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She Is… A Sister: How New Orleans-born sisters launched their Bay St. Louis dream store and community hub

March 29, 2024
Amanda McElfresh, The Advocate
Amanda McElfresh, The Advocate

When the Covid-19 pandemic brought many businesses and events to a halt four years ago, it ended up being the perfect time for a reset for sisters Wendy DeBen and Theresa Lacy.

The two had always felt like Bay St. Louis, Miss. was home. Their lives and careers had taken them to other parts of the country – Lacy was living in Houston and DeBen was in New Orleans – but they were often back on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where they spent most of their childhood. In their spare time, they dabbled in interiors, antiques and furniture, visiting estate sales and selling pieces here and there.

“It’s always been a passion of ours,” DeBen said. “When Covid hit, we noticed that more people started doing their own thing. In my case, I had a packed calendar of meetings and conventions, and then all of a sudden, there was nothing. Theresa was enjoying being in Bay St. Louis nearly full-time. We both love the life here and we saw the timing as an opportunity for us to do the project that we had always really wanted to do.”

The result is Gulf Coast Home, which opened in fall 2020 on Ulman Avenue in Bay St. Louis. Nearly four years later, the store is going strong with a selection of well-curated products, from high-end furniture and beautiful loungewear to unique home décor and local artwork.



Many of the crafted works and art pieces for sale at Gulf Coast Home are from artists from around the region, including New Orleans and south Mississippi. It’s been a mission of the sisters since the day the store opened to offer local products as a way to give artists a platform to showcase their work and build their own brands.

“We show pieces that our customers might not find any other way,” DeBen said. “They’ll walk in here and see a piece paired with our sofas and furniture and say, ‘Oh my goodness. Who is this artist?’. They most likely wouldn’t have found that person on their own. It’s just a way for us to help those artists sell their goods and make a name for themselves too.”

Lacy said the local artwork also benefits Gulf Coast Home by helping make the shop aesthetically pleasing and a place where people want to spend both their time and money.

“We could go out and buy all this furniture, but the store would be very blank if we didn’t have these wonderful artists to fill our walls and give people a chance to see something they love and something that is special from a local artist,” she said.

The sisters also feel blessed to have been embraced by a Bay St. Louis community that supports its own. The Old Town district where Gulf Coast Home is located has garnered multiple accolades for its quaint atmosphere, relaxed beachside vibes, and diverse selection of stores, restaurants and services. Aside from being a business, Gulf Coast Home is also a gathering place where customers can find both inspiration and fellowship. On any given day, you might run into a former teacher, a coworker, neighbor, old family friend, or even a relative of Gulf Coast Home’s resident Pomeranian shop dog, Karen.

“I can’t imagine doing this business anywhere else. This is absolutely where we want to be,” Lacy said. “Bay St. Louis has always been home. Whenever we’ve lived elsewhere, we’ve always come back here. It’s a lot of fun to share our love of this town with other people and help to create an environment where people enjoy themselves.”

Lacy and DeBen’s sister, Kim Martin, a longtime Hancock Whitney team member, said she immediately knew that the business her sisters created would be a success.

“My sisters have always had an eye for design,” she said. “Every time they would come visit my home in Bay St. Louis, they would rearrange and redecorate. Seeing them create and nurture this business that is so deeply rooted in the community makes me proud of all they are doing.”

Lacy and DeBen said they also couldn’t imagine being business owners without being by each other’s sides. Their skill sets complement one another. They can be honest about business decisions without things becoming personal. And, when one is struggling with a task or having a bad day, the other is there to lift their spirits and help them power through.

“She’s so good and so kind and very good at what she does,” Lacy said. “We don’t fight. We don’t argue. She’s wonderful to be around. Being here every day and being able to do what we love next to each other is a dream come true.”

For DeBen, being a successful entrepreneur has also allowed her to set a positive example for her 22-year-old daughter, who currently lives in Charleston but has been helping her mother and aunt from afar with marketing, social media, website development and more.

“She eventually wants to come back to this area,” DeBen said. “She’s always sending us ideas and brands that she thinks we should carry in the store. She talks to us about collaborations we can have with other family-owned businesses. She’s kind of a part of the business now, but eventually I think it is something she will do on a full-time basis.”

Gulf Coast Home is located at 317 Ulman Avenue, Bay St. Louis, Miss. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Visit www.baystlouisoldtown.com/gulf-coast-home.html to learn more.

The “She Is” campaign is a partnership between Hancock Whitney and The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate, The Advocate and The Acadiana Advocate to curate and share stories about women who are thriving – what motivates them, how they motivate others, and how women can continue to drive impact. Visit www.hancockwhitney.com/she-is for more details on Hancock Whitney’s ongoing work with female leaders and to share your own favorite “She Is” story.