For nearly a century, rural customers walking through the double front doors of Emar Andrepont’s general store in St. Landry Parish had little reason to shop elsewhere.
The one-room store opened by Andrepont in the 1880s supplied families from the open prairies around the Prairie Ronde community with everything from shoes and hair pins to textiles and garden plants.
Although the personal touch of dry goods merchandising largely has been replaced, it is possible to enter Andrepont’s store and recapture the experience.
Following the completion of a general store exhibit at the Le Vieux Village historical area on U.S. 190 in Opelousas, Andrepont’s building has been meticulously preserved and contains examples of the items that might have been offered on its shelves back in the day.
Melanie Lebouef, tourism director for Opelousas, said Andrepont’s store was donated to Le Vieux Village by his descendants sometime during the 1990s and has been restored close to its original appearance after municipal officials received federal funding through the National Parks Service.
Since May, the store has become one of the major exhibits at the complex, Lebouef said as she conducted a recent tour of the store.
The objective of the preservation effort, Lebouef said, is for visitors to envision the wide variety of commodities that once occupied the shelves at one location.
“We’ve tried our best to stock the store not only with brands that may have been popular during the store’s existence; we also wanted to keep the merchandise as local as possible,” Lebouef said.
That includes dairy products from the New Clover Farm creamery once operated between Opelousas and Prairie Ronde. In addition, there are brands of yams that were once grown and shipped from St. Landry during the early 20th century.
Visitors can see cane syrup and personal grooming items such as OJ’s beauty lotion, UZO soft drinks and the bottles of Hadacol tonic that advertised a cure for nearly every ailment known to mankind.
A $3,000 state preservation grant helped fund the recreation of the products in the store and repairs to the interior, Lebouef said.
“We did some renovations like changing out the roof, putting in new electricity, lighting and redoing the wood on the counters, which we have been told are original to the buildings.
“The building materials in the store haven’t changed since it was built. It has a bit of every kind of wood, cypress, pine and bead board. The cash registers don’t work, but they were once used in the store, we have been told,” she said.
Lebouef said perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the store has been the discovery of its accounting books and the process used to record the types of purchases.
The ledgers also offer a history of the families who frequented the store and lived in the area because their first and last names are written above what they bought, she said.
“The books we have are from around 1920, and it lists the prices of the items, who bought them and the date of the transaction. The entries are written in pencil and ink,” Lebouef said.
Family names like Pitre, Prudhomme, LaJack, Ortego, Dupre, LeBleu, Durio and Devillier held charge accounts at the store nearly a century ago, the ledgers indicate.
Those people might have bought 5-cent candy, garden seed, safety pins, peas, bleached cotton for $3, overalls for $1.60, corn, potatoes, $2.39 shoes, coffee, yards of blue gingham, coal oil, cotton seed, sugar and rope, the ledger shows.
Lebouef said the store arrived at Le Vieux Village after relatives of Andrepont offered the building free of charge.
The city accepted the donation of the store and an outhouse from Andrepont’s ancestors, and, after obtaining the federal and state funding, Lebouef said, the decision was made by municipal officials to reopen the store as if were actually operating.
Lebouef said Andrepont relatives Rose, Evrard and Ryan Brown operated the Andrepont store in Prairie Ronde until the 1980s.
Since the exhibit opened to the public, Lebouef said, it has been visited by classes of schoolchildren. Also she said the store has been popular with baby boomers and those slightly older.
Andrepont, who died in 1941, Lebouef said, also had a special talent as a violin maker.
Lebouef said she has interviewed people whose ancestors claimed to have purchased some of Andrepont’s violins, which she said were never used as part of the store’s inventory.