Front Street in Natchitoches is like the main streets of many small towns. It has a number of small shops clustered together that represent a cross section of customer needs and wants. It has the oldest mercantile store in the Louisiana Purchase, a kitchen gadget and product store, a series of dress shops, gifts shops, restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores and specialty stores to entice customers with a variety of offerings. But Natchitoches Main Street on Front is different in some ways from other small towns. For one thing, the town is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase and therefore has more visitors than other small towns that don’t have the same long and colorful history. Second, it has marketed itself well throughout the country as a place that provides the best of Christmas, with its majestic light displays. Third, it has been the location for several well-known movies such as “The Horse Soldiers” and “Steel Magnolias.” It is also a college town with Northwestern University and a school for up and coming, talented high school aged students, the Louisiana School for the Performing Arts. Add to that Natchitoches’ designation as one of the top ten small town retirement destinations, and you have a considerable package. That’s why Natchitoches will experience less economic difficulty than other places: it is diversified in its economy and its outreach.
The casual visitor to Natchitoches will marvel over the Christmas lights displays during the holidays, the jazz festival in the spring, and the wonderful historic homes that surround the downtown section. But the visitor will marvel even more over the friendliness of the Natchitoches people, the warmth and hospitality extended to strangers, and the optimism that comes from knowing that one is able to live in one of the prettiest towns in America.
One of the busier shops on Front Street, and an example of relative prosperity in the midst of an economic downturn, is Cane River Kitchen. Open daily this little shop brings in customers that smell the fresh-roasted coffee flavor at the door, then look at the colorful kitchen displays throughout, that include not only kitchen utensils but a variety of interesting condiments, teas, and extras to round out a kitchen. This shop provides information about the economy of Natchitoches because it is a specialty store and one that customers seeking the unique might enjoy. Caraloana Holden, who has worked for Cane River Kitchen the past two years, hasn’t seen any downturn in business. That’s a good sign for the shop where she works and also for the town of Natchitoches.
The “Steel Magnolias” of Natchitoches will likely remain as durable in the days to come as that steel that defines them, especially if they are in business, as indicated by visits to the various businesses on Front Street. It’s likely the men will make it too. Diversification is key to economic success in small towns, and businesses in Natchitoches are optimistic that they will make it through difficult times. In other words they look forward to the Happy New Year. Cane River Kitchen certainly will in its great location in a town that seems to be maintaining itself well during difficult economic times because it keeps quality merchandise and good customer relationships along with regular hours, all of which add up to success for this year and the next.