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Chamber welcomes new area residents

Various county officials and business owners were on hand Saturday at the Chamber of Commerce Welcome to Picayune Area Day at the Picayune National Guard Armory to welcome newcomers to the area and answer any questions they had.

Claiborne “Buddy” McDonald, president of the chamber of commerce, said the event was an idea that came to him after he met a new resident of the county. When McDonald met the resident he told him that he was glad to have him as part of the community, the resident replied that McDonald was the first person in the county to tell him that.

“It’s very important that people know that they are welcome to Pearl River County and Picayune,” said Reggie Hanbury, past chamber president.

Besides welcoming new residents to the county, voter registration assistance was offered and the welcoming committee tried to reunite new residents with others displaced from their former hometowns. New residents who may have missed the event can still register to vote.

“If they missed the chance to (register to) vote, they should visit the circuit clerk’s office. This is an election year,” said business owner Nickie Smith.

Business owners, some old, some new to the county, had tables set up to promote their businesses and meet the new people.

Tommy Carbone, part owner of Dockside Seafood, said his business has been booming since the storm with all the new people in the county, but he is having trouble finding help.

“The main thing is the help; people can’t get the help,” Carbone said.

Carbone said he has had to drop from his menu some of the time-consuming specialty items so the staff can keep up with the crowds of diners.

Dockside was part of the New Orleans scene for about 15 years until the increasing crime rate drove them to Picayune, Carbone said.

Dry Cleaning to Your Door is a new business that opened in Picayune after the storm. The business opened here on March 1, said owners Andy and Darlene Farrell. Andy Farrell said the business has about 320 customers and has been adding about 65 new customers each month, earning them an award two months in a row for the fastest growing store in the franchise.

Their business mainly focuses on residential dry cleaning needs, but they also do some work for major businesses such as Dub Herring, Andy Farrell said. The business will pick up customers’ dry cleaning and return it to them when complete, saving residents the trouble of toting their cleaning around.

“Most of our customers say it’s really convenient. They’re not riding around with clothes in their back seat trying to get to the dry cleaners,” Andy Farrell said.

Printing business owner, Roy Wilson Jr. of Roy L. Wilson Printing, said that the three generation business moved to the area after serving the New Orleans area for about 74 years. Wilson also mentioned undesirable occurrences in the larger city as a reason for relocating to Picayune in 1981. The family bought a summer home in the area in 1975 and liked the surroundings, so when problems in New Orleans began to escalate, the move to Picayune looked like a good one.

“The longer I stayed here, the better I liked it,” Wilson said. “I just enjoy the people here, I really do.”

Wilson’s is one of the few businesses to report a decline after the storm, however he said business is recovering. Wilson attributes the decline to the large evacuation and damage to the area his business has served for so long.

“It’s going to come back, I know it will,” Wilson said.

Events such as Saturday’s Welcome to Picayune may be held every six months to help new residents, not just the Katrina evacuees, to get acquainted with their new surroundings, Hanbury said.

Local politicians were on hand at the event to politic with newcomers while addressing their concerns.

Other officials such as McDonald, County Supervisor Bettye Stockstill, county prosecutor Cheryl Johnson, Pearl River County Sheriff Joe Stuart, Chancery Clerk David Earl Johnson, Circuit Clerk Vickie Harriel also were on hand to welcome the newcomers.

“I think it was a great idea. It gave us an opportunity to meet some people,” Stuart said about the event.

Hanbury declared the event a success. The main problem for the businesses and their guests is that the National Guard Armory is not air conditioned and fans placed around the facility were not enough to make the enclosed area comfortable.

“Next year we may try to find an air conditioned place,” Hanbury said.