Laura Bolton, A Woman with Vision

RueViuex Noc2012 003Southern ladies often have charm, grace and grit but none more so than Mississippi coast native Laura Bolton. A hard working business woman with an uncanny head for figures, Laura Bolton is one of the driving forces behind preserving Biloxi’s downtown district. A graduate of Ole Miss, Laura holds a degree in Business and Marketing. As a board member of Main Street Biloxi she brings her financial expertise and renovation prowess into the group that focuses on revitalization, rebuilding, promoting and preserving historic Biloxi.
The offices for Main Street Biloxi are located on Howard Avenue in a centuries old building that the group renovated after Hurricane Katrina. “It was just sitting there vacant and we didn’t want it to be demolished. So, we had it picked up, moved across the street and now it’s undeniably one of the most beautiful old Victorian homes in town,” Bolton said.
We met with Mrs. Bolton at one of her most impressive projects to date; Gallery 782 on Water Street behind Mary Mahoney’s Old French House. She gave us an up-close glimpse of how this small, historic home became a beacon of hope for the future of Biloxi.
Opened on Valentine’s Day in 2009 as an artist’s co-op, Gallery 782 is a non-profit business with 48 artists in residence. “We wanted a place for local artists to call home. With the help of Kay Miller, Main Street Biloxi and a small group of local artist and business women who liked the vision of a locals only gallery, we were able to renovate The Old Spanish House on Water Street and turn it into a welcoming and unique gallery with old-time flare. The first year, we did okay but then we hung out some big banners on the front of the building and things really started to get rolling! The tourists began to spot us more easily the second year and our sales shot up to $25,000. We saw tremendous growth and the third year doubled those sales! ” Bolton said. Since Gallery 782 is a non-profit business, the money that each artist gets for their work is 100% theirs to keep!
Those figures are staggering considering that most of the works offered are at a very affordable price range with many under $100. Pottery, paintings, jewelry, woodwork and sculptures cover the walls and tables found throughout the two-story house. The amazingly reasonable prices make it easy to understand why Gallery 782 is one of the hottest places to shop on the coast and why it is celebrating its 4th anniversary in style.
Artists at the gallery must be placed on a waiting list and go through a juried process before being accepted into the fold. The most important requirement is that the applicant be a resident of the lower 3 counties in Mississippi or have a strong tie to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Their art is juried by a committee of artist members of Gallery 782. The decision is then made as to whether or not the art they offer is a good fit for the galleries needs.
Deborah Holstein, President of the Board of Directors of Gallery 782 is a local interior designer that works quite closely with Mrs. Bolton on various projects in Biloxi. Together, the two business women along with the board of directors of Gallery 782 have brought educational programs, lecture series, a children’s summer camp and various events to the gallery. Art shows are held at least once a month featuring artists in the co-op. You can keep up with happenings on Facebook or by visiting http://www.gallery782.org.
When we asked Laura to discuss her other business ventures she readily opened up about her work, family and the wonderfully supportive group of women that she has surrounded herself with. “Rue Vieux LLC., is something I am so proud to be a part of. We are a team of 25 local business women who buy Biloxi properties, renovate them and then rent them out to restaurants and retail owners,” Bolton said.
“I began as President in 2011 of Rue Vieux and worked hard with a core group of women to pull all the legal paperwork together. Close friend and colleague, Debbie Collins worked as the Rue Vieux Treasurer and Contractor. We worked so well together and had the same vision that we switched places and Debbie Collins is now President of Rue Vieux LLC and I am the Treasurer and Financial Partner of the LLC,” Bolton said
The properties next to Gallery 782 are also a part of Bolton’s holdings with her partners. Just two doors down, you will find Catie Daniel and Carmen Lugo painting away at Strange Bird Studio. The two young ladies are making quite a stir with their tiny studio that they rent. They laugh with pure joy and talk to clients as they create colorful works in and outside the space. On sunny days they may venture outdoors to be closer to nature as their inner feelings erupt onto the canvas.
In the same building as Strange Bird Studio, Bolton and Rue Vieux LLC rents out apartments and sees potential in every historic brick and tree surrounding the lush landscape. “Over here is where some friends opened a great place called Le Café Beignet. It’s so different and shabby chic that I just love it!” Bolton said. “And down this little alley we want to clean all this brick, landscape the whole area and maybe put in a bench or two under the oak trees.”
Yes, Laura Bolton and Rue Vieux have a vision for Biloxi that is being realized one small building at a time.
The next project to come to fruition is the old American Legion House renovation on Lameuse Street in Biloxi. Laura, her husband, Walter “Buzzy” Bolton and good friends, Arlene and Tom Wall, saw such potential that they could not pass up the project. The work is underway to turn this icon of coast history into a beautiful, updated site with ornate balconies and touches of old Biloxi flavor. The building will have 2,700 ft. of retail space downstairs and 3,800 ft. upstairs that has already been leased for a restaurant/bar that hopes to open by the end of July 2013.
With all of her many projects going on to preserve, promote and revitalize Biloxi’s downtown area you’d think Laura Bolton would have little time for anything else. Nothing could be further from the truth! Laura loves to slip away with her architect husband to Oxford, Mississippi or Destin, Florida for a little relaxation. One of her favorite places to be is on Horn Island basking in the glorious sunshine. Laura has 3 grown children and has just welcomed her first grandchild, a girl, into the family. We wish Laura, her family, Rue Vieux, Main Street Biloxi and all those involved in preserving the heritage of Biloxi a very heartfelt thank you.

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