Baker business is leaving Poplarville

Published 11:29 pm Saturday, August 4, 2007

At some point in the not too distant future the sweet smell of specialty cakes, cookies and similar baked treats from Baker Maid, Inc., will be gone from downtown Poplarville.

In its place, the First Baptist Church of Poplarville, which is purchasing the Baker Maid building, hopes to replace the sweet smell of baked goods with the sweet sound of youthful happiness and spiritual well-being.

Daryl Sorensen, owner of Baker Maid Products, said expansion needs is causing him to move his bakery back to New Orleans after 14 years in Poplarville.

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“I can’t emphasize enough. Everybody in Poplarville has treated me wonderfully,” he said. “We’re not moving because we’re not in anyway pleased with the area; it’s just because we need the bigger facility. We’ve outgrown this one and the price was right (at the new location).”

Sorensen said once the decision to move had been made he had anticipated being in the new location sometime in October, but circumstances altered that timeline.

The facility he is purchasing won’t be available as soon as anticipated. Because of this and his production schedule for the Christmas season — one of Baker Maid’s largest — he anticipates the move won’t be finished until after the first of the year.

“I won’t have very many specific answers because nobody knows yet how this is going to work out,” he said.

Sorensen said he might even have to have production in both locations. “I just don’t know.” While it might take a few months to have the New Orleans location fully operational, he said he anticipates being able to make product there in a few weeks after the initial move.

Two weeks ago when Sorensen and his wife Nancy signed documents with First Baptist trustees transferring the property deed for the facility and that part of Cumberland Street that was closed years earlier.

With the sale, First Baptist will own an area almost three city blocks long, less the location of the Radio Shack store and that part where the post office building stands. The post office parking lot immediately behind that building is being leased from the church.

“You couldn’t ask for a better use for this building than First Baptist coming in,” Sorensen says. “If the community had to choose whether we’re here or First Baptist, I think First Baptist is the biggest asset for this community.”

For the church’s part the Rev. Tommy Anthony, First Baptist’s pastor, said the church has been in need of more space for its youth activities. With the growth of Poplarville, he sees the Baker Maid building as an ideal fit. He said he was excited when he learned the church had already been discussing the purchase of the site.

“My first Sunday here (in March) I was realizing there were some potential problems with our facilities just because of space,” he said. “We were already over 85 percent of capacity my first Sunday here.”

With the history behind the main church, there was no thought of going to a new location, he said, but additional space for youth activities was being considered.

After ruling out the parking lot behind the church for a youth site, thoughts turned to the Baker Maid building. Besides the location near the center of town, it already adjoins church property at the fenced playground on Dauphine Street. The Baker Maid site would allow on-site drop off and pick up of children, something currently lacking because cars have to wait in line on Dauphine Street.

Once Baker Maid has moved, Anthony says youth could almost immediately begin meeting there on Wednesday nights for special events. With a little more time, possibly next year, he thinks the playschool could expand there. If necessary, he said with enough folding chairs a worship service could even be held there.

“If at some point in the future you’re going to do some sort of renovation to this sanctuary, you’ve got to have somewhere to meet while you’re doing that.

“Our older children are very excited about the possibility of some sort of recreation space that they could play ball and do activities and special events in the room. It’s just hard to find a place (in town) for kids to play basketball, volleyball … those kind of things,” Anthony said.

He said on Wednesday nights at the current Family Life Center there sometimes is competition for space between the youth and the evening meal time for adults.

Another use for the facility is hurricane and disaster relief, he said.

The First Baptist Church is one of several locations in the county that serve as temporary emergency shelters. The building has a large walk-in cooler that will aid in feeding a large group of people, Anthony said. Recently, he says the church prepared food for about 250 people at a July 4th event and people were having to go outside with their food.

Other ideas for the site are aerobics and senior adult exercise classes, a walking track and other classes, such as parenting, the general public.

“We’re anticipating the community being able to use the facility … . There are so many more people around here now after Katrina … and we’re wanting to be able to expand our ministries,” the pastor said.

“We realistically haven’t fully explored what all we could do … . The kind of activity that we anticipate going there are not worship-centered so much as they are … recreation, education,” adding that, “Buildings don’t reach people for Christ; it’s about personal relationships.”

The church was having fundraisers in anticipation of getting the building, although a substantial amount of money had been secured so that a lot of the debt could be avoided, he said. In just three weeks, approximately $27,000 had been raised, Anthony said.

For his part Sorensen is beginning to feel the split of two locations.

He has new ovens and other equipment already warehoused in the New Orleans area, waiting to be installed and he and his wife Nancy have already purchased a home there.

He expects to increase his workforce by about a third after the move. Baker Maid currently employs from 30 to 50 area people, depending on the season. Sorensen said his employees here understand the reason for the move and have been very cooperative. Many have said they would continue to work until the actual closing.

Asked about hurricane Katrina’s impact on the new location, Sorensen said it did not seem to have been hurt too badly. That concern did not figure much into the decision to move because, when looking locally at the storm’s impact, there were nearby buildings that lost roofs while his building was not seriously damaged, he said.

“There’s exposure where ever you are.”

The New Orleans location will be about double in size of his current building, which has slightly over 20,000 square feet. He said the new building also has more cold storage, something that is minimal here.

“The building (in New Orleans) was built for food processing, which this building here, of course, was not.” The Poplarville site was originally a car dealership and a Texaco service station in the 1950s and 1960s.

He said he hopes to maintain some type of presence in the area, either by someone locally selling his products or by opening a small retail store himself.

“We think it’s a fantastic community (Poplarville), and everybody who we’ve had any dealings with here — city hall, to the county, to the power, water, everything — everybody’s been good, kind, gracious to us,” Sorensen says. “We appreciate it.”

The Rev. Anthony said, “I wish they could leave the smell of the cookies; those cookies and cakes smelled so wonderful when we went in there to tour it.”