Bay Books permanently closing due to rent increase

Owners of Bay Books in Bay St. Louis announced they are closing the store. Jeremy Burke and his wife Kristen Tusa have run the company for more than a decade.
Published: Feb. 26, 2023 at 7:53 PM CST
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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (WLOX) - Owners of Bay Books in Bay St. Louis have announced they are closing the store. Jeremy Burke and his wife Kristen Tusa have run the company for more than a decade. After years of being a literary destination for book lovers, they are no longer able to keep up with the significant rent increase.

“The cost of everything in sales just don’t meet anymore so that’s why we’re having to close up shop,” says Burke. “I can see in the future a lot of other retail businesses in this neighborhood; it’s just going to price itself out of the market.”

The couple purchased the bookstore in 2011 from the original owners. The business was fortunate to survive Hurricane Zeta and Covid-19, but the real estate market has been difficult to compete with.

“I think there definitely needs to be a discussion about what local officials or the real estate businesses can do to help businesses such as ours,” Tusa says. “There does need to be some consideration as to how much should be charged.”

The owners took to the company’s Facebook page Saturday to break the news to their customers. The outpour of disappointment under the post was a pure depiction of the fixture Bay Books has become for the beachside neighborhood.

“I think it’s been a very, very good run,” says Burke. “Closing, it’s not about me; it’s not about Bay Bookstore. To make an announcement that we were going to close, just the outpouring of people that are truly sad, asking what they can do to help. It’s very humbling to think that we made an impact on the community.”

Burke and Tusa have accepted the change but are saddened the place they’ve grown up is no longer affordable.

“While there’s progress in the community, we’re a causality to that,” she said.

“Some of the shops that kind of brought you to the dance are kind of left on the sidelines after doing so much for the community,” Burke added.

As the pages turn toward a new chapter, they both remain optimistic.

“I’m a firm believer that you either take change by the hand or it’s going to take you by the throat. Bay St. Louis is changing I think for the better,” Burke concluded. “It’s no longer a hidden gem. I’m very proud that we’re able to hang on for this long. It’s a testament to Bay St. Louis and all of our support that we’ve had over the years.”

Bay Books will officially close its doors March 25. All books and merchandise will be on sale until that date.

Editor’s Note: After WLOX News aired this story and posted it online, many viewers chimed in with their own worries about the changing makeup of Old Town Bay St. Louis, and other coastal downtown areas. The Bay is following a pattern of growth already seen in places like Ocean Springs where rising rent prices force longtime businesses to close and make way for new ones, oftentimes with higher prices, to open in their place.

One commenter on WLOX’s Facebook page took issue with property owners being portrayed as “greedy” business people. Rob Heffner says his mother is the owner of the property where Bay Books and Serious Bread are located. (Serious Bread is another longtime business that recently announced it was closing.)

Heffner said that while he typically never shares personal business information, he felt compelled to do so in an effort to put the rent increase in perspective. He said the rental rates increased to “less than market value and is still 30% less than other Main Street storefronts.”

“The book store has only paid $750 a month in rent since they have occupied the building. The bread store occupies two spaces in the building and because it has a commercial kitchen, the insurance that my mother pays is increased,” Heffner wrote. “As a fellow ‘business owner’, I just want to point out that $750 a month is less than most commercial businesses’ electric and water bills. The rental rates being charged for years without increase since Katrina, were not only below market value, they were less than the cost of the property taxes, insurance, utilities and all other costs associated with the building.”

Heffner ended with a question for those lamenting the loss of these two longtime, downtown businesses.

“When is the last time you bought a loaf of bread from Serious Bread or a book from Bay Books? My mother frequented both businesses and none of you were present to see how painful it was for her to have to have these conversations with the owners of these businesses.”

Many other commenters suggested that local businesses looking to relocate from Old Town Bay St. Louis might consider moving to Coleman Avenue in Waveland. That street used to be a hotspot of business activity before Hurricane Katrina decimated the area. Coleman Avenue is currently home to Waveland City Hall, the public library, Ground Zero Museum, and Pop Sugar Bakery, but there is still plenty of empty space for business growth.

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