Year brought significant changes in business in the Miss-Lou

Published 11:40 pm Sunday, December 30, 2012

File photos | The Natchez Democrat — Business stories that made headlines in 2012 include, clockwise from top left, the closing of Pyron's furniture, announcement of Magnolia Frac Sand, the sale of Kimbrell Office Supply, the ribbon cutting of Central Louisiana Technical Community College and the transfer of ownership of Monmouth,

In the business community, 2012 was a year of significant farewells and fresh starts.

Decades-old fixtures in Natchez closed their doors for the last time, changed ownership or made significant changes in operations.

Thankfully, economic development announcements were frequent too, and, hopefully, in the coming years new business will replace some of the jobs lost when old, small business shut down.

Email newsletter signup

Here’s a look at some — but not all — of the significant developments in the local business community this year.


Mississippi River Pulp closes doors

Not long after announcing plans to close a 21-year-old local industry, executives at Mississippi River Pulp officially shut the doors on Oct. 31, leaving 79 workers unemployed.

MRP bought the former Mississippi River Corporation in 2010 shortly after MRC declared bankruptcy. The plant recycled fiber for reuse. Among its reasons for filing bankruptcy were lack of demand for its products, and when MRP announced the plant closure, company officials said despite their efforts otherwise they had not been able to find enough demand to keep the facility open.

The company had for several months sought a buyer for the facility and is still looking to sell the property. Natchez Inc. Director Chandler Russ said recently that the company could sell in the coming months.


Cloutier Oil sells company

After 53 years in the business, local oil distribution company Cloutier Oil was sold in March.

Eleven regional convenience stores changed hands and are now operated by Victory Properties, a partnership formed by Rex Gillis of Columbus and Joe Morris of Ridgeland.

Cloutier Oil was started Oct. 1, 1958, and originally served commercial consumer accounts, businesses that had fuel tanks that needed refilling.

Starting in 1984, the company expanded into the convenience store business, and owner Lawrie Cloutier said it was involved in the development of 17 convenience stores with more than 100 employees. Most of the stores sold petroleum products produced by Shell Oil.

Cloutier Oil weathered the oil allocations of the 1970s, saw the business transition from mechanical and manual to digital distribution and joined in the convenience store change from full-service to self-service.


King’s Tavern closes

Many local residents spent 2012 missing their favorite steak.

King’s Tavern — a restaurant and bar — closed its doors in late February.

The restaurant had fed locals and tourists for 45 years.

The building itself, which stands empty and for sale today, has an even greater history. Reportedly among the oldest in the state, the building has stood on Jefferson Street for 243 years and once served as an outpost on the Natchez Trace.

Owners Shawyn Mars and Thom Miller owned the restaurant for seven years and reported upon their closer that the economy led to the end.


Pyron’s Furniture closes

Billy Pyron spent 42 years in his Franklin Street furniture store office before he decided, earlier this year, that it was time to say goodbye.

His decision ended a family business open in Natchez for 67 years.

Pyron’s Furniture started after Billy’s father, Kelley, noticed a need for furniture as soldiers began returning from World War II with military money in their pockets and settling down on their minds.

It closed in April, after transitioning from paper receipt book to computer, surviving a housing crash, economic recession and the booming oil era in Natchez.


Historic Monmouth changes hands

Longtime owners of the high-end bed and breakfast Monmouth lost the property in late February through foreclosure proceedings.

United Mississippi Bank became the new owner, and New Orleans Hotel Consultants took over operations to keep the Natchez tourism fixture open and operating in much the same was as it had for approximately 35 years.

Monmouth is one of only 10 houses in Natchez that is classified as a national historic landmark. Ron Riches sought that status in 1986, ensuring preservation of the property.


Kimbrell’s Office Supply sells to Jackson company

Many of the faces at Kimbrell’s Office Supply on Main Street stayed the same after an ownership change was finalized, but the feeling of having a locally owned downtown business was gone.

Scott Kimbrell’s father started the business on Jan. 8, 1955, and the family operated it for 57 years.

Kimbrell opted to sell the business — though the name stayed the same — to Barefield Workplace Solutions, a larger Mississippi-based office supply retailer.

“They are very, very customer-oriented, the way we’ve always tried to be,” Kimbrell said at the time of the sale. “It will be a positive change for our customers. We’ll have more products, more technology. Their buying power will be better. They carry several lines of office furniture that we don’t have right now.”


B&K Bank delists from NASDAQ

One of Natchez’s few publicly traded businesses opted to voluntarily remove itself from the NASDAQ stock market in June.

The Britton & Koontz Bank Board of Directors pointed to the high costs of following NASDAQ rules and filing SEC reports, accounting and legal costs and a low trading volume as reasons for delisting.

The move was a smart one for the company, local financial planners confirmed.


Blain Sand and Gravel and Forest North America partner to open local companies

In April, in front of an audience of local residents and state leaders, including Gov. Phil Bryant, Adams County company Blain Sand and Gravel announced plans to creating a new company that would mine and process sand used by energy companies employing the hydraulic fracturing process.

Blain’s new arm — Magnolia Frac Sand LLC — will work with Fores Frac Sand LLC.

In total, the companies expect to hire 60 employees and invest more than $30 million locally.

Blain Sand and Gravel President Lee Stevens said at the announcement that the company was excited to be expanding its presence in southwest Mississippi. The company has heretofore specialized in road construction, asphalt paving and aggregate construction in the state.


Louisiana Technical College opens new campus, changes names

Central Louisiana Technical Community College — as it is now known — underwent major changes in 2012.

A new $5.2 million addition with additional classroom space opened, the name changed from the Louisiana Technical College Shelby M. Jackson Campus and it became a community college.

The school is now allowed to offer certificates, diplomas, associates degrees and associate transfer degrees.

The school now aims to be a step in the process for students planning to attend a four-year university. New degree programs and course offerings are expected in the future.


Natchez buys former pecan factory site

A plot of land once set aside for development as high-end condos returned to its original owners this year, for a price.

The City of Natchez purchased the former pecan factory lot in August, six years after it had sold the bluff-top land to developers for $500,000.

The price tag for the city this year was $750,000.

The purchase was a step in the direction of settling a September 2007 lawsuit filed by Worley Brown, the would-be condo developers who bought the site but were blocked from development by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History because of the site’s historical significance.

The condo plan never got off the ground, even after a former mayor had the historic pecan factory bulldozed.

Current Mayor Butch Brown has said he’d like to see the site become a public garden and park.