Year in commerce saw leadership changes, commemorations

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Changes throughout business and industry in the Natchez area marked the year 2002. New companies, expansions, leadership turnovers and entrepreneurial projects kept the business scene interesting and vibrant despite an economy that drew complaints from many armchair economists.

Two of the area’s biggest retail stores, McRae’s and J.C. Penney, which anchor the Natchez Mall, celebrated 100th birthdays in 2002.

Further, the popular Natchez eatery Cock of the Walk, specializing in catfish,

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hushpuppies and fried dill pickles, among other delicacies, celebrated its 25th. And a brand new hotel, Comfort Inn at the Vidalia, La., waterfront, opened for business, as well.

Changes at area banks, car dealerships and downtown businesses highlighted the 2002 scene. In a nutshell, some of the news:


Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel employees have joined forces with the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau to bring tourists to Natchez and want the public to know about it. For the past year, the Isle sold about 13,000 golf packages and 10,000 casino entertainment packages.

Longtime nurse Esther Mingee was named director of nurses at Natchez Community Hospital, capping a career of 25 years, 24 of them at Natchez Regional Medical Center. &uot;I’ve worn many different hats,&uot; she said. They include that of assistant professor of nursing at Alcorn State University, too.


Katie McCarstle took a chance, opened her own clothing store, Katie’s Ladies Apparel, in 1995 and finds business good and steady. &uot;It did take a lot of courage, and there were some scary moments. I couldn’t help wondering if people would come.&uot; They did. And Katie’s is a solid member of the retail community.

Using entrepreneurial skills and her understanding of the Natchez real estate market, Diane Brown of Coldwell Banker showed off her patio houses on Duncan Avenue. Convenience, privacy and security are among the reasons people have been drawn to the style, Brown said.


As the nationwide discount store giant Kmart declared bankruptcy and began a series of store closings, Natchez residents received the good news in March that the store on John R. Junkin Drive would remain open. John Christopher, manager of the Natchez Kmart since it opened in 1987, said a commitment by the community to shop at Kmart has led to recent renovations and the decision on the corporate level to keep the Natchez location open.

Also in March, well-known baker Edna Welch too her skills from home to shop. Settling into a spacious area on John R. Junkin Drive, Welch continued her thriving wedding cake business and added more baked goods to her sales menu. &uot;I knew it was time to grow or to retire,&uot; Welch said.


Brothers David Waters and M.L. Waters studied the Natchez market and decided to open an International trucking company in the city with an eye to the Southwest Mississippi timber market needs. The company offers lines of new and used vehicles, a sales and parts department and a service department. &uot;Our advantage is the industry already here,&uot; M.L. Waters said.


Construction company owner Ricky Edgin has created a mini industrial park on Liberty Road. Developing property around his own company, he is surrounded by a small but bustling area with commercial and light industrial occupants. &uot;We had seen a development like this in Baton Rouge and thought maybe it was a good idea for us,&uot; Edgin said.


Changes in three car dealerships apparently made all the interested parties happy. When Don Gardner decided to leave his Gardner Motor Co., Danny Hammett fell heir to the Toyota dealership and Carl Voss and Fred Voss, the Chrysler-Plymouth franchise. Gardner Motor Co. became Trace City Toyota. For the Vosses, the change allows their AB Motor Company now to offer all Chrysler products &045; Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler and Jeep.


At Britton & Koontz First National Bank, longtime chairman of the board William Feltus III stepped down to allow Page Ogden, president and CEO, to take on the role of chairman, as well. &uot;They hired me in the late ’80s, a tough time for this community and for this bank,&uot; Ogden said. &uot;We had some suitors, and there were many who thought we would sell out. But Will and others on the board saw the opportunity we had.&uot;

Also in July, Natchez Community Hospital named J. Allen Tyra the CEO. He replaced the departing David Ainsworth, who left to take a position at another Health Management Associates facility. &uot;I’m not going to stick my head in the sand and say no one is coming to Natchez because of what is going on in our state,&uot; he said, referring to the long battle for tort reform. &uot;We will recruit. We are recruiting.&uot;


Concordia Bank & Trust Company, with headquarters in Vidalia, La., expanded to Natchez with the opening of a spacious new branch office on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive.

&uot;We’re positive on our area,&uot; said Pat Biglane, president and CEO of the bank. &uot;If you create a 40-mile circle from the middle of the Mississippi River, that’s our market area, and we’re trying to service that area.&uot;

Also in August, officials with Callon Petroleum Company announced the company has exceeded analyst expectations in financing for funding its debt maturities and anticipated capital expenditures in 2002 and 2003, leading to a major stock analyst company reversing its downgrade of Callon stock. &uot;Securing these financings without any significant equity dilution has been our primary focus during the past year,&uot; said Fred Callon, president and CEO.


Natchez was the scene of a two-day business procurement conference aimed at present or prospective owners or managers of small businesses and centering on ways to expand and diversify enterprises. &uot;This is something for the whole community. The more you know, the better you can market your business,&uot; said pharmacist and pharmacy owner Michael Winn, one of the organizers.


Husband and wife Edward Killelea and Kathryn McCabe have begun a business journey that starts with a trendy shop on Main Street and ultimately will take the pair around the corner to Commerce Street. &uot;We could have opened the store in New Orleans,&uot; McCabe said of the couple’s Different Accents. &uot;But in New Orleans there might be a dozen stores that are similar. I like the fact that we’re able to make a difference in Natchez.&uot;


Adrian Sandel was named president of the Natchez branch of AmSouth, replacing Kevin Smith, who retired from that bank and assumed a new position with Britton & Koontz First National Bank. Sandel, recognizing the economic challenges surrounding the community, takes the new position with enthusiasm. &uot;I want to continue to grow our market share,&uot; Sandel said. &uot;AmSouth is committed to Natchez as a market.&uot;

Also in November, The Sports Center, long a prominent retail store in Natchez, expanded to a new store on John R. Junkin Drive. &uot;We have a little more variety than we had downtown,&uot; said Wade Craig, owner. &uot;There are some new concepts here. This is not a copy of any other store.&uot;


The popular restaurant Wharf Master’s House will close its doors to everyday diners, owner John Ballard announced this month. As Ballard began to market a seasoning called &uot;Uncle Bud’s Rub,&uot; the booming success of the product began to consume more of the restaurateur’s time. &uot;There’s a kind of buzz about the product,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re not going out of business. We’re reinventing ourselves.&uot;

Also in December, Dr. Justin Gregg saw his new veterinary clinic get off to a booming start. A Concordia Parish native and recent graduate of the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, he opened the clinic in Vidalia in a building equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.