Gulotta’s western store is one of the oldest businesses in New Iberia, with a history that began when Paulo Gulotta transplanted from Sicily in 1890 and opened a grocery and shoe repair store in 1906. From then, the shoe repair business evolved and was handed to Paulo’s son Henry and then to Henry’s son Paul. It was Paul who went out on limb and purchased 12 pairs of Tony Lama boots for retail sale, and so began Gulotta’s. In 1996, Paul sold the business to his sons, the current owners, Mark and David Gulotta.
The company has persevered an amazing five generations, with Mark’s son, Luke, now running much of the day-to-day operations as the store’s general manager, being groomed to one day take the lead.
“My eight brothers and sisters and I have been exposed to the store all our lives,” Luke says, remembering starting out scrubbing toilets. Working full time by age 16, he made his way from general maintenance, to inventory, eventually selling boots. He’s heard the unsolicited, but now appreciated, advice more than once, “If you want the perks of working for yourself, you have to actually work.”
As for the pros and cons of working with family, Luke says, “I’m privileged to work with my family - people you can trust. (Two sisters work in the store as well.) On the other hand…it’s your family. Lines could easily get blurred as to what is business and what is personal, but you have to keep them separate.”
From Luke’s own accounts, his relationship with his father is one of mutual respect. “When I have an idea for something new, it’s received with an open mind. I respect his opinion and I feel that he respects mine.”
Luke recognizes that the pace of the retail industry is much faster today. “You have to keep evolving and be attuned to customer needs; you have to have more options in stock.”
While he admittedly says he’s still on the learning curve when it comes to social media, Luke has helped bring the business online to a new generation of shoppers. “We pride ourselves on our customer service experience and we want to provide that personal attention even on line.”
With a nearly 7-month old daughter, Luke isn’t going to be mentoring any of his own children for a while, but offers, “If she wants to be involved in the business she can be; I’ll handle it the way my parents did and give her the opportunity to learn how to work.”