To pick out just one of the many businesses that have operated from the brick building at the corner of Serrett Alley and Main Street is a challenge. Over its 130-year history, the structure has been a clothing store, a coffee shop and even an old Sears-Roebuck catalog store — the Amazon.com of its day.
But the most nostalgic of the former tenants, Gary Drugs, recalls the era of jukeboxes, soda fountains and “cruising” on the main drag that has all but disappeared from America’s cultural landscape.
The drug store was located at the corner of Main and Julia streets until the early 1950s, when it relocated to 116 W. Main St., near the old New Iberia City Courthouse. That site is now part of Bouligny Plaza.
But the original store is still standing, and still has memories clinging to the red brick of its facade.
New Iberia artist and author James Edmunds, in his walking tour of downtown New Iberia, recalls the store’s large display windows flanking the two sets of doors facing Main Street from his childhood.
“(F)rom the street to the cinema was a covered arcade, on the east side of which were the plate glass windows of Gary’s Drug Store, where the proprietor was inclined to put on display the most marvelously appealing brightly colored toys in their boxes.” Edmunds recounts in his description. “Or at least that’s all I saw!”
In their 2012 “Phone Home” history project, Catholic High School students interviewed another lifetime resident of New Iberia, Charlene Viator Guillot, about her recollections of the spot.
“I remember them having a soda fountain,” Guillot told the student interviewer. “They had sodas with cream inside of them which was very popular then, and now, I can’t even find that anywhere. But it wasn’t a cold drink; they had a machine that made it all together. Like a thin malt.”
Even after a rough period that started in the mid-1980s, the structure is being brought back to life again. This time, the building will serve as the new addition of the Bayou Teche Museum.
Renovations have been underway on the project, which is nearing completion. The interior of the building’s first floor was gutted, with new structural members installed and the foundations repoured.
But the exterior, with its detailed masonry and brickwork, is original.
The new wing of the museum will be named in honor of Donald “Doc” Voorhies, another longtime New Iberia resident and educator who provided seed money for the project. Along with state funds provided in 2018, the work will guarantee that the building, and its memories, will last well into the next century.