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Why Moving Home to Laurel After College Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

Laurel is a vibrant, growing city, where small businesses and groups of regular people, who love to dream, have bonded together in the spirit of community and are dedicated to restoring Laurel to her original glory. But around five years ago, our Home Town was a lot different.

If you would’ve asked me what I wanted to be when I graduated from high school or college, I would have said, “Anything! Just don’t make me move back to Laurel.”

I yearned for the bright, crowded streets of New York, bursting with opportunity for young talent; the willow-lined paths of Charleston, full of sweet tea and social charm or any city with a Chili’s and a Super Target. “Get me out of this hometown box of torture” is probably something I’d be caught saying in the Sonic parking lot on a Friday night.

A little dramatic, you think? Absolutely.

It’s a belief that infests teenagers and college students. That if you don’t run away as fast as you can from your hometown, you’ll never leave it or be successful.

There is some truth to the stigma that small towns don’t offer many opportunities for creatives or fast-paced millennials that hold infinite information at their fingertips. Everyone has experienced or knows someone with a negative connotation of small-town life, no matter where your roots may lie. But we have the ability to change that.

In Laurel’s case, the main obstacle was showing other people how much she had to offer instead of focusing on how much she lacked. As Erin Napier says, “Laurel’s like the pretty girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty.”

I’m here to confess to the world that moving back to my home town after college was the best thing that has ever happened to me and here’s why.

1. I’ve had the chance to recreate what #iliveinlaurel means to me.

my two worlds collided today & I’ve just been smiling all day? #iliveinlaurel #thankful

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Hidden gems on the ride home ? #iliveinlaurel #HappySunday

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2. It all begins with perspective …

And finding the beauty in what it’s front of you. No matter where you are – big city or small town.

Sprang #iliveinlaurel

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When people ask me what I do, I sometimes struggle to put it into words. But today, I figured it out when I took pictures of Mae-Mae and posted them on @laurelmercantile. She is the most joyful woman I’ve ever encountered and #LMCo. personified to a T. She shares her life and love with anyone that comes through those doors each day. Truthfully, those kinds of people are hard to come by. People like Mae-Mae would never ask for an applause or a thank you but usually deserve it most. She is just pure gold and a brilliant giver for no other reason than that’s just who she is. I learned today that what I do is a privilege— I get to share the beauty of others and their goodness. I show people my home town and the people who work tirelessly to make it better. I get to show off Mae Mae, who makes me a better person just by being around her. I get to share the quiet, unnoticed stories that don’t circulate in the media and shine a light on the neighbors around me who deserves the biggest praise. My job is far beyond social media or communications— every day I get to see beauty in others that they don’t often see in themselves. Tomorrow, Mae Mae will see how many people remember her stories and the way she made them feel. I can’t wait to remind her that her goodness is valued and she is loved beyond measure. I am lucky. #iliveinlaurel

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it feels like I’m living on a movie set some days ??? #iliveinlalaland

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3. It’s affordable to live here as a young adult, which is super important.

I can live in a comfortable house and enjoy dining out with my friends on a regular basis.

on this season of New Girl

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finally, a shop with my name on it :)

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4. There are creatives and inspiration at every turn.

5. It’s not hard to build a side-hustle.

Stores across downtown offer young and experienced artists a place to showcase their work and locals are beyond supportive of the arts in Laurel.

back on my blooms. She’s for sale! ? hello.lindsaymiller@gmail.com

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Every morning is a chance to bloom again #HappyThursday ?

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6. There are a plethora of professional and personal mentors that genuinely care about your well-being and growth.

Community is a really important thing here.

WE REALLY LOVE #SCARVES #ladieswholunch #interns

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Over the past few years our small group has become such a sweet time of exploring God’s word with friends (that are more like family to us.) I love these people and feel overwhelmed by God’s incredible grace. They are the folks that challenge me to live out my faith and pray for me in the moments of need. True community. . . If you aren’t in God’s word, I encourage you to START. For years I struggled with daily reading of scripture—was always more sporadic and starting some new bible study and not completing it. But I have recently began to really dig in and be more consistent—I never felt smart enough to study the Bible. I felt like God wouldn’t speak to me like he does to preachers and missionaries and other people I look up to in the faith. But I was so wrong. He has a plan for me and wants me to know him and love him and do his will. *this was a huge realization for me. And he wants that for all of us. . . And though I still don’t feel very scholarly or that I know a lot, I know that I’m trying to focus my eyes on Jesus and do his work. And that’s exactly where I need to be.

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7. Most importantly, my hometown is open-minded.

She stands with open arms for the opportunity to grow from its people’s ideas and values.

keep Laurel kind ? #iliveinlaurel #prettycity

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My favorite piece of advice came from one of my friends, Kaypounyers Maye at the University of Mississippi days before graduation. He told me, “The best part about leaving the place you love, is being able to come back and share everything you’ve learned while you were away.”

While I had moved away from Laurel for a couple of years, learned so much about myself and felt growth like I’d never known before… Laurel did too.

Every time I came home, a new business had popped up, or a mural had been painted.
People would talk about it and become excited. Then HGTV Home Town happened, and the rest is history.

Although this didn’t start with me, I’m choosing to dive in deep now. I want to disprove the stereotype about those who come home because they couldn’t make it in the real world.

I came home because my hometown offered me the entire world and something even better – a place to grow and try new things. I’m working every day to live a life and create the reality I’ve always dreamed of in the place that raised me. I’m choosing to give back to the city and its people that have given me so much.

Don’t get me wrong, I still wish Laurel had a Super Target. Except now I know it’s not the size of the town that makes a place home or fertile with opportunity. It’s the people that help her grow strong and the life they bring back to her once they leave.

Laurel isn’t done growing and thankfully, neither am I.

Laurel Mercantile Co.

A tour of Laurel Mercantile & our favorite home town finds!

Laurel Mercantile Co. owned by Ben and Erin Napier and their four closest friends, AKA “framily,” is the tourism hot spot in Downtown Laurel.

Whether it’s the first place you stop or the high point of your trip, we know that the “Merc” is sure to be on your list of places to visit.

Join us for a video tour of their store and a few of the locals’ favorite finds! Click below to watch now and be sure to sign up for updates!

A few our our Laurel Mercantile favorites!

Follow Laurel Mercantile Co.

Visit Laurel Mercantile Co.

Heirloom wares and durable goods for home and life curated and owned by the cast of HGTV’s Home Town.

Hours:

Monday-Saturday: 10:00-6:00pm
Sunday: 12:30-3:00pm

Location

414 Front Street
Laurel, MS 39440

When to plan your trip to Laurel, Mississippi

There are so many fun things to do in our home town throughout the year, but if you aren’t a local like us – it can be hard to know when is the best time to plan your trip to visit Laurel.

We’ve collected a few of our favorite activities that are best enjoyed at specific times throughout the year. Read on to find the perfect time for your trip!

Planning a Spring trip to Laurel, MS

Springtime is quite possibly the very best time to visit Laurel. We will start to see warmer temperatures as early as February (some days even get up to 80 degrees), much sooner than most of the United States. Come thaw out with us and enjoy shopping in downtown boutiques with their doors opened wide to the breeze, and attend a variety of spring events and happenings throughout the city.

HGTV Home Town Season Premier & Finale Parties · Laurel Mercantile

FREE · HGTV HOME TOWN

The first essential tourist events are the outdoor parties held by the Home Town team for the season premiers and finales of the show. These events are open to the public and are a great opportunity to meet the folks behind the show, including Erin and Ben Napier! Join us for these uniquely-Laurel celebrations each year!

LOCAL’S TIP: Bring a chair and a big appetite! Thanks to local organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, these events feature a variety of awesome local food trucks and fare from our downtown eateries!

The Gardens of Laurel’s Historic District · 5th, 6th, 7th & Euclid Avenues

FREE · ACCESSIBLE

We love our gardens in the South, and we want to share their incredible beauty with you! Enjoy a walk under the towering oaks or simply take a drive through Laurel’s historic district to experience a variety of carefully tended gardens and flowering trees.

Visit Laurel, Mississippi for great family-friendly activities and gorgeous views!

Euclid Avenue and Park is one of the most featured areas on HGTV’s Home Town, and one of Laurel’s most darling neighborhoods.

LOCAL’S TIP: Stop by the Laurel Welcome Center at 401 Central Ave. to pick up the official “Walking Tour” brochure with step-by-step directions.

Touch A Truck · 2nd Saturday in April · Downtown Laurel

KID-FRIENDLY · SENSORY-FRIENDLY

Kids of all ages stand in awe of big, hard-working trucks and vehicles. Touch a Truck is a perfect activity to get up close and personal with all manner of tough giants. Looking for an activity for those with sensory sensitivities or children with autism? TAT features a special “quiet hour” designed to allow them to enjoy the fun, without the worry of loud horns or flashing lights.

LOCAL’S TIP: Buy your tickets early for a special discount. Click here for more info. Ticket sales go back into the community to fund restoration projects and to help make Downtown even more beautiful.

Downtown Crawfest · 3rd Saturday in April · Magnolia & Front St.’s

FAMILY-FRIENDLY · FREE ENTRY FOR KIDS UNDER 5

Have you ever experienced a southern crawfish boil? Here is your chance to get a taste of this fun experience as cooks of all experience levels go head to head to see who comes out as the official champion. Enjoy great local beverages, live music, and delicious food at this new Laurel event!

LOCAL’S TIP: This is a great opportunity to tour Downtown and visit local merchants such as Laurel Mercantile (Erin & Ben’s shop as featured on HGTV Home Town) and Lott Furniture on Front St, and the boutiques on Magnolia Street.

Day in the Park · 1st Saturday in May · Mason Park

FREE ADMISSION · KID-FRIENDLY

Every local kid grew up looking forward to that warm spring day where the whole family would load up in the car and drive down to Mason Park for a day of fun kids’ activities, local art, awesome arts & crafts vendors and great local music. Day in the Park is the perfect event for those planning an early May trip, where you and your family can truly experience Laurel like generations of local families have before.

LOCAL’S TIP: Bring a folding chair or blanket to sit in the grass under the pines and enjoy great food while listening to local artists and productions.

Visiting Laurel in the Summer

Headed down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, or the Florida beaches? Stop into Laurel for great summer fun and amazing shopping. If there’s anything we know in South Mississippi, it’s how to do summer right!

Kids’ Activities & Playgrounds

KID-FRIENDLY

Let the littles stretch their legs and get out their wiggles with a stop in a Laurel. Click here for a full list of kids’ activities and playgrounds in Laurel, many within easy walking distance of downtown!

Fun in the park

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LOCAL’S TIP: Mason Park has the best shade cover for warmer summer days, and the Laurel Sportsplex splash pad is easily accessible and free for a truly cooling experience.

Blues Bash · June · Lauren Rogers Museum of Art

LOCAL MUSIC · FAMILY-FRIENDLY

No trip to Mississippi is complete without experiencing the uniquely-southern sound of the blues. This annual event is a showcase of the best blues musicians Mississippi has to offer and a celebration of our long history of supporting America’s music.

LOCAL’S TIP: Click here to purchase tickets online before your trip.

4th of July Fireworks Shows · July · Downtown Laurel

FREE · FAMILY-FRIENDLY

The 4th of July Fireworks have long been a childhood staple in Laurel. Held each year at both the Sawmill Square Mall, and more recently, Jones Family Medicine Clinic – both shows are free and open to the general public.

Happy 4th of July from all of us in #downtownlaurel! // Photo by Andrea Milham. ??

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LOCAL’S TIP: Watch the Sawmill Square show from Pinehurst Park in Downtown Laurel for a truly local experience, complete with refreshments!

Should you visit Laurel in the Fall?

After a long summer, Laurelites always welcome the cooler temperatures of the Fall. You’ll see lots of locals out and about, walking through the historic district, shopping in downtown shops, exploring their hometown and looking forward to the fun of festival season! Join us for these great fall events in Laurel!

The Loblolly Festival · 1st Saturday of October · Downtown Laurel

FREE · FAMILY-FRIENDLY

The Loblolly Festival is an absolute must for any trip to Laurel in the fall. Laurel’s biggest festival celebrates our history as a lumber town, complete with our beloved mascot – The Loblolly Lumberjack – played by the star of Home Town himself, Big Ben Napier! Make a special trip for this one, folks!

Are you a #loblollylover? We are!

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LOCAL’S TIP: Park in the exterior parking lots around downtown, and be sure to leave some room in your car – you’re sure to leave with some great finds!

Deason Home Ghost Tours · Ellisville

HISTORY

The Deason Home holds secrets of one of the most interesting parts of Jones County’s history. Visit our neighboring town of Ellisville for this fun historical experience, and you might just meet a ghost while you explore our counties’ storied past.

The Deason Home is the oldest home in Jones County (1845). On October 5, 1863,, Confederate Major Amos McLemore had been sent to the area to round up deserters and had been using the house as his headquarters. Newt Knight charged the house that night, shooting and killing McLemore. Blood still stains the floors of this home and it is considered one of the most haunted houses in the state. #tourism #southernliving #oldstuff #downtown #deasonhome #jonescounty #ellisvillems #freestateofjones #hauntedhouse #hauntedplace #haunted #newtknight #civilwar #amosmclemore #travel ##traveller #travelgram #travelwriter #travelblogger #travelphotography #ghosts #ghoststories #explore #explorethesouth #exploremississippi

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LOCAL’S TIP: Click here to learn more about the story behind The Deason Home, and why our home county is called the “Free State of Jones.”

The South Mississippi Fair · HWY 11

FAMILY-FRIENDLY · ARTS & CRAFTS

Laurel’s historic fairgrounds are never put to better use than when the fair comes to town! Folks travel from all over Mississippi to attend the 2nd largest fair in the state each fall. Enjoy the fun of the rides (check for unlimited armband nights for the best value), incredible local and traveling fair food, arts & crafts, livestock shows and live music!

LOCAL’S TIP: Visit during lunch hours for that delicious and addictive fair food, without an admission fee or the nighttime crowds.

Even winter is a great time to visit Laurel!

Have you ever experienced the holiday season in the south? You’re truly in for a treat if you are here for some of our most cherished annual events!

Kiwanis Pancake Day · 1st Saturday of December · YWCO & 1st Baptist

FAMILY-FRIENDLY · GREAT FOOD

Get ready for one of the quintessential local experiences! Pancake Day is a sign and symbol of what it is like to say #iliveinlaurel, as locals of all walks of life gather together for a meal before or after the annual Christmas Parade. Locals and visitors alike will line the sidewalks in anticipation of a delicious meal of pancakes with butter and syrup served with sausage and cooked up just right.

LOCAL’S TIP: Due to its popularity, the event is now held at two separate locations to accommodate the crowds. Check out the YWCO on Oak Street in downtown, or First Baptist Church on 6th Ave.

Sertoma Christmas Parade · 1st Saturday of December · Downtown Laurel

FAMILY-FRIENDLY · FREE

Did you know Laurel hosts the longest Christmas parade in the state of Mississippi? Join us the first Saturday in December for this morning parade that loops around the Sawmill Square Mall and through Downtown Laurel. You might even spy a jolly, white-bearded fellow with treats for the littles.

Pancakes. Parade. Warm fuzzy feelings all around.

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LOCAL’S TIP: Come to downtown early to claim a spot, visit the shops and grab a hot coffee at Lee’s Coffee & Tea!

Christmas at the Village · Landrum’s · HWY 15 S

FAMILY-FRIENDLY · HISTORY

Landrum’s Homestead and Village, or “Landrum’s Country” to the locals, is a great attraction any time of the year, but it is most perfect during the holidays. Take a walk through a recreation of a historic southern town, complete with cabins, blacksmith demonstrations, and the most quaint little chapel all decorated for Christmas. This is an absolute must-visit for holiday tourists!

LOCAL’S TIP: Admission is $10 and walk-ins are welcome year-round.

Want to find out about more local Laurel events and happenings? Sign up for updates and follow us on Instagram for daily posts about our home town.

Our Downtown Laurel merchants are rolling out the welcome mat for you with beautiful decor, charming shops and big smiles. Stop by and say hey y'all!

Why #iliveinlaurel: A Local’s Perspective

If you spend any amount of time in Laurel, you’ll quickly see the allure of our affectionally called, “City Beautiful”. There are many reasons why #iliveinlaurel, and hopefully–I can convince you to do the same.

Laurel’s History & Beauty

If you browse the #iliveinlaurel tag on Instagram, you’ll find many photos of our parks, beautiful sunsets and sunrises, blooming gardens, porch gatherings, and walks through the Historic District.

Because we have such rich history built by innovators, artisans, and entrepreneurs, our buildings and homes are awe-inspiring to look at. (And live in!)

I’m lucky enough to live in the Historic District in a very old home with tall ceilings and windows, a huge wrap-around porch, and plenty to look at right outside my door. And when I’m wanting to get out, everything is in walking distance. I’ve got a tennis court across the street, and can walk to work and Downtown in less than 10 minutes!

  • Historic Buildings

    The Arabian, now Laurel Little Theatre is celebrating their 57th season this year. Their building is one of my favorites. I recommend you try to catch them on a good day to go look inside!

  • Historic District

    Laurel’s historic district is incredibly beautiful. Long walks in any season are to be cherished. You might even see some homes you recognize!

  • Laurel in Bloom

    Laurel’s Springtime is the best for flower finds! We’ve got several types of azaleas, Japanese magnolias, and plenty more to enjoy.

Food & Fun

One of the best parts of Laurel is the culture. Our city is a central hub for creatives, musicians, artists, and foodies of all kinds.

We have great events like Open Mic Night at Lee’s Coffee & Tea, weekends at Slowboat Brewing Co., and festivals sponsored by Laurel Main Street.

And one thing you can’t miss in Laurel is the food. 

We’ve got authentic Italian, home-style cooking, a steakhouse, a coffee shop, and more!

Need refreshing after a long walk through Downtown? Stop at one of our local restaurants or coffee shops for delicious treats!

Need refreshing after a long walk through Downtown? Stop at one of our local restaurants or coffee shops for delicious treats!

Downtown Laurel during Loblolly Festival in the Fall. We have several great festivals worth getting Downtown for!

A Tight-Knit Community Who Are Proud to Say: #iliveinlaurel

Trust me when I say that I’m not the only one who loves living in Laurel! One of my absolute favorite things about my city are my friends and neighbors.

The people who live here are huge cheerleaders of each other and for our Downtown. We collaborate, we meet for lunch, and we know everyone by name.

And most of all: we are proud to say #iliveinlaurel.

Sprang #iliveinlaurel

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Sweet, untouched wedding day bliss ✨

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Oh Lucy, your momma sure does love you. #iliveinlaurel

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These blue skies + Laurel ???

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Laurel, you sure are pretty. #iliveinlaurel #notreallybutkinda

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I hope that after reading this, you’ll consider becoming a Laurelite or at the least just paying us a visit! There’s just too much here to enjoy to keep it all to ourselves.

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