Thursday, October 21, 2021

This century-old Louisiana grocery store has weathered decades of storms. Ida may be its breaking point

COCODRIE, LA – Lapeyrouse’s grocery store has stood the test of time for more than a century. For three generations, the store has been making it through several storms, but it’s never looked anything like Ida, which blew through coastal Louisiana with winds of up to 200 miles per hour.

Now, the future of the 107-year-old general store in the small fishing community of Cocodry, Louisiana, is uncertain. The Category 4 storm tore down sheds, tore off gas tanks and beer coolers, pulled down parts of the roof, and tore down the floor of the century-old shop, causing more damage than any storm that had come before it. The old cypress board and batten building was flooded with 2.5 feet of water.

“We’re still here, but it needs a lot of work,” Cecil Lepireous told PBS NewsHour from the front porch of the store. “Now, we have got a bunch of people to call and see if we will reopen. If I don’t open they won’t come back.

City of Cocodrie, La. (Photo courtesy of Chris Uci)

Among other things, the store is known for an iconic Coca-Cola sign that still sits atop the roof, which appears to see residents returning to survey the damage. It is a necessary sign of hope for local residents, although Lepiros admits that his store will never be the same as it was. The last time this flood occurred was in 1926 during an unknown storm. Longtime customers say they can’t afford to lose another piece of bayou culture.

“I don’t want his store to survive just because I love going to his store. He is an incredible resource for history and the way cultures have endured changing landscapes,” said Dr. Gary LaFleur, Jr., professor of biological sciences at Nicholas State University. “His store is milestone, but it really The knowledge that Cecil and Etta have is a real valuable resource.”

The amount of damage before Cecil is hard. “The floors are cracked. The flooded soil is still covering the floor, and it’s starting to get mildew,” he said. “I want to be open today, you know, but it’s unlikely that much damage will happen anytime soon. With,” Lapireous tells customers as they swarm him with phone calls.

It’s a tough sight for clients like former state senator Norby Chabert, a self-proclaimed “bayou resident.” He grew up along the coast and represented the region for 11 years. He has seen much of the coast fade away and residents leave it for a long time.

“I mean, your heart just breaks. We’re losing all the iconic things that built our culture and built our community. If they don’t come back, it’s another nail in our cultural coffin. Chabert said. “I hope they can repair it and I hope they don’t give up. If they do, I hope their family members carry the torch. Lapeyrouse Grocery has been around for a long time. I hope it doesn’t die.”

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Family photo of customers and founder Gustave Lepiroz at the bayou entrance of Lepiroz Grocery, 1914.

The store was built in 1914 by Lepyros’ grandfather, Gustave, in the remote areas of Terrebon Parish, where the road meets the Gulf of Mexico. Cecil inherited the store in 1987 from his father, Chester Lepireuse.

Traveling can feel like traveling back in time. Antiques hang from the ceiling, and penny candy containers line the counter near a vintage register. It’s part grocery, part boat repair shop, part knick-knacks shop, part sporting goods store, and part anything-and-you-may-need store. Customers love to sit and just watch the beauty of the bayou and its people.

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The Category 4 hurricane tore down the shed, tore off the gas tank and beer cooler, pulled parts of the roof, and damaged the old Cypress Board and Batten building by 2.5 feet of floodwater. (Photo courtesy of Misty Leigh McElroy)

“That place is the most magical,” LaFleur said. “There come people who are real coastal fishermen. They are buying bait and you can ask them where they are going fishing. You see generations of the same family fishing on the same boat You see it all manifested from the swing on his porch when you join up with Cecil Lepireuse. He’s got a diverse group of clients and can talk to them all in a gentle way. He’s a gentle badass Is. “

But over the course of their lifetime, the Lapiroues have seen storms intensify, and eroding Louisiana coastlines, taking a toll on their community.

“Local faces are few. Many people have been forced to move due to the storm. There used to be more land and more houses,” he said. “Now, most are camping, and it’s more suitable for shrimp and crabbing. Pastures and sugar farms are gone, replaced by saltwater intrusions.”

Before the storm, the store, with its historic charm, was a staple for locals and a destination for tourists. It was a place to grab a Coke and a snack and feed your soul while relaxing on a porch swing watching the bayou. It remains closed even a month after the storm.

“I passed the other day and I am glad it is still standing. I was expecting to see the red siren lights turning to tell you they are open,” said LaFleur. “I am against all odds. Was hoping it would turn on, but it didn’t; So, I was a little sad about it.”

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Cecil Lepiros, a 107-year-old grocery store owner on the Louisiana shoreline, says his shop is still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Ida, weeks after the storm has passed. (Robby Chavez/PBS News Hour)

Lapiros and his wife, Etta, say it could be next year when they reopen, though they realize how important it is to the recovery of this part of Louisiana’s Sportsman’s Paradise. However, they are not alone; community members have raised $11,000 via GoFundMe fundraiser To help the Lapires.

“It is part of the community. People depend on us. It unites us. This is where we all meet,” he said. “It is a bad situation, but we will come back. It’ll take us some time. We have been suffering for years and people do not want to lose this tradition. This is our livelihood. this is our life.”

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