And Then What Happened?: Let the next generation have their moment

NAN PARATI

NAN PARATI

By NAN PARATI

Published: 02-11-2024 4:01 PM

Modified: 02-11-2024 4:02 PM


In 2005 I bought a building that has housed a series of Ashfield institutions since 1835 when it began life as Crafts Store. The place went through a few iterations and was even owned by the IGA supermarket chain in the early 20th century until 1937, when Ashfield entrepreneur Elmer Lesure bought the building and named it “Elmer’s Store.”

Lesure ran the store until he passed it on to his son, Don, in 1960. Don sold it about a decade later, but the Elmer’s name, along with the sign advertising “Grocery, Meat, Liquors,” stayed with the building even after I abandoned the groceries in favor of a three-meal-a-day restaurant and bar. (We did have groceries and meat, but they came on a plate as a meal, and your liquor arrived in a glass at the bar, so the historic sign wasn’t a total mislead.)

I thought about that place, its goodness, its annoyances and its concerns every single day for 13 years until I sold it in 2018 to people who ultimately led to its being bought by a group last summer, a board of young’uns who have big plans for bringing the empty place back to its original footing as a community staple.

I’m a member of the board, and we meet regularly to figure out the nuts, bolts and future of the business, and how fun! I know all about Elmer’s and how to make it work again.

Simultaneously, I’m working in my 40th year with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. We meet several times a week to discuss the plans for this year’s event. My longevity with the festival is surpassed by that of our site director, Richard, who has been there nearly 50 years, and at 73 has finally decided to pass the heavy torch to a young man about the age Richard was when he took the job.

We had a meeting last week where Eric, the new site director, laid out the plans for a particular area of the festival. Still a member of the turnover, Richard then stepped in and explained to everyone why Eric’s design wouldn’t work. Eric’s eyebrows shot up and he said, “Rich, we just discussed this yesterday! We had it all worked out!”

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“Well,” said Rich, “I guess we’ll just have to learn from our mistakes, then, won’t we?”

All of a sudden, I saw myself sitting right there in Rich’s chair with my 13 years of Elmer’s knowledge bounding up from all the mistakes I made back when I was getting started. These kids don’t know anything; I know it all and have the credentials to prove it!

Driving home from the festival meeting that evening I remembered all those who told me how Elmer had done it, how Ron and Margaret, my immediate predecessors, had made it a successful place. Why couldn’t I do what Jack Mattis had done when he owned it? Now there was a real businessman who understood the town, not floundering, as I was doing in 2005. I remembered that it was the 3 a.m. entrepreneurial ideas that gave me fuel in those early days; it’s the innovation that makes it fun. Having someone hand you the notes makes it a job. Coming up with it yourself creates the glitter of excitement that runs through your enterprising veins.

A conversation I had with Don Lesure shortly before he died wafted back to me. At the time, Don had rolled his eyes at Jack’s methods. It’s hard to watch the new people come in and change anything. What was all my work for, if not for you to learn from? What’s my legacy? How does this work?

I thought about other institutions in Ashfield. The Historical Society is housed in a building that was erected as Gad Wait’s store, back in the 1700s. How many versions of industry has it gone through? I sit and listen to the older men on mornings when they meet at Neighbors Convenience Store (originally Day’s Store), recounting the Ashfield of their long memories, talking about who used to live where in town. Everything was good before the next folks came along.

And then I knew I had to step back. For Elmer’s to keep going, I need to let the new site directors have their chair just as I enjoyed mine so much 19 years ago. I still attend the meetings and speak up when it feels absolutely necessary, but I am encouraging to the rest. We are working on the restaurant in post-COVID times. That, in itself, presents new challenges and hurdles that I didn’t have. I leave it to the young’uns to know how to build the place that a new generation of Ashfield will come to appreciate and, one day, talk about when referencing the good old days in 2024, back when Elmer’s was done right.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at NanParati@aol.cm.