In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, senior designer Michelle Neustrom writes about We Were Merchants.
A reasonable question to ask if you did not grow up in the Baton Rouge area, but it instantly causes shock and horror to appear on the faces of loyal Goudchaux’s customers. How did I not know about the most amazing, magical department store of all time? About the famous 5-cent Coke machine and how children would receive a nickle for every A on their report card? About the laughing mechanical Santa that appeared every Christmas? And the salespeople who knew customers by name and the piles and piles of fur coats and the interest-free charge accounts! Oh, and that is NOT how you say it. It’s pronounced “Gaw-chaw’s.”
I did not know about this family-owned department store because it closed about 5 years before I moved to Baton Rouge. Even 25 years after its closing, people still remember shopping at Goudchaux’s like it was yesterday, and everyone has a fond memory of the place. This is largely due to the family that owned Goudchaux’s for over 55 years, the Sternbergs. They made customers feel special and would do anything for them, like secretly order a jacket when a size wasn’t available in-store or send a gift when a baby was born. They treated their customers and workers like friends and family.
When it came time to design We Were Merchants, I had a much better understanding of the store. I could see why people loved the Sternbergs and Goudchaux’s, and I wished I could have had the pleasure of shopping there too. After expressing this desire, one of my coworkers brought in a very old Goudchaux’s box and said I could have it. I was so excited! I know, it’s just a box, but it was an artifact of something I had only read and heard about. I scanned it and used the striped Goudchaux’s/Maison Blanche pattern on the end sheets of the book. That box now sits on top of my bookcase in my office and I feel like I have a little piece of Baton Rouge history. I morn the loss of a great Baton Rouge establishment along with everyone else and, yes, I too get that horrified look on my face when someone asks, What’s Goudchaux’s?
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