Recently I wrote a column on restaurants that had long since closed in this area. I received a lot of email and social media traffic that focused on those restaurants and the memories they stirred in local residents.
While discussing that column during the few past weeks the conversation often turned to various businesses that used to operate in Hattiesburg, but have long-since closed. Many of those businesses defined my youth.
Feeling nostalgic, I decided to compile a list of my favorite long-lost Hattiesburg businesses and rank them in order of importance to me. Such a list is obviously subjective. My memories and experiences are clearly different that everyone else’s.
I was born in 1961, so my business memories in Hattiesburg don't really start until the mid 1960s. I have forgotten the names of several businesses. There are a few record stores that I spent hours in every week flipping through albums, but as I made my list, all I could come up with was, “the record store across from USM next to IHOP,” or “the record store over by Shoney’s,” so I didn’t include them on the list even though they were a big part of my childhood
I never visited the drive-through funeral home as a mourner, so it didn’t make the list, though I think it is certainly an iconic Hattiesburg business. The old End Zone holds many memories for me, but technically it’s still open in another location, so it didn’t make the list either. The same goes for Beautiful Day, which has existed in several locations but is still open today.
One thing I learned is that you learn about your priorities while compiling such a list. It was no surprise to me that music and movies ruled the day.
The following are my Top 40 Long-Gone Hattiesburg Businesses:
40.) McCaffrey’s Grocery Store on Edwards Street – I only remember shopping here once or twice with my mother, but it is worthy of inclusion for the weekly music show they produced on WDAM, McCaffrey’s Showtime, featuring various string band musicians from the area. I am told that no copies of the program are in existence. That’s a shame.
39.) Chain Electric, Pine Street – I never shopped in there as a kid, but my mom did, and I got dragged along. I do remember that they always had a festive Christmas display in the front window.
38.) The Open Mind – A late 1960s and early 1970s head shop, which opened around the time Beautiful Day made the scene. They sold incense and black light posters and various other items that most head shops offered at the end of the ’60s.
37.) Wade Kennedy Livestock Arena – The home to local wrestling. I once saw a lady in her 70s pick up a folding chair and hurl it into the ring during a heated match between Cowboy Bob Kelly and The Spoiler II (who worked in the press room at the Hattiesburg American).
36.) Magic Tunnel Car Wash, Broadway Drive – Located next to the current Tiger Woods sex clinic campus. It was just a car wash, but it was Hattiesburg’s first car wash where you could stay in the car as it moved through the various cycles. As a kindergartner, I thought that was magical.
35.) Mitchell Curry Magnavox in the University Mall – This is where I purchased a few of my early stereo systems and is the first place I ever heard music come from a Bose speaker.
34.) Ashley’s Sporting Goods, Hardy across from USM – A second-generation sporting goods store (after Smokey’s and before the big box invasion).
33.) Joseph’s, Hardy Street across from the Keg & Barrel – Joey Venus, whose mother owned Deville’s next door, opened a men’s clothing store in the 1980s. I shopped there often.
32.) Carter’s Stereo, Hardy Street in the Nick’s Ice House location – When Nick was operating Moby Nick’s further west on Hardy, there was a business located in that building where you could go in and use their albums to make your own mixed tapes. This was a huge coup for me. I’m not sure what years it was opened, but I remember making a tape with John Lennon’s “Mind Games” on it. So, it was definitely open in 1973. It didn’t last long as I am sure the music rights folks at ASCAP and BMI had something to say about publishing rights and licensing fees.
31.) Plums, Hardy Street –This is a recent closing, but it’s notable for the fact that I could do Christmas shopping for everyone on my list in one store in about 20 minutes (and have it all wrapped), and did so for a couple of decades.
30.) The Rebel Theatre, Pine Street just down from the post office – One of my earliest memories is seeing “Bambi” at The Rebel after I got my booster shots at the health department.
29.) The Saenger – Even though it stands today, it’s not in its original use. It was built as a movie theatre and I saw dozens of movies there as a kid. They sold orange drink in small plastic oranges. “The Exorcist” had a short run there before city officials pulled it.
28.) Broadway Drive-In, Broadway Drive – Hardly anyone I speak to about former Hattiesburg businesses remembers the Broadway Drive In. It was the redheaded stepchild to the Beverly. The Broadway Drive-In was located where Social Security Administration and veterinary offices are located, today. They ran lots of double features with Swedish stewardess themes in the mid- to-late 1970s before they closed.
27.) Roseberry Music, downtown – There were two music stores downtown. Most of the organs and pianos were here. They also produced a local music show on Saturday mornings.
26.) Mulligan’s Pharmacy, 28th Avenue – In the late 1960s and early 1970s they kept Playboy magazines, loose, on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack out in the middle of the store (or so I am told).
25.) Gibson’s, Pine Street – Before there was Walmart, there was Gibson’s in Laurel and Hattiesburg. They carried a little bit of everything. I bought my first two cassette tapes there in 1968 (The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” and Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman”). I wish it was still in business for no other reason than the television ads they used to run. “Woo!”
24.) Fine Brothers Madison Department Store, downtown, then The Cloverleaf Mall – Just as most families are either a Chevy or Ford family, Hattiesburg divided into Fine Brothers shoppers and Waldoff’s shoppers. The Essex House was a men’s clothing store that Fine Brother’s spun off, and was located where Campus Book Mart is today (Waldoff’s spun off Milton’s Ltd. which was where the Neal House sits today).
23.) The Forrest County Co-Op, Fisher’s Nursery, Delia’s Nursery – I cheated on this one and included all three. Before people went to Lowe’s or Home Depot to purchase gardening supplies and plants they visited these independently-owned local businesses. It was better that way.
22.) Smokey’s Sporting Goods, Broadway Drive – If you played a sport in the 1960s or early 1970s you shopped here, often. As I remember it, the building was a labyrinth filled with baseball caps, bats, footballs and jerseys.
21.) Johnson Music, downtown – I purchased my first electric guitar there – a Fender telecaster – in 1974.
20.) The Fun Factory, Cloverleaf Mall – In the decades before Xbox and Play Station there were arcades where kids had to leave the house and ride their bikes to play foosball, pinball and pool. This place always smelled a little like sweat, and usually had some of the “bad boys” from the neighborhood hanging out there.
19.) Big Buck Sporting Goods, Churchill Street – Charles Price left the pawn business and wisely opened a sporting goods store, first where Immediate Care off of 40th Avenue is located, and later across Hardy. His timing was impeccable. He got in when the getting was good, and got out minutes before the large chain big-box invasion.
18.) Haberdash, Cloverleaf Mall – Lucy and Regis Domergue ran the coolest blue jeans shop in town. Mississippi Britches was bigger, but The Haberdash was cooler.
17.) Mississippi Britches, Cloverleaf Mall – The Cloverleaf Mall could actually be a business listed on its own on this list. It was that important to the retail fabric of this town for two decades. During the height of the bellbottom craze, the only way to look cooler was to have bigger bellbottoms. No one sold bigger bells than Mississippi Britches. Notable, too, for a famous typo in a Hattiesburg American ad which called the business “Mississippi Bitches.”
16.) Smart Shoe Store, downtown, and then Cloverleaf Mall – Maury Gurwich was a brilliant retailer and still is a fine man. He committed everyone’s shoe size to memory, knew your width and instep, and always gave personal and attentive service. This was the last of a breed.
15.) Shainberg’s, Broadway Mart– It seems we shopped here often when I was a kid. It was a step below all of the traditional retailers, but I remember getting my first pair of bellbottoms there as a six-year old in 1968. They had yellow, orange and brown stripes and I thought I was the coolest kid in the second grade at Thames School. The blue jeans here weren’t Levis, but they were slightly less stiff than the ones sold at Sears.
14.) Triangle Grocery Store, Hardy Street – My grandmother shopped there, often. It was a small market located two blocks from her house with limited groceries and fresh seafood. They delivered, and everything they sold – from toilet paper to breakfast cereal – smelled like fish.
13.) The Sound Shop, University Mall – This really should be higher up on my list because I spent hours and hours in this store. I loved record shops. I didn’t have a lot of money to purchase albums, but they always played the new stuff over the store sound system, and I hung out in record shops for hours filing through bins of records, starting in the “A” section and not stopping until I flipped through Zappa and Zevon. Our only visual contact with musicians in those days – save an occasional appearance on a televised variety show – was through album covers.
12.) Patterson’s Skating Rink, Highway 49 North – When a specific song from a certain period (early junior high school) comes on the radio, I identify that as a “skating rink song.” One can almost tell a person’s age by their skating rink song. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is one of my skating rink songs. I took my first – and last – dip of Skoal there (and threw up in the bathroom minutes later).
11.) Pal’s Music, downtown – Every Beatles album or 45 I own was purchased at Pal’s. I wish this place was still open. I really wish that building was still standing. I hope someone has the sign. The end of this list is filled with music and movies, which makes sense in my world.
10.) The Hardy Street Cinema, Hardy Street – It’s a laser tag operation today, but years ago it was the first big, single screen that wasn’t located downtown. Eventually the screen was split into two. If you name a movie that was released between 1965 and today, I can tell you in which movie theatre in which it played, locally. Test me. This place was great because the Frostop was located across the street for before or after-the-show chili-cheese burgers.
9.) Minit Mart, 28th Avenue, across from Forrest General Hospital – The “teenagers” hung out there when I was a kid. In a way, it was the epicenter of the Hillendale neighborhood. “Meet me at the Minit Mart,” was an oft-heard phrase. I bought my first Icee there. I bought a lot of Icees there, and a lot of Sour Apple Jolly Ranchers, too. Later I bought beer and cigarettes there (a lot of beer and cigarettes). During a 1978 concert at Reed Green Coliseum, Jimmy Buffett identified that location as THE “Mini Mart” in his song “The Great Peanut Butter Conspiracy.” Though doubt remains that he ever “paid the Mini Mart back.”
8.) The Avanti Theatre, Hardy Street across from USM – It opened as The Dome Theatre and was a small single screen notable for showing the movie “Jaws” during the entire summer of 1975. They also held midnight movie showings and, in later incarnations, became a short-lived spot for art-house films.
7.) Beverly Drive-In, Highway 49 – One of Hattiesburg’s most iconic structures. They had goofy golf out front and in the latter days began showing skin flicks, which could be viewed on Friday nights from the Beeson Academy football field located just down the street. I always figured it added another seven points to our traditional three-point home field advantage.
6.) Cloverleaf Cinema, Cloverleaf Mall – So much happened in that mall throughout my youth. Most of my high school and college dates started at that theatre.
5.) Broadacres Cinema, intersection of Highway 49 and Interstate 59 – As a sixth grader, I rode my bike to see “American Graffiti” at the 1pm showing. I stayed for the 3, 5 and 7pm shows and rode my bike home at 9pm and was grounded for three weeks. I also had the first date with my wife there.
4.) Camelot Music, Cloverleaf Mall – I wish I had half of the money I spent here through the years, though I wouldn’t give up the music I purchased for it. I watched the record industry change from albums to CDs in those walls.
3.) Waldoff’s, downtown then Cloverleaf Mall – My wife says this should be number one, but she didn’t have my emotional connection to radio. Waldoff’s was a classic, locally-owned, independent department store that set all manner of national records for sales per square foot. It was staffed with dozens of professional salespeople, and was home to many summer jobs. It was the flagship of local retail for decades. I worked in the men’s department during the Christmas holidays one year. My wife was the Estee Lauder lady when we first started dating, though I think she spent the majority of every paycheck before she ever left the store. Milton Waldoff was a master of retail. The loss of local, independent department stores makes us a lesser town today.
2.) WXXX, 1310 AM – Triple X was where the music of the 1960s and 1970s was introduced to this entire area. Car radios on local streets and small transistor radios by swimming pools carried the static-filled AM signal to several generations of Pine Belt youth. The FCC made them shut down every day at sunset and I can still hear Jim Cameron’s daily sign off.
1.) WHSY 1230 AM & 104.5 FM – These two radio stations hold some of the finest memories of my youth. It ranks at No. 1 because I worked there. It’s a personal thing. I started on the AM as a disc jockey when I was 15-years old. A couple of years later we convinced the owner to let us turn the 100k-watt FM into Hattiesburg’s first true rock-and-roll station when we switched it from a “beautiful music” format to an album-rock format called Y-104. That is still one of the more exciting and satisfying business projects with which I have ever been involved. The 7pm to midnight shift was mine for two years. It was the place where today’s classic rock was born and just called “new music.” All hail rock and roll.