Business

Martin Miazza a Coast tradition for 50 years

Kennedy Miazza White poses with a cutout of her parents, Dot and Martin Miazza, at Martin Miazza Gifts in Gulfport on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. The couple founded the store 50 years ago and White carries on their traditions and adds her own style.
Kennedy Miazza White poses with a cutout of her parents, Dot and Martin Miazza, at Martin Miazza Gifts in Gulfport on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016. The couple founded the store 50 years ago and White carries on their traditions and adds her own style. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

Fifty years ago, miniskirts were the fashion and gasoline was 32 cents a gallon when Martin and Dot Miazza opened Martin Miazza Gifts at 1208 Pass Road.

The official opening was in June 1966 and their daughter, Kennedy Miazza White, said she’s been celebrating the company’s golden anniversary with Third Thursday events each month. The last of these special events will be Thursday.

Martin Miazza Gifts owner Kennedy White explains how to pronounce the family’s name.

White describes Martin Miazza Gifts as “a specialty store that has a really wide variety of gift ideas.”

People tend to think everything in the store is expensive, she said, but she has great gifts for $15 and up, Southern foods, jewelry and her own design of Christmas ornaments and Mardi Gras bracelets.

“We really like to have exclusives and things we design that are unique to us,” she said.

Her father started designing ornaments with a Biloxi Lighthouse and the new collection of ornaments she now designs are the 29th edition and from eight Southern states.

“This year, they are all snowflakes,” she said. “No two snowflakes are alike and there’s no other store like Martin Miazza.”

Each ornament is dated and she said, “Once they’re gone, they’re gone. They are truly limited editions.”

Martin Miazza Gifts owner Kennedy White tells about the origins of the store’s line of Christmas ornaments.

White also designs Mardi Gras bracelets anda new edition is coming out in January.

The pewter cuff bracelets adjust for size.

“It’s a true Mississippi bracelet,” White said.

The store actually got its beginnings when her parents, now deceased, lived in Paris for a year while her father studied art at Sorbonne University on the GI Bill. It was there they decided to work for themselves and come back to South Mississippi.

White’s grandfather, a contractor, found an old house on Pass Road for sale and suggested they tear it down and rebuild. Instead, they fixed it up and have added on over the years.

Even before they opened, Walter Davis, a sales representative from Dallas, came by looking for a dealer for Baccarat crystal.

The company wanted a retail presence in every state, “and they did not have a store in Mississippi,” White said.

After an initial $500 order with Baccarat, “we have had it since 1966,” she said. “It is one of my favorite lines.”

For nearly as long, the store has carried Mississippi-made McCarty pottery. White said her parents met the McCartys in the Delta. Although the Miazzas had spent their money on a startup and couldn’t place an order, the couples became friends.

The first call the Miazzas got after Hurricane Camille hit Gulfport in 1969 was from Lee McCarthy, offering to give them $500 of pottery to help get them back on their feet.

The Miazzas said they had no damage from the storm, and instead drove up to buy $500 worth of pottery in thanks for the generous offer.

Both the Miazzas and the McCartys are second-generation businesses but still, White said, “They don’t sell to anyone else on the Coast.”

In 1991, White moved from New York to take over daily operation of the family business.

“I was extremely fortunate to have such fantastic parents,” she said. “I really learned the ins and outs from them.”

Martin Miazza Gifts owner Kennedy White tells her tale about her father’s approach to items that don’t sell at their Gulfport gift store.

The family has faced challenges over the 50 years — a fire in 1982 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that blew open the front doors and dropped trees on the roof in two places. Brent Warr, mayor of Gulfport at that time, stopped and secured the door to the shop, White said.

The shop creates distinctive advertisements and social media posts that feature Roxy, White’s dog. White employs 14 women and has kept up with the times but also held with tradition.

Martin Miazza Gifts owner Kennedy White tells about their dog, Roxy, who is featured on their Facebook page with products available at the Gulfport store. Roxy has become a celebrity in her own right.

Bridal registry continues to be an important part of the business. In other areas of the country, registry for china has declined, but not in Mississippi, where people love to entertain formally, White said.

“They want to have things like their grandmother had,” she said of Coast brides.

She enjoys helping them mix new pieces with those they still have from their grandmother.

“At this point, we display over 250 patterns,” she said, and a table is set so friends and family can admire each registered bride’s china, crystal and silver pattern.

Dona Haynes of Gulfport says she frequently shops at Martin Miazza Gifts.

“Kennedy is such a wonderful person. She has quality merchandise and is very helpful in choosing gifts,” she said.

The store offers services that aren’t found at many shops today, such as personal shopping, free gift wrapping and delivery in some areas.

Martin Miazza Gifts also is decorated for Christmas as stores used to be, and has heirloom pieces such as the Holy Land Nativity sets crafted by people who grew up in Bethlehem.

“My parents always felt they did not want to sell anything they didn’t really like,” White said.

She has filled the store with simple pleasures and elegant gifts, just as her parents did.

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