The Bay Town Inn
– story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Nikki Moon, owner of the Bay Town Inn, finally has a little time to smell the roses. And there are plenty for her to smell. The new Inn will be celebrating its third birthday this summer. Regular guests return by the droves and more new ones discover it every day. The Inn and Old Town Bay St. Louis both are known for offering great dining and shopping experiences, natural beauty, and exceptional hospitality.
Over the past three years, Nikki’s Bay Town Inn has risen to star status on the Mississippi Coast, becoming the darling of travel writers. It’s easy to see why. The Inn offers the personal attention that one receives in a bed and breakfast, while also catering to guests who prefer more privacy.
Walkability rules here: the Inn is on the route of a popular historic walking and biking tour. Ten owner-operated eateries are located within three blocks. Ditto for dozens of antique shops and boutiques. A fabulous public pier and harbor are directly across the street. Watching the sunrise over the floating neighborhood of seventy-odd boats — with the graceful Bay Bridge in the background — gets anyone’s day off on the right foot.
In addition to the couples staying for rejuvenation and a weekend of fun in the sun, two new types of guests have discovered the Inn. Business travelers are flocking there for workweek stays, and wedding parties are booking “takeover” weekends.
Nikki says that her corporate guests in many cases are NASA, NOAA, or Navy personnel, in the area working at Stennis Space Center. Rather than stay at a chain hotel in Louisiana, they opt for the Bay Town Inn experience — especially since the Inn honors government per diem.
“They like the Inn because they have more space than in just a room,” says Nikki, referring to her ten guest suites. The suites include a separate living/kitchenette area, a large bathroom and a separate bedroom. “If they want to meet with one of their colleagues, there’s work space in the suite, or they can discuss projects by the pool.
“They also like the fact that after a long day, they can have peace and quiet. They don’t have to get into their cars again. They can just walk to dinner.”
Wedding parties are attracted for many of the same reasons, especially since two popular reception venues are nearby. Instead of booking just a smattering of rooms to wedding parties, Nikki’s unique approach is to offer only the entire place. For instance, for one recent wedding, the groom’s family booked the entire Inn for the weekend. They set up their own refreshment station in the courtyard and were able to swim until midnight without worry of disturbing other guests. Currently, the Inn hosts about five weddings a year.
Most of the guests — whether matrimonial, corporate or vacation — have one thing in common: a friend referred them.
“The majority of our business is word of mouth,” says Nikki. “That’s great, because that means we’re providing consistent service and meeting their needs. That’s also a tribute to Bay St. Louis. There are more restaurants open now on Monday night and some shops are open seven days a week too. That’s something they can’t get in other towns.
“Bay St. Louis may be known as ‘Mayberry by the Sea,’ but it’s a hip Mayberry. While it’s calm and low key, it’s also artsy and has lots of live music.”
One reason for Nikki’s lightning fast success is her staff. Several key people have been with her since the opening and the team works with seamless efficiency. This allows her more flexibility now than she’s ever had in her entire working life. A seasoned tourism professional, in 2003 Nikki purchased the original historic Bay Town Inn. She was just settling in as owner of the bed and breakfast when Hurricane Katrina tore through the coast.
After the storm, she was the owner of a bare lot, feeling fortunate to have escaped with her life.
Until the Bay’s infrastructure could be put back together — a process that took several years — Nikki returned to New Orleans and picked up her job as vice president of convention sales for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. She also married John Moon, who found the dream of running an inn in Bay St. Louis as alluring as she did.
Construction on the new inn began in October 2012 and it was completed in September 2013. Unfortunately, the newlyweds never got to celebrate its opening together. John Moon had passed away from melanoma five months before.
Loss of a home, a business, and a soulmate in a relatively short period might have permanently clouded the lives of most people, but Nikki’s midwestern determination has served her well. Chin up, keep going, stay positive. Her bright smile that greets every guest is not one of artifice. She’s genuinely delighted to see them and they can sense it. It’s one of the reasons they keep returning.
Nikki has found that giving back to her community keeps that spirit bright. Now that the hotel’s routine has become second nature, she has the flexibility to volunteer for favorite projects. Currently, she’s serving on the board of the Hancock Chamber, the Old Town Merchants Association, the Hancock Library Foundation, the Mystic Krewe of Seahorse (a Mardi Gras organization with an economic development mission) and the advisory board of the Gulf Coast Visitors Bureau. One of her favorite charities is Brenda’s House, a safe home for children who are in transition.
She’s also serving her second term as president of the Hancock County Tourism Development Board, bringing to the table her years of expertise in the industry.
Two recent projects she’s thrown energy behind involve transportation. A free Old Town trolley service that was being discontinued because of lack of funding has found a new sponsor, the Silver Slipper Casino. The new service began at the end of May and will run through Old Town and Waveland as it makes a loop back and forth to Bayou Cadet.
Another pet project has been working with the Southern Rail Commission to encourage the return of Amtrak train service, which is hopefully slated to begin within the next two years. She sees Bay St. Louis as the gateway to Mississippi, poised to welcome visitors. Nikki also believes the train service will encourage the historic model of full and part-time residents of the Bay being able to commute to New Orleans for work.
Her hopes for the community’s future are shared with those of her inn: moving forward with fresh ideas, based on the time-honored traditions of the past. She sees a textured weave, where businesses and residents work toward a vital economy and an exceptional quality of life.
“I’ve learned a great deal in the past three years,” Nikki says. “I’m more local-centric than ever now. I buy local art for the rooms, flowers from the local florist, plants from local nurseries. We want to support local businesses as much as we can. You know, we’re all in this together.”