Ahhh small towns, they are wonderful pieces of Americana that, as I have written many times before, seem to be giving way to corporate. That’s where I live, in a small town, New Iberia, Louisiana, a little community that grew up along the Bayou Teche. I am not native to here and neither is my husband, he is from Miami Beach, but we have lived here a long time and have raised our family here.We are small business owners also and are always so happy to see the loyal support our community gives local businesses, maintaining some of our quintessential small town individuality. Anyway, it’s been a nice place to raise our family and continues to be a nice place to be a small business owner.
There are two institutions in this town that I feel an enormous amount of gratitude and indebtedness to, Clementine’s Restaurant and the Iberia Performing Arts League, better known as IPAL to us locals. Both of these hometown establishments have provided wonderful developmental experiences for all five of my children and for that, I am so thankful. Wayne Peltier, owner of Clementine’s, kept my four teenage sons busy on many weekends during high school doing catering jobs on site for Peltier’s and then later, at Clementine’s Restaurant. He hired them at 16 years old with absolutely no experience, their first jobs. I am certain they must have made many mistakes in those early days of employment that paralleled those dubious days of high school and even in the latter days with experience but he never made them feel anything but good about themselves, even after major blunders, and there were plenty of those. Wayne Peltier is a former teacher and I think he has never forgotten how critical those times in youth are, how influential the adults are in your life and the experiences that shape you. I cannot speak for anyone else, but for me, he was a wonderful first employer for, and later, a wonderful friend to my four sons.
The amazing people at IPAL embraced my 13 year old daughter during her first performance of Oklahoma and gave her such a positive perception of Community Theater and the arts. She was able to meet and work with some exceptional personalities and I hope, made some lifelong friends. As Doc Voorhies told me once, “We watched her grow up in the theater”. I will always cherish those words, those people, and those times.
As a mom and teacher, I cannot place enough value on people and places within a community that help with the development of our youth. I believe it is so essential for our small communities to support one another and to pay special attention to our youth; it is cliché’ but, they are the future. And they can be so fragile and misguided in an environment of negativity.
My family owns a small business in town and we too employ youth and are for the most part, their first employers. These kids are minimum wage workers that are, like my kids were, usually inexperienced. They are servers that serve you, the customer. And while, as business owners, we want your experience to always be ideal, sometimes it is not. Just as sometimes you miss the mark, they do also. We have had many moments at our store when it was so incredibly busy that all sense of order was obliterated – for those of you who have never worked in the food industry, I am here to tell you it can be very hectic and frenzied. For the most part, thankfully, our customers are very understanding. They know we are working as hard as we can and are polite to our employees and to us. Sometimes, unfortunately, we have a customer that is not and the server is sadly and consequently demoralized. We have, on occasion, had customers call us privately to tell us about their negative experience and we are always grateful for their input- it’s the sort of criticism that can cause positive results instead of crushing consequences.
It’s tough running a small town business in this era of “big box” but it is so beneficial to a community to keep things local and to create uniqueness – something that is sadly disappearing along the byways and highways of our country.
Again, a public thank you to Wayne Peltier, owner of Clementine’s, and the kindred spirits that comprise IPAL for all you have done and continue to do for our youth and our community. These are the types of places and organizations that keep small towns alive and help to shape our youth and grow our communities. I write this just to emphasis their value and perhaps raise a bit of awareness.