Arts & Culture

A Southern Small-Town Comeback

How one inventive boutique helped revive tiny St. Joseph, Louisiana

Photo: Courtesy of B.Viz

The painted 'Global Headquarters' sign at B. Viz Design in St. Joseph, Louisiana.

I’m from a small town in Virginia that nearly shriveled off the map after many textile and furniture industries began to move overseas in the early nineties. The Main Street of my childhood is still struggling to revive itself nearly three decades later. I miss the department store with all of its brass and glass cases of pretty things and its marble floors and its ice cream parlor where we all had birthday parties. That and much more is long gone, sadly.

Naturally, that inspires me to root for small-town Southern underdogs such as Rebecca Vizard, the textile designer and globetrotter behind B. Viz Designs (and the subject of this Garden & Gun story a few years ago) whose B.Viz Boutique is breathing life into her beloved Delta hometown of St. Joseph, Louisiana, which suffered in the eighties when little farms were bought out by corporate conglomerates and mechanization advances also killed jobs. 

photo: Brie Williams
Rebecca Vizard.

“Someone once told me ‘The grass is always greener until you’ve seen enough lawns,’” Vizard, who also has an atelier in New Orleans, says. “Growing up here I couldn’t wait to bound out and see the world. After years of travel it became obvious that there was a huge disparity between the cities I visited for my work and the hard times our little town was having. It was eating at my conscience. I felt like if I could work a little harder, maybe the town could benefit from the positivity.”

And so Vizard quietly opened what she calls her “global headquarters” in downtown St. Joseph, spreading the news by hiring local high school kids to paper the nearby farmer’s market with flyers announcing the birth of the shop. Two days later, a line of people was wrapped around the block when she arrived to open the doors. “It floored me,” she remembers. “I didn’t know whether to cheer or cry because my shelves were empty by the end of the day.”

The boutique’s wares—which shift depending on what Vizard brings back from her favorite textile hubs around the world—range from embroidered slippers and block-printed tunics to kantha blankets, jewelry, candles, her own now-iconic pillows, and lovely oddball items such as custom-printed matchbooks emblazoned with vintage photos of her mother in her youth sunbathing on nearby Lake Bruin, and “secret salt,” a seasoning that has developed something of a cult following, cooked up by her gourmand husband, Michael. “He makes it from the herbs in our garden and is not a recipe follower,” Vizard says, “so it turns out a little different every time he makes it. Last winter we brought back some herbs from a kitchen shop in South Africa that were not available here. His salt is now our number-one seller, and we can’t seem to keep it in stock.”

Vizard’s penchant for entertaining has also drawn droves of shoppers to her St. Joseph storefront. After she gave a talk to the Greenville Mississippi Garden Club, for instance, the members “got fired up about the PowerPoint pictures of the shop” and asked to visit. That led to cocktails in her garden and a tour of her pillow-making studio, and an afternoon shopping spree—they wiped her clean of inventory. Then the Monroe Garden Club bus arrived, and the Shreveport Garden Club bus. A few months ago, folks from El Dorado, Arkansas, nearly three hours away, pilgrimaged there, too.

The influx of traffic has led other entrepreneurs to scoop up property. Next door, an art gallery has bloomed (the exterior features a giant, rainbow-hued mural of local flora). Then an antique shop opened, then a clothing store. Soon, a restaurant will be the new kid on the block. “I just find it very gratifying,” Vizard says. “That everyone seems to have a ball and think it’s worth the drive.”