Locals can ‘visit’ the Hub City, too

By ELIJAH JONES,

The mob scenes that often accompany the shopping frenzy dubbed Black Friday are followed by the saner and what is now known as Small Business Saturday. 

The point being to skip the big-box chain stores for a day, in favor of supporting our local hometown businesses. 

Throughout the year, though, I see lots of TV commercials and signs around town encouraging us to dine, drink and shop local. 

One commercial touts that for every dollar spent at local businesses, 67 cents of that dollar stays local - in our case, right here in the Pine Belt. 

Sounds like a good deal to me.

Local business owners are our neighbors; they're people we know. One study showed that locally-owned businesses, on average, contribute twice as much to community-based causes as do national chain stores. 

That's why you see some national retailers with big bulletin boards at the front of their stores, showing how much they contribute to local causes. (And we thank them for it.)

There are plenty of other advantages to spending with local merchants, though. For one thing, home-grown businesses usually offer more unique choices. They know who we are, and feature items that appeal more to the likes and needs of our market. 

By shopping local, you're investing in local entrepreneurship. The dollars you spend are recycled at home, which means more support for public servants, including our firemen, police officers, and school teachers. Not to mention jobs the businesses themselves create. Dollars spent locally stay local, creating a stronger metro Hattiesburg.

While those are all pluses enough, here's another one: locally-owned businesses make Hattiesburg more of a tourist destination.

Our unique mix of retail, dining and services make the Hub City more interesting to visitors, who not only look forward to coming back, but will tell others about us.

Last December, I had guests visit Hattiesburg for the very first time: Susan, from the Toledo, Ohio area, and Julie, from near Chicago. 

One of my great delights is having out-of-town friends visit me in Hattiesburg for the first time. 

The ladies, both friends of mine from the days I worked with Richard Simmons, often heard me speak of Hattiesburg, bragging about what a special place my hometown is. 

Susan and Julie were holidaying in New Orleans and decided to take me up on my open invitation to visit. 

What fun!

The ladies took Amtrak up from New Orleans for an overnight visit to get a taste of Hattiesburg.

After their arrival at our beautifully-restored train depot, we began our day with a much-needed cup of java at The Depot Kitchen & Market (also a great place for lunch). If you haven't been, it's located a block from the train depot, on Buschman Street. 

While enjoying a morning brew and beginning our catch-up talk, in walked Hattiesburg City Councilwoman Deborah Delgado. 

I said hello, while telling my friends who she was. (More on Deborah later.)

Now fully caffeinated, we were ready to begin our adventure in Hattiesburg. It was too early to check into their hotel so I decided to show off, in my opinion, Hattiesburg's greatest work of public art.  f you've never seen it, I suggest a visit to the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal and Forrest County on Hardy Street.

There, suspended in the library's atrium, you'll discover a truly world-class piece of art called "The Spirit That Builds." 

The 167-foot stunningly colorful mural, painted on sandblasted stainless steel, depicts Mississippi's rich history, and Hattiesburg's as well. 

You'll see engaging depictions of Native Americans, or in this case, native Mississippians, along with illustrations of Hattiesburg's beginnings as a lumber town, evolving from there into a military, educational and medical center. The mural is a masterwork, created by one of Hattiesburg's own, internationally recognized artist William Baggett.

As my friends and I admired Mr. Baggett's work, who walks into the library but Councilwoman Delgado, again! (I asked if she were following us.) 

This time, I introduced Ms. Delgado to my friends, telling her it was their first visit to Hattiesburg. She gave them one of our trademark warm Hattiesburg welcomes and even posed for a photo with them. (Thanks, Deborah.) 

My guests' first visit to Hattiesburg was off to a great start.

After checking in at the then brand new Hotel Indigo, it was about time for lunch. We headed to T-Bones Records & Cafe on Hardy Street. 

Besides being a treasure trove of vintage vinyl records, gifts and books, T-Bone's Cafe is a great choice for lunch.   

The cafe features delicious salads, soups and sandwich creations, plus a tempting selection of sweets. 

T-Bones often features live music inside the cafe, provided by local talent. Since it was such a pleasant December afternoon, my friends and I chose to enjoy lunch outside, on the patio.

After lunch, I asked my girlfriends if they wouldn't mind a quick road trip with me. 

See, I'm a big fan of okra, no matter how it's prepared. But a friend of mine introduced me to freeze-dried okra once and I've been hooked ever since. 

He'd picked it up at Shady Acres Village, just up U.S. 49 at Seminary. I keep some on hand for snacking but was almost out, so my girls joined me for the drive to Seminary. 

I also wanted them to see what a fun, local treasure Shady Acres is. 

Since it was December, there were plenty of those famous Vardaman, Mississippi sweet potatoes in the store. 

Mississippi grows the world's finest sweet potatoes, and the same goes for our watermelons. When they're in season, Shady Acres always has a fine selection of both. (Sorry, Walmart.)

While we were there, Susan bought a few souvenirs to take home to Ohio, including a wall sign shouting that most southern of sayings, "Bless your heart." 

In fact, during the morning, I'd explained the importance of that singularly southern expression to the ladies, so Susan couldn't resist buying the wall-hanging when she spotted it. (I was gonna make Mississippi girls out of them yet.) 

During a driving tour out Hwy. 98 into metro Hattiesburg's western suburbs, I told them how, when I was a kid, there was nothing out that way but woods, farmland and a few residences. 

You oldsters, like me, will remember Hattiesburg once literally stopped at I-59 and Hardy Street. What used to be considered the west side of Hattiesburg is now, technically, midtown.

By late afternoon, the ladies wanted a little downtime. On the way back to their hotel, I asked them to stop by Corner Market with me, at the beautifully redone Midtown Market. I wanted to show off Hattiesburg's premier and locally-owned supermarket. (My mission was also a selfish one.) Susan and Julie were especially impressed with Corner Market's dazzling array of fresh produce. But my reason for stopping was to pick up one of those Mississippi-made Cotton Blues cheesecakes, available exclusively at Corner Market. (That's some fine cheesecake right there.)

After the ladies got some rest, I met them back at Hotel Indigo, and before leaving for dinner, we enjoyed a fancy cocktail at the hotel's Brass Hat Bar. The ladies were very impressed with their hotel room, and I pointed out how Hotel Indigo's decor gives a nod to Hattiesburg's beginnings as a lumber and rail town. In fact, the bar is designed to remind you of sitting in a vintage rail car. Nicely done.

Time for dinner, and that meant a drive to downtown Hattiesburg's The Porter restaurant, on Pine Street. I'd never been so this was a new dining experience for all three of us. 

What a delicious choice. 

The cozy ambiance was perfect and the food even better, the best meatloaf I'd had in a long time. Susan ordered the fried Mississippi catfish. (I told you, I was going to send these ladies home as good-old southern girls.) She shared a bite with me and, yum! No exaggeration here, Mississippi catfish is the world's finest. 

In fact, on my last visit to Los Angeles, I visited H-Mart, an Asian-foods supermarket, with one of my many friends who live there. Lo and behold, mixed with H-Mart's exotic selection of seafood, most of which I'd never even heard of, I saw a sign touting MISSISSIPPI DELTA CATFISH. Well, how about that? (Like I said, the world's finest.)

Susan and Julie would be leaving the next morning but late enough for us to have breakfast together and oh, what a breakfast it was.

I wanted to send the ladies home with memories of what a real Mississippi breakfast is like.

We were joined at the hotel the next morning by my friend, Allen, then walked from Hotel Indigo over to the new Midtowner Restaurant in the District at Midtown. Filled with people and Hattiesburg memorabilia, the service was excellent. Now let's talk about the food.

Whatever Susan and Julie ordered, I instructed, they had to include grits on the side. Hey, you haven't been to Mississippi if you ain't started the morning with a plate of hot grits. 

The Midtowner didn't disappoint, with the grits or anything else we ordered. From omelettes to sausage patties, everything was yummy-fine. I also finally found out what a cathead biscuit was all about. (As good as Grandma Rosie's biscuits back in Leakesville.)

Just so you don't think I've forgotten how this column got started, it was all about supporting our local businesses. 

And here in metro Hattiesburg, we've got some top-notch choices. Susan and Julie told me they had a wonderful time here in my hometown and look forward to visiting again. (Bless their hearts.) 

In fact, I'm happy to say, all of those friends who've visited me from around the country have left with a great impression of the Hub City. 

Yep, it's the people who make Hattiesburg great. But those businesses owned by the locals, by our neighbors, play every bit as important a role in our city's appeal. 

It's the Christmas season, and if you missed Small Business Saturday last weekend, not to worry. 

Make everyday Small Business Day in Hattiesburg. 

Eat, drink and shop...local. 

Not only will you find better, more unique choices. but you'll help keep Hattiesburg strong, maintaining its role as one of the south's truly special cities.

Elijah Jones is a writer and a proud graduate of the Hattiesburg Public School System and the University of Southern Mississippi. Send him an email at: edjhubtown@aol.com.