According to statistics from the Small Business Administration, approximately two-thirds of small businesses last two years, and only 50 percent survive more than five years.
But for the past 62 years – 16 years before Petal was even incorporated as a municipality – the Petal Shoe Shop and Boardwalk Boutique has defied that trend even through the current COVID-19 pandemic, with a rebrand and upcoming website.
The Petal Shoe Shop was established at 122 Mississippi 42 on July 24, 1958, by Hilton Holmes, who previously apprenticed under his father-in-law as a shoe cobbler in Tylertown. After working there for nine months free of charge, Hilton purchased three shoe repair machines for $500 and opened his own shop in Tylertown before settling down in the Friendly City.
“There (was another person) who already had a business in Tylertown, and we said, ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us,’” the 86-year-old Hilton said. “So this place was here, and (the owner) died, and that week I moved up here. I paid $35 a month in rent in 1958.
“The first year, I grossed $1,800; the second year, I grossed $2,100. And from that, the year of (Hurricane) Katrina, I did $100,000 in a year.”
These days, Hilton’s is one of the only shoe repair shops left in the area, with the only other one nearby in Hattiesburg. In addition to any and all types of shoe repair, Hilton can make snakeskin belts and repair purse straps or high heels on women’s shoes.
The shop sells a wide variety of brand name workwear, including Carhartt, Wrangler, Justin and an array of other well-known brands.
“I think it’s an honor to be the oldest shop in Petal,” Hilton said. “I have had people that have traded with me that have moved off – I’ve got one customer from Houston, Texas, and they’ve got some relatives that live out there by Runnelstown.
“About twice a year, they come home to visit their relatives, and they bring a whole sack full of shoes for me to fix.”
Hilton remembers a customer years ago who came in to have a pair of boots fixed; after looking at the boots, Hilton assured the customer he could have the boots repaired in about an hour.
“Well, he jumped up and down and stomped his feet and talked all kind of ugly, and I said, ‘man, what’s going on?’ Hilton said. “He said, ‘another guy has had my boots for six months.’ What he’d done, he’d pulled them apart and couldn’t figure out how to put them back together.
“So he brought them to me, and I said, ‘sit your (butt) down over there and I’ll have them back in about an hour.’ So just about in an hour, I had them fixed, told him to put them on, and he was ready to go. He asked me if I had any business cards, because he was going to take them back and put them on that man’s counter to tell him that I can fix something in an hour, and if you wanted something fixed, bring it to Hilton.”
With being one of the only remaining shoe repair shops in the area, Hilton has customers coming from as far as Texas, Jackson and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“I laugh to myself, because when somebody comes in from Jackson or the Coast, I knew they couldn’t get it done and they brought it to me,” Hilton said. “If you tell me you’re not from here, and you have something that needs fixing, most likely I’ll fix it and send you back with it.”
In 1995, Hilton’s wife Jerene incorporated the Boardwalk Boutique side of the business, which features a wide variety of women’s fashion, as well as jewelry, boots, jewelry and gifts. Originally, the boutique featured mostly business attire, but is currently moving toward a more western style.
It also features the Petal Strong line of merchandise – including tumblers and T-shirts – which no other location in Petal carries.
“I’m proud of (our longevity),” Jerene said. “It’s almost impossible to do. One reason that we did it is that you cannot leave your business, let it stand alone, and expect it to survive.
“Hilton had surgery and broke his hip and he never missed work. He was here, because there were questions nobody here but him could answer. It’s real fun to be down here working and doing this every day.”
The store’s rebrand is being handled by brand ambassador Cayla Camp, who designed the Petal Strong merchandise and is currently working on the shop’s new website.
“We’re bringing in local makers who are basically trying to find places to carry what they make, but they don’t have storefronts,” Camp said. “We’re trying to offer them a storefront in here, so that could expand to be many different things.
“I’m looking into another guy who does woodworking stuff, and he wants to come in and offer some custom-engraved belts on (Hilton’s) side.”
The website will begin with the Boardwalk Boutique side and eventually integrate the Petal Shoe Shop section.
“Everybody pretty much knows what Hilton sells, and they know he’s here, but not many people know about the Boardwalk Boutique,” Camp said. “So Boardwalk’s website will have all of her merchandise on it – clothing, shoes, accessories, jewelry.
“The Endless Designs (brand) will have their own link here, where we’ll feature their local business. So let’s say somebody wants to do business with Endless Designs – they want something custom-made, they’ve seen what they do for Petal Strong – we’re going to link them in to where we can send business to those people and collaborate.”
The store closed down for approximately five weeks during the shutdown caused by the pandemic, which cut business in half for a time being. Making matters worse, the store didn’t qualify for any of the funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds that were given to rejuvenate the economy during the pandemic.
“We’re doing better than average,” Hilton said. “I wanted to open up for curbside, but they wouldn’t let me. But we made it through.”
And even in his 80s, Hilton has shown no signs of slowing down and has no intention of retiring.
“I don’t intend to retire,” he said. “I’m gonna be here until I die.”