Downtown Merchants Battle Through Closings

The Deans spice up their daily lunch special with a dash of Biloxi history. Lou Dean's family moved into the historic Fisherman's Cottage building four months ago.

"Because of the nature of the property, that's what we wanted to be in," he said.

The Hob Nob Cafe is on Lameuse Street, walking distance from the Biloxi Visitors Center. For the Dean family, downtown Biloxi has been a rather tasty proposition so far.

"It took us two years to plan to do this," he said. "And it's evolving. It changes almost everyday."

The clientele changes. And as merchants found out this week, occasionally, the neighbors change, too. The question Biloxi's 40 downtown merchants must answer is whether they can stay open until Hard Rock opens next year.

"I sure hope so," said downtown antiques dealer Peter Webster. "I'm from Biloxi. I want to see it go back to how it was."

In its heyday, downtown Biloxi was packed with shoppers. That's the atmosphere Webster's Main Street Biloxi group hopes it can recapture.

"Most of us are here for the long haul," he said.

For now, the merchants must survive in an area that often has empty sidewalks, and very little business. It doesn't help matters that the federal courthouse is gone. Bombay Bicycle Club just closed. And in the next 18 months, the CBD will lose the Ohr museum, the Mardi Gras museum and a car dealership. Webster considers that an opportunity rather than a liability.

"I think what it's going to do is open up for other retail shops that are going to see the growth in downtown Biloxi," he said.

Dean shares that enthusiasm.

"If the town will just do something, and the Main Street organization do something to promote smaller businesses in the Vieux Marche and down Lameuse and Main Street," he said, "it would go a long way toward helping."

Dean believes promotion would add the extra pinch of flavor that downtown Biloxi needs to market itself as a place to browse, shop and eat.