In Laurel and Jones County, Mississippi, a love for our hometown is a through line for many of our current and former residents. Rebekah Staples is no exception. Friend to Erin Napier, Rebekah Staples is a Laurel native who has a deep appreciation for Jones County. We’re chatting about her episode of HGTV’s Home Town (Season 6, Episode 5), about coming back to the town that shaped her, and where to eat, shop, and play in our hometown.
Photo courtesy Laurel Mercantile Co.
Visit Laurel & Jones County: Laurel has gained a reputation for being the best small town in the US. Part of this is due to the people here. What people have made a difference in your experience?
Rebekah Staples: Oh gosh, the people here are simply the best. Even within the state of Mississippi, which is known for having friendly residents, I think Jones County natives are among the most welcoming. I would describe our residents as having a healthy mixture of hospitality, good-nature, strong independence, and a touch of contrarianism. (We are the Free State of Jones, after all!) My dad is the youngest of fourteen children, so the people that have most impacted my life are my family members (Mom – Kay, Dad – Sam, brother – Jonathan, sister-in-law – Hope, niece – Sydney, nephew – Jon Caleb, aunts, uncles, dozens of cousins, etc.). I often joke with political friends that my large family constitutes at least one-quarter of the Jones County electorate. Beyond my family, I love the can-do spirit of Laurel business owners, the accessibility and genuine care of our local elected leaders, the thriving arts and music community members who bring unique activities to the area (from trivia night to live music to arts festivals), and the dedication of Laurel Main Street staff and volunteers to ensure our city is fun for both visitors and residents alike.
Visit Laurel & Jones County: It’s that sort of people who prove that Laurel is a place where hospitality shines. What does hospitality mean to you?
Rebekah Staples: I have a long history with hospitality, from growing up in The Hospitality State to being crowned the state’s “Miss Hospitality” years ago (and, yes, I was in fact legally bound to be hospitable to others for a whole year!). Hospitality is more than a nickname for Mississippi; it’s a way of life. My non-southern friends are surprised when I wave at passersby and always ask, “do you know that person?” Often, my response is “no,” and yet it feels only natural to wave at the stranger driving down 16th Avenue or walking down Oak Street. That’s what Mississippi hospitality means to me – treating others like friends, whether or not an actual relationship exists.
VLJC: It seems like your love for the state is obvious, so there’s no surprise you live here. But why have you chosen Laurel specifically to be home?
RS: As many folks know, I split time between Laurel, my hometown, and Jackson, our state capital. About four years ago, I had the opportunity to purchase a Laurel homestead with roughly 16 acres (that also happened to be an eight-minute drive from my parents’ house) and jumped at the chance to purchase Jones County real estate. Spending much of my recent time in Laurel has been a treat: getting to attend special events with my niece and nephew, calling my brother to help me clear trails in the woods, hanging out with my lovely sister-in-law, and driving my parents crazy as I search for food at their house are experiences I had missed out on by not living locally. I’m loving every minute of it.
VLJC: Let’s get down to sharing your love for Laurel with others. Time for some lightning round questions….
VLJC: What’s your favorite shopping spot in Jones County?
RS: This is such a tough question. I love all things downtown, of course, with particular affection for Merle Norman. The ladies in that shop are so friendly, knowledgeable, and fashionable – what more could I ask for from a make up shop? Also, their pink exterior and highly decorated storefront is just adorable.
VLJC: What is your favorite meal in Jones County?
RS: There are so many places I love to eat in this county, so it mostly depends on my mood. I very frequently dine on the edamame at Sake Café and enjoy the brunch at 320 Fifth Street. A personal favorite dining spot is David’s Grocery, located outside the city limits in the Myrick community. David’s is off-the-beaten-path but worth the drive; I recommend their large salad with shrimp (and ranch dressing, of course) along with a sweet potato side.
VLJC: Where is your favorite outdoors spot?
RS: My favorite outdoor dining spots are 320 Fifth Street (they have a great courtyard out back) or Bird Dog Café on Short 7th, which is a fun place to take furry friends.
In terms of general outdoor activities, I love a few different spots: Mason Park on 7th Avenue (which is shaded and also has a dog park); Gardiner Park on the corner of North 4th Avenue and West 7th Street (which has a walking track, a play area for kids, picnic tables, and a large field for recreational activities); and Bogue Homa Lake (an 882-acre lake that’s great for fishing, picnics, and boating and/or other water activities).
VLJC: Tell us about a place you like to take out of town guests.
RS: Naturally, I enjoy inviting out-of-towners to my Laurel property, where we can fish at the pond (which is stocked with bass, catfish, bream, and white perch); practice shooting targets in the woods; view wildlife (so far I’ve spotted deer, geese, ducks, raccoons, and even a single turkey in the yard); and enjoy the new deck and screened-in porch. Within the city limits, I love taking my friends to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, PDI / Phillip’s Drive-In for milkshakes, Lee’s or Bird Dog Café for coffee, and Pearl’s for fried chicken. My friends also enjoy visiting the historic district to see Home Town houses – and a trip to Laurel wouldn’t be complete without a stopover at Scotsman General Store and the Laurel Mercantile.
VLJC: What’s your favorite souvenir to recommend or gift?
RS: I really love the items at The Laurel Shop in downtown. They’ve got mugs, t-shirts, the works. I also love the locally-made pottery available at Southern Antiques (also in downtown Laurel).
VLJC: Ok lastly, let’s talk off-the-beaten-path in Jones County – what’s your favorite secret spot?
RS: I think the Carpenter Bros. Emporium of Wonderful Whatnots in Ellisville is the coolest (and probably most underrated/unknown) shop around the county. They’ve got so many interesting “whatnots” – vintage antiques, art, handmade items, furniture, clothes, and more. I’d highly recommend checking out this shop, as one visit here is like stepping back in time.
For more information on Rebekah’s episode of Home Town, check out Laurel Mercantile’s blog with stunning photos, plus be sure to watch Season 6, Episode 5, Grand Millennial on HGTV or Discovery+.