It's a business that opened during the Civil War, and the doors are still open today. You will find Louisiana's oldest general store on Front Street in the state's oldest city. FOX 8's Dave McNamara shows us how one retailer has survived for so long in tonight's Heart of Louisiana
You might be surprised at how little has changed in the last 150 years at the Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile Store in Natchitoches. There are some newer modern conveniences for sale, but you get a real sense of what was important a long time ago.
"This black and red item is a wagon axel," said store owner Luke Frederick. "With the advent of cars, fewer and fewer wagon axles were sold. And we still have quite a few in inventory. This cash register was built by the National Cash Register Company in 1917. It's been in our store ever since that time."
Frederick is the third generation of his family to own and operate the old store, founded by the Kaffie brothers, two Prussian immigrants. His grandfather, John Titus Frederick, was hired by the Kaffies in 1920.
He came into the store with an eighth-grade education, and at the age of 18 was hired as a floor sweeper. He was allowed to work his way up the ladder and eventually become the owner of the business.
This building is the third location of the store, and it was built in 1892. And the last time this place was remodeled was during the Great Depression.
Frederick's grandfather built these wooden bins and display cases. Originally, the store had a wall down the center that separated the men's and women's sections.
"Things that were generally used in running a farm the outside part of the home could be found on the - quote - men's side," Frederick said. "And everything that a lady needs to run the inside of her household could be acquired on this side of the store."
This 1890s freight elevator is also part of the original store – but the hand crank has been replaced by an electric motor. As a customer incentive during the 1920s, the store gave out a raffle ticket when customers made a purchase. And on Christmas Eve, the lucky winner went home with a brand new car. This was the scene in 1929.
"This was Christmas Eve," Frederick said. "My grandfather told me that people would come from miles around because they would shop throughout the year and kept the tickets."
Frederick describes the early owners as ultra conservative in their spending.
"Or, for lack of a better word, just downright tight way of thinking," Frederick said. "They did not spend any money. So what we're left with is a wonderfully preserved piece of commerce."
And today, Frederick says generations of loyal customers and personal service are what keep the old general store in business.
Frederick says it's also important to stock the store with items that customers will want to buy, noting that someone bought too many wagon axles just as the automobile was becoming popular.