A look at the biggest business stories of 2006

Published 6:00 am Sunday, December 31, 2006

Business openings and updates on existing businesses rank high among stories published in The Democrat Sunday section devoted to business-related news.

The Natchez Coffee Company opened in February, bringing to the community a new kind of gathering place with innovative ways to both invite and keep customers. A restaurant operated by brothers to offer their own family recipes in Italian cuisine caused a stir, as well, when L’il Dagos opened in south Natchez. An old friend, McRae’s, changed its name with new ownership and slid easily into the new Belk name with just the right amount of fanfare in early spring. The long-awaited Alcorn State University MBA building opened formally in March. A new children’s store, My Room, opened, the second downtown retail business owned by Natchez native Louise Peabody.

The Doctor’s Pavilion opened next door to Natchez Regional Medical Center mid year, the completion of a long-awaited project that enhances the community’s medical services. CPA Pamela Beacher had an upbeat report about her new business, Advantage Medical Billing. And at First Natchez Radio, the Perkins family reflected on the transition from one generation of leadership to another.

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McRae’s to Belk

Seven months of work and five trips by the store manager to the Carolinas plus plenty of online training for other employees have culminated in the transition of the former McRae’s store to Belk in the Natchez Mall. The ribbon cutting ceremony was March 8.

Part of the 2005 acquisition by the North Carolina-based department store for $622 million of 47 Proffitt’s and McRae’s stores in 11 southeastern states, the Natchez store now dons the lighted Belk sign on its faade and exhibits the Belk layout and design on the interior.

“It was very smooth. We’ve made it and arrived at this date,” said Mary Flach, who oversaw the transition as store manager both for the former McRae’s and now for Belk.

Natchez Coffee Company

A new venture for the Furlows and a new business for Franklin Street, Natchez Coffee Co. opened Feb. 27, offering a variety of foods and beverages as well as popular services.

Bill Furlow and his wife, Davilynn, did their research before deciding to open the business. They learned that a coffee shop and an ice cream shop were two things missing downtown. Why not combine them?

And they listened to locals and visitors say, “there is no place to go between 2 and 5,” Bill said.

Customer service and hospitality will be top priorities, Davilynn said. “We want people to come by here and hang out; we want this to be a place for a little business meeting.”

L’il Dagos

Growing up enjoying their family’s home-cooked Italian dishes, Modie and Michael Mascagni are at home in the kitchen. It was an easy transition then to restaurant ownership.

Modie managed three restaurants before deciding to come home to Natchez to open L’il Dagos, a restaurant on Seargent S. Prentiss Drive that takes its name from the nickname the boys’ mother gave her children.

My Room

Moving and re-opening two retail shops from south Louisiana to Natchez were not easy tasks, but the jobs now are complete for Louise Peabody.

With Intimate Home well established on Main and Commerce streets, Peabody has moved her second store, My Room, to Franklin Street in the former Feltus Brothers Hardware building and next door to Natchez Coffee. The store opened in the spring of 2006.

“I came here not having a clue,” Peabody said, standing in the bright, cheerful space filled with dreamy clothes, furnishings and playthings for boys and girls from infant to about 8 years old.

“I knew I had to move. My client base was moving. I don’t know whether it was Katrina or just the economy in south Louisiana,” she said.

The Doctor’s Pavilion

The Doctors’ Pavilion, a medical office building next to Natchez Regional Medical Center opened the first week of July, when patients visited offices of Internal Medicine Associates and obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Frank Guedon.

Even though the building was not finished then, the doctors and staff in the two offices were pleased to have the space and see the building open after several years of planning.

A group of six doctors and a developer jointly own the new medical building.

Other offices have opened at the complex, and further plans are nearing fruition to complete the original concept of medical specialists, a home health agency, a medical equipment company, imaging center and after-hours clinic.

ASU business building

A ribbon cutting and open house ushered in a new era for Alcorn State University at its Natchez campus Tuesday.

Dozens gathered at the entrance of the massive new Graduate Business Programs Building to celebrate completion of the $10-million project.

ASU President Clinton Bristow told the crowd the building and the degree-granting programs housed in it “signify the continued growth we project for Natchez, Adams County and Southwest Mississippi.”

Bristow, who died suddenly in August, said partnerships with the city, county and business community helped to make the project successful. Then he challenged leaders to be steadfast in continued support.

Advantage Medical Billing

After gaining years of experience in all the major areas of CPA work, including management of accounting firms, Pamela Beacher opened her own business, Advantage Medical Billing, located at 118 Lower Woodville Road and offering a comprehensive package to medical offices, including insurance and patient billing, processing deposits and refunds of overpayments, enrollment in provider networks and management reports and analysis.

“I use my accounting skills to help these doctors by becoming a part of their team,” Beacher said. In medical billing, she finds a need for patients to “hear a friendly voice” and for doctors to “provide a better service to their patients.”

First Natchez Radio

Carrying on in the tradition of her mother is an honor Margaret Perkins does not take lightly. Named president and CEO of First Natchez Radio in May, she formally has taken the helm from Marie Perkins, who will continue as chairman of the board of the company.

First Natchez Radio includes four stations, the most prominent being WQNZ, “95-Country,” with listeners in 34 counties and parishes in the Miss-Lou area and 50,000 different listeners each week.

“Never in a million years did I think I would be back here,” Margaret said. “And here I am literally following in the footsteps of my mother and taking over the family business.”