The girls come out to play along the oak-fringed streets of Ocean Springs, Miss. That means serious shopping, noshing and gallery hopping in this dainty beach town on the Eastern shore of Biloxi Bay.
A good day out starts with strawberry-topped French pancakes at Phoenicia Gourmet on Government Street—and however eager you are to break out the credit cards, be sure to take time for the Lebanese coffee.
Revved up on high test, it’s now time for glamour—as in Glam 31. Owner Valerie Cunningham has the girly-girl vibe going strong here, with an all-black-and-pink décor and dozens of trinkets celebrating the princess in every woman. Overhead, the music is always set to swing–enjoy the “Shake, Rattle and Roll” of it all.
Maybe you need a tiara sequin T-shirt, a handpainted wine glass, or a bracelet with the Ocean Springs symbol of the fleur de lis, encrusted with crystals—or all three. A military wife, Cunningham sells pieces crafted by other woman on the nearby Keesler Air Force Base, as well as Pass Christian Soap made by Paula Lindsay just down the coast road in Pass Christian, Miss.
Sparkle in Brighton and La Vie Parisienne jewelry
Glammed up and out, it’s time for a luxurious trawl through Lee Tracy on Government Street. The extensive shop, which has been setting trends since 1978, carries Brighton accessories and Diana Warner jewelry, as well as TOMS shoes, Splendid, Ella Moss, Judith March, Onex, Volatile, Miss Me, Silver, Miraclebody and IT! clothing. You can help fund non-profits when you buy Art Studio Company recycled handbags and Emi-jay hair ties.
Ocean Springs’ other great shopping crossroads is Washington Avenue, with dozens of boutiques and galleries in venerable storefronts.
The Bay Collection on Washington Avenue is the place for both beachy and dressy looks, with 7 For All Mankind jeans and Byron Lars and Nicole Miller cocktail dresses.
Jubilee Boutique, also on Washington, brims with cool clothes and jewelry. Check out the vitrines of Catherine Popesco’s La Vie Parisienne jewelry, modern pieces made from old patterns.
The French designer discovered vintage molds and stampings in old factories and workshops across Paris, some more than 200 years old.
Popesco and her artisans have been revitalizing legendary earrings, bracelets, necklaces and enamel pins ever since, in styles popular from 1900 through the 1930s. She uses “old silver,” a French process of laying sterling silver or 14K gold plate over a cooper base.
Treasuring found objects and grandma’s earrings
Nearby, designer Keith Wooten stocks his design studio with distinctive pieces for the home, such as Georges Briard glasses, as well as his own State Of Grace jewelry collection in Buddyrow on Washington Avenue. He uses fine silver, freshwater pearls, semi-precious stones, natural elements and found objects in his “wearable assemblages.”
Meanwhile, Mia Kaye Hudson of Lucedale, Miss., is busy trolling through estate sales for old pieces that can be reborn in statement necklaces and cuffs. Her distinctive pieces, often dripping with pearls and crystals, are sold at The Pink Rooster fine art gallery on Washington Avenue.
Hudson often pops into The Pink Rooster, and on a recent visit, showed her jewelry to an eager gaggle of girlfriends. “We all have a drawer of old jewelry from our mothers, grandmothers and aunts,” she said, pointing to a little tray of 1950s treasures. “This is a piece of art,” she said, picking up a flower earring.“Put it on a jacket, put it on your table, do NOT put it back in your drawer.”
It’s time for a shopping break. Why not a facial with Pevonia cosmetics from France at the Red Lily Spa Naturelle? Or a mani-/pedi or massage at this day spa on Government Street.
Sharing a soda with the ghost of Elvis
And maybe a restorative milkshake, just like Elvis used to love when he summered in Ocean Springs. He hopped on a stool at Lovelace Drug Store on Washington Avenue, and decades later visitors can sip a shake here, too. Or a cream soda specially bottled for the soda fountain. Local guides like to say that Elvis had a crush on a local girl before he met his future wife, Priscilla.
Revived, it’s off to Leather & Pearls on Washington Avenue, where owner Alma White weaves the local freshwater pearls onto leather and silk cording to enhance her clothing lines. The pearls can go precious or funky.
Nearby, The Candy Cottage pours its own pralines every day, and stands ready to ship amaretto pecans to those unfortunates left at home.
When it’s time for a real meal, Maison de Lu awaits on Washington Avenue. Zero in on the local seafood and ask to sit on the patio when the weather’s fine.
Celebrating hometown talent in the Anderson family
After a stroll through Ocean Springs’ downtown art galleries, save time for the homegrown talents of the Anderson family. Walter Inglis Anderson has his namesake museum on Washington Avenue–with a gift shop, of course. Anderson was prolific in watercolors, oils, pen and ink drawings, linoleum block prints, ceramics, carved wooden sculptures, furniture and murals.
The Anderson Museum also includes works by Walter’s brothers Peter Anderson, master potter and founder of Shearwater Pottery, and James McConnell “Mac” Anderson, a noted painter and potter. Many of the ceramics in the museum are collaborative efforts of the three brothers at Shearwater, which is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year.
Walter Anderson may have given Ocean Springs shoppers some of their best advice: “Dress bravely—and be sure there is an eye to see it, and the powers that be will see that you live up to your clothes.”
The Anderson clan, like many veteran Ocean Springs residents, has seen its little beach town go from rows of empty storefronts and barely 2,000 people in the 1980s to the mini-metroplex it is today.
Honoring Ocean Springs as a 2013 Best Main Street
Ocean Springs is basking in a huge honor this year, as one of only three 2013 Best Main Streets as awarded by the National Main Street Center, Inc. Along with H Street in Washington, D.C., and Rochester, Mich., this town of 17,000 is a Main Street community that’s a model for commercial district revitalization across the country.
For visitors, that means more than 30 downtown restaurants to choose from and more than 100 shops. The 100-block area buzzes with busy shops, outdoor cafes and nearly non-stop festivals.
The award is especially remarkable after the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP spill in 2010. After Katrina, all the downtown business owners lost their homes and were living in their businesses, according to Main Street Now. They had no power, no phones, no water.
With grants, the town rebuilt and revitalized its downtown, updating facades and adding sunny outdoor dining. Ocean Springs, founded in 1699 as a French Louisiana outpost, has come back on a strong tide.
When you go
Ocean Springs issues its own Pelican Pound “currency,” a wooden coin worth $5 in participating shops and restaurants around town. The little wooden chips are part of a buy-local campaign, and are available at the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce, 1000 Washington Ave.
Contact Ocean Springs and Mississippi.