently. “Many, many small towns and communities are dying – they’re withering on the vine,” she said. “If they weren’t already, then COVID might have hit them hard.
“In contrast, Petal is doing well, and we continue to grow; we continue to have businesses as well as individuals investing in Petal. Great public/private partnerships are coming together, so we’re on the horizon of some really good times. I think it’s important for us to have a plan in place and at least a set of priorities, for us to work with (everyone) to see what’s most important, and prioritize, and spend very carefully. 

PLEASE REGISTER TO ATTEND THIS FREE EVENT.

 

Story By Haskel Burns.  Photos by Cayla Camp Burns

 

 

Petal Gears Up for 2021 Holiday Events

Petal-area residents can look forward to a full day’s worth of holiday activities with the upcoming 2021 Petal Home for the Holidays event, which will showcase a parade, vendors, a Christmas tree lighting and more. Festivities, which are put on by the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, beginning with a Christmas Market at 3 p.m. Dec. 4 at Hinton Park, behind Petal Civic Center on South Main Street.

“First of all, it’s a community tradition – we know that this is the type of event that makes our community happy to be where they are,” said Valerie Wilson, executive director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’re very proud of the fact that we can put on events like this in our community, and to keep the spirit of Christmas here in Petal.
“I think (residents) absolutely did a wonderful job shopping in Petal for Shop Petal First. This year, because of COVID, we appreciate being able to get together and have our events right here to enjoy being part of our community.”

The Christmas Market, which will last until 7 p.m., will feature several vendors selling items such as arts and crafts, food and holiday-themed gifts.
The parade will start at 4 p.m. and will follow its usual route from Dirt Cheap on North Main Street to Hinton Park, where Santa Claus will be available for photographs. Awards will be given out, and Mayor Tony Ducker will be on hand to greet parade-goers.

The parade will open up with the parade banner, which will be carried by representatives from the Petal Fire Department and Petal Police Department. So far, approximately 50 float entries have signed up to take part in the parade.“We’ve got everything from golf carts to dirt bikes to large floats, to the Petal High School band,” Wilson said. “We’ll have lots of pageant award winners, and everybody will be represented. “And this year, we have somewhat of a special surprise: for the first time in many, many years, Santa will not be on top of the fire truck. We wanted people, especially the children, to be able to see him better, so he will be at the end of the parade.”

The Grand Marshal for this year’s parade is Max Fullen, the 13-year-old son of Randy Fullen and Elizabeth Dodge who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. Fullen suffered a stroke while in school and had a lengthy stay at Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson. Fullen has gone through several rounds of radiation and chemotherapy since being diagnosed.
“We actually put it out on Facebook, and we had a ton of people that were very good nominees,” Wilson said. “But Max was overwhelming – we had so many people saying that Max would be a great grand marshal, mostly because of the courage he has shown, and the strength he has shown.

“He represents the very best of people, and at this time of the year, that’s what you want your grand marshal to be – somebody that represents the best of us, and that was Max. So we’re thrilled to have him as our grand marshal, and we look forward to giving him a wonderful evening leading the parade.”
Judges for the parade will be Jim Cameron, Caroline Nurkin and Jake Wilson. The event will be followed by the Celebration in the Park and the Festival of Trees, which will feature a tree-lighting ceremony in honor of Christmas.

“The Festival of Trees is various trees that have been put up by businesses and individuals and clubs in Petal,” Wilson said. “They will all be lit at the same time right after the parade. The Petal Arts Council is in charge of the Festival of Trees. “Also during that time, we’ll have live music; the Petal Jazz Band will be playing. Much love will flow through the community.”
Petal’s Christmas festivities date back to at least 1962, when the Petal Merchant’s Association put on the city’s Christmas parade. In 1974 – the year the City of Petal was incorporated – city officials took over handling the parade.

“This has been an event that even the older people in our community – the seniors – remember,” Wilson said. “We want to re-create those same memories for the children in our area now.”
In addition to the chamber activities, Petal High School Indoor Percussion is presenting Breakfast with Santa from 8:30-10:30 a.m. at the Petal Primary School cafeteria. Tickets are $7 each and are available for purchase at the door, or from any Indoor Percussion student. Participants are encouraged to bring their own cameras for pictures with Santa Claus.
Also, the Cosmopolitan Club of Petal will host “Let’s Jingle & Flamingle” tasting take-out from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Dec. 4 in front of Petal Middle School on East Central Avenue.

Story by Haskell Burns

I Can See Clearly Now!

After being stationed in Meridian while serving in the United States Navy for seven years, Dr. Alvaro Moreno moved to Petal to work at Southern Eye Center in Hattiesburg. Moreno stayed at that clinic for seven years before opening his own establishment, Moreno Eye Care, in 2003 at 598 East Central Avenue in Petal.

The business offers comprehensive eye care services and in-demand lenses and frames. The eye doctors perform comprehensive vision examinations and specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a wide array of eye diseases, conditions and problems.

Moreno recently took the time for a phone Q&A to talk about his practice and how he has fared in The Friendly City.

Petal Chamber: What made you want to establish your business in Petal?

Moreno: I live there, and my home was there in Petal. I wanted to be more of a part of the community, instead of driving to Hattiesburg to work every day.

Q: How has being in Petal worked out so far?

A: It’s been great; people have been very supportive, and not just Petal people, but people from the surrounding communities. They’ve supported our practice and our growth, and I’m to the point now where my son is in practice with me. He joined the practice last year, so he’s in his second year of being in practice there at the office.

Q: You’ve been a member of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce since you established the business. How has that benefited you, and what advice on joining the chamber would you give to new businesses or anyone considering joining?

A: I think (it’s great) just being part of an organization that’s banding together for the good of the community – and not just the community itself, but for the businesses in the community, to help and support each other. That helps everybody be able to make it through any kind of crisis.

Q: You mentioned that business has been great since coming to Petal. What do you attribute that to?

A: I think, for one, since there wasn’t an optometrist or an eye clinic in Petal, there was some pent-up demand. People didn’t have an option; they had to get in their car and drive to Hattiesburg. As Hattiesburg grew and traffic became more of an issue and people got older, they were looking for somebody to be able to do it in Petal. So I think that helped my growth, just being accessible and being close so people wouldn’t have to go to Hattiesburg to get their eyes taken care of.

Q: What do you see in the future for business in general, and for your business?

A: For business in general in Petal, I’ve always said that we need more business in Petal; we need larger businesses in Petal. The main thing I’ve said since the day I opened up my practice in Petal is that our most valuable resource (clients and customers) is cranking up and driving across the river every day. If you go look at some of the businesses in Hattiesburg, some of their best employees – if you really dig down and look – they’re from Petal, or went to Petal High School. They’re Petal people, and they’re in Hattiesburg. My wish is to one day have it to where everybody who didn’t want to drive to Hattiesburg could find a job and make a living wage in Petal. I’m sure that most of them, if they had a choice, would probably stay in Petal.

 

 

 

 

A Downtown Favorite

In 2007, when Craig Bullock – who also serves as Ward 6 Alderman for the City of Petal – began managing A1 Graphics at 233 North Main Street in Petal, he had no idea that’s what he would make a career out of.  But in 2012, Bullock purchased and became owner of the business, which designs and screenprints T-shirts, and offers embroidery and heat-press on jerseys. Customers can find an array of Petal athletics shirts, as well as school uniforms, at the shop.

A1 Graphics can be reached by phone at (601) 545-7499, or online at a1graphicstees@gmail.com.

Bullock recently took the time for a phone Q&A to talk a little more about his shop and what it means to be a business owner in Petal.

Petal Chamber: Why set up shop in Petal?

Bullock: I never actually knew I’d eventually own it; I just managed it and ran it, and one thing led to another. We came here originally just because we felt like there was a need here for this type of business – there wasn’t anything here like that at the time. So we thought we could open a small retail area for the school district and the city, but also provide bulk orders to companies for the school district and things like that.

Q: Petal is widely known as The Friendly City. As a business owner, has that proven to be true to you so far?

A: Absolutely, yes. In almost 10 years of us owning the business, we’ve just been incredibly blessed, for sure. There’s a lot of support from both the business community, the retail side of things, and the school district. We also have invested a lot off money and time back into the community and the school district as well. They’re super, super supportive of our business.

Q: So it’s safe to say that you’ve seen a lot of growth, in terms of orders and other business?

A: We have. Like any business, it’s had its ups and downs over the years, but we continue to grow and prosper on a year-to-year basis.

Q: You’ve been a member of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce for several years now. How has that benefited you as a business owner, and what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who may be considering joining the chamber?

A: We do get a lot of support from the chamber. The Shop Petal First program has been very beneficial for us; that’s the key. I’m not really able to attend a whole lot of lunches and stuff, just because it’s so hard for me to break away during the weekdays. I know that those are very valuable as far as networking in the community and all that. We’re very pleased with the chamber’s support, and I know that we do have (executive director Valerie) Wilson and the chamber’s full support in our business.

Story by Haskell Burns.  Photos by Cayla Camp Burns

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

 

 

Downtown Landmark

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