Nestled in the heart of the Pine Belt, Laurel, Mississippi, has often been overlooked, but this hidden gem in the “Magnolia State” is finally getting the attention for the many treasures found here thanks to the exposure from HGTV’s production of “Home Town.”
Hosts of the show, Laurel residents Erin and Ben Napier, help locate and remodel homes for new residents to the city. The show’s popularity showcases how enchanted the Napiers and friends were by the small-town charm of Laurel, deciding to put their roots down here and seeking to bring out the beauty in the historical downtown.
Along with the support and guidance of family and longtime friends Mallorie and Jim Rasberry and Emily and Josh Nowell, they were able to bring about the historical Laurel Mercantile Company that opened its doors in 1901. It was important for them to stay true to the original structure of the Mercantile and the downtown district. In 2016, the store officially opened and features beautiful furniture that is handmade by Ben Napier and also is home to their Scotsman Company men’s clothing, heirlooms, and other sought after American made goods.
But there is so much to discover in this charming city, and the world is finding out about all Laurel has to offer. The downtown district is a definite attraction for visitors and residents. It has been revitalized and is home to antique shops, exquisite clothing stores, a whimsical toy store, fine dining and so much more.
The city has become a home to artists, craftsmen, and artisans. A stroll downtown is enchanting as strings of sparkling lights highlight the streets, giving it a magical charm as you search for antique treasures and enjoy fine dining or maybe a special treat from Shug’s Cookie Dough and Candy Bar or Sweet Somethings Bakery, nestled in the heart of this small town hamlet.
Judi Holifield, executive director of Laurel Main Street, suggests a visit to downtown as the first destination for visitors, but she encourages newcomers to explore all the city has to offer.
There is virtually something to appeal to everyone in Laurel. Under a canopy of gorgeous tree-lined streets, the historic homes, buildings, and churches bring a glimpse into the city’s rich heritage and beauty. Art lovers are in heaven at the impressive Lauren Rogers Museum and its historical and extensive collection of paintings, hand-woven baskets, Old English cutlery, suits of armor, and so much more. The museum holds the distinction of being the first art museum established in the state and features works by Rembrandt, Andy Warhol, and new exhibits throughout the year.
The original Arabian movie theater is now home to Laurel Little Theatre and features stellar productions featuring local talents throughout the year.
Foodies and lovers of a good meal will be drawn to the historic Phillip’s Drive-In or better known as PDI’s for some of the best hamburgers and shakes in town. Lee’s Coffee and Tea offers homemade soups, delectable sandwiches, and delicious coffee and tea to compliment your lunch. For an elegant dining experience, many are drawn to The Loft or Mimmo’s Italian Ristorante, but whatever you’re craving, you’re sure to find something unique and delicious to whet your appetite.
To truly experience all the city has to offer, sports lovers definitely need to make their way to the first lighted football field in the state, Laurel High School Stadium, better known as “Between the Bricks.” There’s nothing quite like spending a Friday night watching the winners of three state championships, the Laurel Tornadoes. It’s almost like the whole city comes together as one to support these young student-athletes, band members, and cheerleaders.
Throughout the year, the city hosts a variety of festivals and events. In October, the annual Loblolly Festival features live music, arts and crafts booths, and some of the area’s finest foods. Everyone will enjoy the Scarecrow Harvest as the downtown district is lined by unique and creative scarecrows created by the local businesses. Christmas is a magical time in the town as businesses downtown are adorned to celebrate the season, and many streets feature their own theme as Christmas trees twinkling with white lights glow from each yard down historic 7th Avenue, while other neighborhoods each have candy canes, wooden family Christmas cards, and Mason Park is aglow with shining stars hanging from the trees and Christmas scenes depicted in colorful, shining lights, making the season even more special for everyone.
One of the latest events to come to the city is Wine Down Downtown every month where visitors can sample wines and browse and shop in the downtown businesses. During the month of June, the city plays host to the Farmer’s Market where you can find some of the best home-grown veggies and homemade cookies and pastries. After the sun goes down, the Backlot Area features family-friendly movies and live music. It seems there is always a reason to celebrate and have a great time in this charming town.
Although Holifield adores all the city has to offer, there is one aspect of Laurel that she loves best.
“The people make Laurel unique, and we are constantly complimented how nice everyone is,” Holifield said.
She invites visitors to come explore the unique and interesting history of Laurel, but the hospitality is a special part of the small town and will always seem to bring your heart back for a visit and to settle down.
And it’s a place I am proud to call my hometown.