Biloxi’s first ‘shopping mall’

By Jane Shambra

The 1960s was an epic decade for the Coast. With a new annexation in place, the City of Biloxi’s westernmost boundary expanded from Rodenberg Avenue to DeBuys Road. Around that same time, Edgewater Mall (aka Edgewater Plaza) was completed on Beach Boulevard, offering air-conditioned and rain-resistant shopping.

But where did Biloxians shop before the mall days? Can you imagine Biloxi’s downtown on Howard Avenue as the city’s mecca of shopping? Looking back in time, city directories and images prove that this previous “outdoor mall” offered the best of everything.

In the span of a few blocks, Howard Avenue was the place to shop. You could find doctors, dentists, lawyers, drug stores, shoe repair shops, banking options, newsstands, jewelers, photographers, barbers, tobacco shops, ice cream counters, and, yes, even a bar or two. There was a J.C. Penney, Kress, Woolworth, and Auto-Lec to serve everyone’s needs. Who could ask for anything more? How about grocery shopping?  In 1952, the Howard Avenue H.G. Hill grocery store advertised bread at 27 cents a loaf and a pound of bacon for 49 cents! Those were the days!

Parking lots were not needed then. Automobiles could easily find a place along the roadway in front of businesses.  And photographs of downtown parades prove that the trolley car travelled down the middle of Howard Avenue, offering an alternative method of transportation. There was even a hotel, Hotel Avelez, right along the way, situated where the Merit Health hospital is today. And when shops were closed for parade days, Howard Avenue transformed into a giant meeting place for family and friends.

And what about theaters? The older Dukate Theater was noted for its operatic performances. The more-recent movie theaters (Saenger and Avenue) provided the latest movie options for date night.

Pre-911 info: Still wondering where Grandma shopped for her fancy white gloves and hat for Sunday church services back in the day? During the late 1980s, the advent of the emergency 911 calling system meant re-numbering and in some cases renaming of Biloxi streets. Even though Grandma’s old tattered price tags and receipts she left in the attic show West Howard Avenue, that may not be the case today. Visit the Local History and Genealogy Department at the Biloxi Public Library to find the answer.