Owner of California Drawstrings Linda Keenan will tell you her boutique specializing in cotton, linen, and silk doesn’t have much to do with California. In fact, her company has been firmly rooted in the Gulf South since 1984 when Keenan had her entrepreneur moment at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans.
“I was working in real estate in North Carolina when I saw this fabulous line of linen clothing at a boat show,” said Keenan. “I knew I wanted to continue my real estate career and move to New Orleans, but I thought people visiting for the World’s Fair weren’t going to understand the heat and humidity. I thought I could earn some extra money by selling this cool clothing line in the French Market and it just really took off.”
In the beginning, California Drawstrings focused on two or three lines of clothing, but now it stocks about 50 different vendors.
"We are always looking for what’s new and different in the marketplace," Keenan explains. "We still carry old standbys like Flax and Matchpoint, but we have found other great boutique lines like Cut Loose, April Cornell, and Fridaze's wrinkle-resistant linen. We have the largest selection of linen and cotton on the Gulf Coast. We’re a niche retailer. We’re not everything to everybody, but in the natural fiber clothing line, we have a huge selection, and various sizes." Keenan quickly outgrew her French Market booth and moved into the French Quarter and Covington. Today her store on Royal Street in New Orleans is a well-known spot for both men and women to pick up the best in resort wear—shirts, pants, shorts, dresses, skirts, outerwear, accessories. No matter how high temperatures rise, California Drawstrings has something for everyone to be comfortable and stylish.
Keenan shares the story behind opening a shop in Bay St. Louis: “One day Nancy Moynan of Lulu's called me saying the mayor of Bay St. Louis told her about my shop and they thought it would be a good fit for Bay St. Louis. So, I went to see Nancy's space at Maggie May’s and opened a Bay St. Louis branch in Maggie Mays' in 2012.”
Just as Keenan faced the familiar problem of outgrowing the space a couple of years later, she heard of a business for sale on Main Street. She saw the building and immediately made an offer.
"We have so much more space in our BSL location," Keenan notes, "and lots of parking, too."
"We get a lot of repeat customers, and it is not unusual to sit down with customers and just chat late in the afternoon.
Besides being a picturesque beach town, what Keenan loves about Bay St. Louis is the people, noting that "The people I meet in the store are probably the most rewarding aspect of owning the shop."
“I just know Bay St. Louis is a place I want to spend the rest of my life,” Keenan said. “I’ll never really retire, but the pace is so much easier here than in New Orleans. And after a while you just appreciate not having to worry about things like parking.”
“I feel like I have the greatest sales team and the greatest managers,” Keenan said. “They look after the stores as if they were their own. The greatest compliment you can give me is that you love my staff. They are truly like family to me watching out for what’s best for all of us. I can’t be in three places at once."
Betty Krieger, manager, has been with Keenan since she opened the BSL shop. When Betty retires in June 2018, Stephanie Cooper will take over as manager.
"And to think I literally started with two tables and $1500 at the French Market.”