We have all seen Laurel, Mississippi as documented through the hit HGTV show, Hometown. In Hometown, locals Erin and Ben Napier help a local or someone moving to town find a home and renovate it to meet their lifestyle.
While on vacation a couple of months back our plans changed due to a gas shortage and a the I-40 bridge in Memphis being closed. So, we switched destinations and got to see Laurel for ourselves. I am so glad we did!
Laurel is really a cute town. Like my hometown, Sulphur Springs, it has a population of about 18,000 (Sulphur Springs is around 15,000). Per the internet, Laurel is almost 17 square miles whereas Sulphur Springs is 21 square miles (everything is bigger in Texas!).
For those not familiar with Laurel, Hometown, and the Napiers, here is a brief recap: The Napiers have invested their time and money in their town. They have downtown commercial property as well as a cute craftsman style home in the downtown area. Through Erin’s blog (Make Something Good Today) and business adventure (custom paper goods such as wedding stationary, etc.), as well as a good writing style, Erin and Ben’s downtown apartment was featured in some various online and print magazines. Once they purchased their home, more publications noticed the DIY projects they undertook. And then HGTV noticed, and a show was born. Their likeability is high. Ben was a youth pastor at a local church and later went fulltime (outside of shooting their TV show) into his hobby as a woodworker.
Thirty minutes outside of Laurel, we decide to try for a vacation rental house. There was a house available for one night, in the downtown that had been featured on the show. It was meant to be. For those who regularly watch Hometown, it was the house that the Canadian couple purchased with plans to retire there. Anyway, the lovely lady who manages the rental of the property was quick to respond and let us have the rental for the night. More on the house later.
Once in the house, we headed for dinner. A quick internet search and drive to downtown showed not much to be open in the evening, mid-week. We did get lucky to find the Bird Dog Café. Its building was also renovated during an episode of Hometown. There were three other couples eating in the dining room of the café. All three (four including us) were visiting due to learning about Laurel through Hometown. But more importantly, the food was amazing. We had the fish special, and it was delicious as was our coffees to go. The staff were all welcoming and gracious!
As for the building, it looked like what I remembered from seeing the episode that the two brothers decided to use that building for their restaurant.
Back at our rental for the night, we decided to watch the episode that featured the house we were staying in. Mike had never seen it, and I couldn’t remember much about the reno. It was cool to sit on the living room couch and see that room’s challenges and progress. In the show, believe the renovations focused on the kitchen, dining room, living room, bathroom, front porch, and master bedroom. The house has two additional bedrooms, a back porch, and a garage at the back of the property.
There in the master bedroom was the lamp Erin and her friend, Malory, made, as well as the lamp made from the original front porch light. We slept on the bed that Ben built in his shop. The little watercolor painting that Erin creates each episode that shows what the house could look like if updated was hanging proudly in the dining room.
The reality of this type of show is that the mix of budgets, time, airtime, and homeowners’ choices come together to fashion the renovation. We noticed that the front room (maybe it was originally a study or small bedroom), which now seems to be styled as a game room for young people featuring a daybed, had a significant leak in the ceiling. Maybe that was new since the show aired or maybe it wasn’t addressed since the factors above prevented it. Either way, it needs to be seen about.
We drove around the downtown area of Laurel a lot, ogling the stately old homes and charming cottages. Some were familiar from episodes I had seen, but some were just lovely, well-preserved homes.
Of course, the Napier house was easy to recognize due to familiarity with the surroundings and the front façade. The living room window was open which showed the TV was on; again, a familiar scene if you were a blog reader. What we don’t see on TV (at least I never have) is the security detail that now provides, presumably, around the clock protection. There were even a couple of cars parked in the street in front of the house to discourage noisy visitors from taking up a lookout post.
When we realized the guy on the phone walking on the sidewalk was security and that the cars were there for privacy, the reality of being nationally known public figures struck Mike and me at the same time. Although there are assumedly lots of perks to their stardom, life in a fishbowl must not be one.
Later, we parked and walked the downtown streets. Laurel has the curse or blessing of having a exceptionally large downtown. When trying to revitalize a downtown area, big is not always better. Once revitalized, big is good.
In the case of Sulphur Springs, our true downtown is really a square with a couple of blocks of parallel streets that are full of businesses. Large enough to provide interest, but not too large to tackle a revitalization.
We saw Pearl’s Diner (the line had already formed before they opened), Guild and Gentry (Mike purchased a few things), the entry to the apartment where the Napier’s first lived when married, Shug’s, the furniture store, Laurel Mercantile, and all the other hot spots featured prominently in the show.
While standing outside Pearl’s Diner, Mike noticed a police car stopped at the corner. He drew my attention to the scene. In my mind, I thought the police officer was involved with a young couple with a baby stroller on the corner; that is the scene I watched. Mike on the other hand watched the black SUV behind the police officer. He saw Ben driving and Erin come from a store or the museum to jump in the front passenger’ side. Mike, me, and a lady who was in line at Pearl’s seemed to be the only folks who noticed this situation. She acted fast enough to snap a few photos.
To me, it seemed like overkill to have a police escort (the average age of the tourists seemed to be 65 or 70), however, it is probably most prudent to plan for the worst.
We had lunch at Café La Fleur, which was bustling. There was a small line to get in, but the wait was brief. The food was good. It was easy to pick out the locals from the tourists. The locals all seemed to know each other or had large table of folks gathered. The tourists were mostly elderly couples or two ladies on a trip.
We also visited Ben’s workshop, Scotsman General Store and Woodshop. I purchased some seed packets and cast-iron skillet cleaner and protector.
As the day wore on, the crowds got larger. The harsh reality of a popular TV show based around a town is that the town changes forever. Good or bad, property values have likely gone up. Traffic has increased. More outside dollars are being spent in Laurel, but the need for upkeep on roads and public areas has also increased.
We needed to get to our next destination, Natchez. We hit the road having enjoyed this cute little town and some of what it had to offer.
I will leave you with a few more photos from our brief stay.