Old Town Merchants Worry Cruisers Will Pass Them By

Some Old Town Bay St. Louis shop owners are unhappy with the decision to host this year's Cruisin the Coast venue in the city's Depot District.

Last year, the devastation that remained from Katrina forced the Bay's Cruisin event to move. But this year, Old Town merchants say the area has recovered enough to bring the event back to the waterfront.

"We look 100 percent better down here than we did a year ago," Old Town merchant Pam Collins said.

Collins co-owns a gift shop on Main Street. She says business owners in Old Town have made huge investments rebuilding since Katrina, and they're disappointed the city has detoured cruisers to the Depot.

"Cumulatively, we have put in hundreds of thousands of dollars out of our own personal accounts, and to me, the city is just turning their backs on us," Collins said.

Mayor Eddie Favre said that's simply not true.

"Unfortunately this year, without the beach road being completed and some of the other infrastructure work that needs to be done, it's just not suitable to accommodate the Cruisin' crowd," Mayor Favre said.

Merchants don't see it that way.

"They may not be able to park cars along Beach Boulevard, but they can certainly park them like they have before, all up and down Main Street. So there's plenty of room to park," Old Town merchant Micky Evans said.

"Now you've got empty parking lots where buildings were before," Collins said.

"We had trouble accommodating the crowds in previous years downtown with the entire beach road available for parking. We don't have that, so to say we can still accommodate it without that is wishful thinking," Mayor Favre said.

"We've got 29 businesses that are either retail or restaurants that are up and fully running. The train depot has seven. We have a much wider offering for the cruisers. We love the cruisers, the cruisers loved us. We want them back. We need them financially," Collins said.

Hancock County Tourism Bureau Director Beth Carriere put a positive spin on the tug of war.

"You must admit, it's a good thing that more than one location wants this event. So we've done something right."

Carriere said the cruisers will be directed down Main Street, and a shuttle bus service will bring cruisers to Old Town.

"All of the existing shops will be passed by every classic car, so they will all know that they are alive and well," Carriere said.

But Collins isn't satisfied with that plan.

"All the officials keep telling me, 'We're driving them by your shops.' And I'm really getting tired of hearing that, because I keep relating it to when I go on vacation. I don't spend money when I'm driving, I spend money when I get to my destination," Collins said.

But Mayor Favre said until Old Town has made a complete recovery, Cruisin' will have to be held in the Depot District.