by Kerry Andersen
The Capital One tower rises above storm ravaged Lake Charles, its checkerboard of plywood patches like a family quilt, each square replacing a pane of broken glass while serving as an ever-present visual reminder that recovery from Hurricane Laura will take time. Just below, in the heart of downtown, businesses all along Broad Street are working with grit and determination to rebuild and reopen. It’s a story that has played out on these same city blocks since the turn of the century.
“Broad Street has long been a principal commercial street in the city, ever since the Dummyline (a private streetcar) ferried passengers from lakefront merchants to the rail yards and warehouses near First Avenue,” historian Adley Cormier says. “While downtown commercial Lake Charles was mostly centered on Ryan Street, many important businesses including banks, the American Press newspaper and JC Penney were all sited on Broad Street historically.” In fact, it is in many of those same historic buildings that the modern-day Broad Street is experiencing a revitalization, fueled by the dreams of a new generation of shop owners, and undeterred by mother nature’s cruel winds.
“The events of 2020 delivered a powerful punch to locally-owned small businesses, but we are encouraged by the resiliency of the community,” says Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter. “A vibrant downtown is critical to a rich quality of life experience for any city, and it is incredible to see residents and visitors returning downtown to eat, shop, and support these small businesses.”
Corner Market (729 Ryan) The address reads Ryan Street, but the Corner Market is very much a staple of the reenergized Broad Street corridor. Perched on the corner of Broad and Ryan, this downtown market carries local products and everyday essentials. Owned and operated by husband/wife team Jason and Elizabeth Machulski, the market escaped hurricane damage but lost inventory. They reopened 27 days after the storm and remain an important resource for those who live and work in the neighborhood.
Panorama Music House(331 Broad) opened in the spring of 2019 in a century-old Broad Street building that has been home to live music in some format for decades. Just one night of devastating winds lifted the roof off and peeled back the site’s brick façade. Undeterred, owner Jay Ecker says, “You can’t keep a good bar down!” The popular establishment is working with PERC Development and architect Jeff Kudla to reimagine Panorama’s space and expand the upstairs with additional room for dining, parties and a rooftop bar. Owners hope to be open in some capacity in time for Chuck Fest on October 16, 2021.
The Children’s Museum, once housed at (327 Broad), is a victim of Hurricane Laura and will not return to that location. But there is good news. Executive Director Allyson Montgomery says a brand-new lakefront facility is in the works at Port Wonder with a groundbreaking planned for the end of this summer. The planned $20-million facility will also house a science center and educational complex.
The Yoga Center of Lake Charles (321 Broad) has offered a quiet sanctuary nestled in downtown Lake Charles since 1998. Back-to-back hurricanes created major challenges, but it was industry-wide changes driven by the COVID-19 lockdown that forced a total restructuring of their business model. Owner Chelsea Gros Boudreaux says things are finally moving forward with a target reopening date sometime this month.
Stellar Beans Coffee House & Edibles (319 Broad) is also owned by Boudreaux and her husband Carl. They were able to reopen just three days after Hurricane Laura hit, using a donated generator to offer a CommUNITY Pantry with free coffee every morning. Hurricane Delta shut them down again, but they picked up the pieces and reopened a week later. The couple turned struggle into opportunity and replaced storm damage with a complete renovation. The popular coffee shop now features a Fluid Bed Coffee Roaster. Patrons can watch as all coffee beans are now fire roasted on site using an environmentally friendly method and yields a tastier brew. Stellar Beans now uses only fair trade, single origin organic coffee beans.
PaperSmith & Co.(311 Broad) is another example of a successful local business setting up shop in a new location downtown. For 15 years, owner Sara Schindler Smith created special finishing touches for brides and special events at her Ernest Street shop. PaperSmith now offers custom invitations, stationary and carefully created gift items in a brand-new sleek storefront that debuted on Broad Street in January 2020.
Bayou Blend Apparel(313 Broad) is another downtown Lake Charles success story in the making. Founder Kaysie Bolton launched the clothing line three years ago. Inspired by her son’s diagnosis, Bayou Blend features sensory friendly tees aimed at creating awareness for autism. It grew into a streetwear brand spotted on celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis. Bolton opened the Broad Street storefront in May, spinning storm damage into an opportunity to update the space. The building is currently utilized as her studio and warehouse but will open to the public this month.
Buffi’s Peaux Boys (345 Broad) Hurricane Laura was not kind to Buffi’s Peaux Boys on Ryan Street. After much prayer, owner Paige Vidrine started looking at new locations and the Broad Street corner site once occupied by Mama Reta’s fell into her lap. “We couldn’t be happier,” says Vidrine. “Things are better than they have ever been, and we are beyond grateful for the overwhelming community support.” Vidrine and business partner Kaddie LeJeune dish up delicious po boys with a commitment to quality, value, and service. They have worked tirelessly to be part of a reenergized Broad Street corridor and partnered with other downtown business owners to donate food to neighbors in need. Up next for Buffi’s, a massive community mural that Vidrine says will represent our strength to rise again.
Olive + Indigo (343 Broad) shares a wall with Buffi’s in the historic building. Boutique owners Lauren Miller and Suzanne Johnson faced challenges from the storm and the CoVid pandemic but were determined to share their handcrafted jewelry and vision of ethically responsible business practices. The light, airy boutique also features all-natural body care, hand poured candles and easy to wear clothing with an artful global influence.
Cotten’s Downtown (110 W Broad) is the westernmost shop on Broad Street to rebound following Laura. The iconic eatery has a loyal following of patrons that crave breakfast cooked on the grill and old-fashioned hamburgers.
Black Tie Cleaners (106 W Broad) This professional dry cleaner is a longtime staple in the heart of downtown Lake Charles. They offer free pickup and drop-off as well as alterations.
Barbers on Broad (102 W Broad) This hip salon with an old school feel opened in August 2019. Owner Angie Stine says the building took on water in the hurricane and winds knocked out their awning and barber pole, but they reopened as soon as utilities were restored. Like many small businesses, they lost income and faced challenges getting their staff to return. But customers are back enjoying the professional barber services, shaves, and shoeshines as much as they savor the complimentary alcoholic beverage served with a smile.
Iron Shop Provisions (625 Broad) Like most buildings in Lake Charles, Iron Shop Provisions got a new roof courtesy of Hurricane Laura (the chimney didn’t survive). Owners Josh and Erin Guillorys got their hip clothing boutique reopend just a few months after the storm but were just recently able staff and operate it full time. The Guillory’s are planning a three-year anniversary bash (follow @ironshopprovisions on Instagram for details) as one of the mainstays of the modern Broad Street retail corridor.