Small Business

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Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

Friloux Wedding
Miss Lettie Smith weds Henry Friloux in January 1938 at the Smith home in Gramercy.

Henry “DeDe” Friloux was educated in Ama schools and attended Soule’ Business College in New Orleans before arriving in Norco in 1924 to begin working for New Orleans Refining Company. In 1931, he acquired Norco Cleaners and Laundry so that Shell workers could have starched and pressed white shirts for their weekend social activities. The cleaning business needed a steady supply of natural gas, so Friloux arranged with a pipeline company to tap their line. Learning of the interest of other parish residents to have natural gas, in September of 1931 Friloux and his investors quickly organized Norco Gas and Fuel, Inc., to distribute natural gas to east bank residents.

He served as chairman of the board and president of the company for decades, and his sons Henry, Jr., and Nash joined him in the business in later years. The success of Norco Gas led Friloux to organize South Coast Gas Company and the Dixie Gas Company. Norco Gas and Dixie Gas were sold to Louisiana Gas Service and eventually became Atmos Energy, which continues to have a presence at the original site in Norco. Of all the utilities enjoyed today by parish residents (natural gas, electricity, water, telephone, garbage pick-up, sewer, cable), Henry Friloux’s natural gas distribution was the “first of its kind” utility in the rural community. Henry Friloux’s entrepreneurial spirit would not only help small businesses but would begin to change the lives of ordinary citizens in St. Charles Parish much like Henry Ford’s wheels brought change to America.

Madere’s Garage
Madere’s Garage, 15042 River Road in Hahnville across from the St. Charles Parish Courthouse, opened in 1924. (Photo courtesy of David Pizzolato, Sr.)
Norco Gas and Fuel Company
Norco Gas and Fuel Company (Atmos) in 1947. (Photo courtesy of Henry Friloux, Jr.)

In 1924, Leon Preston Madere, Sr., son of former Sheriff Anthony “Tony” Madere, opened his garage on River Road in Hahnville. Madere would soon own a Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth automobile dealership and continued to serve the river parishes area until the recession of 2009 when Chrysler eliminated many of its franchises. Originally owned by Madere Sr., eventually his son Preston, Jr., daughter Mildred, and his son-in-law Frank Pizzolato, Sr., became co-owners. The garage is currently owned by Preston, Sr.’s youngest son, Jan Madere and grandsons David and Michael Pizzolato. Leon Preston Madere, Sr., served for many years as a member of the parish police jury. He had twelve children and today the Madere family, of German descent, is a large and prominent west bank family whose ancestors have been traced back to Natchitoches in the 1700s where Jean “Matere” and his German Coast wife, Marie Marguerite Materne, lived.

Entrepreneurial Spirit Abounds

Mamzelle Store
Numa Zeringue’s Mamzelle Store was built in 1875 on the River Road in Destrehan where the Capital One Bank is today. Notice the wheel ruts in the road. The family home was located behind the store. (Photo courtesy of Chip Zeringue)

Although major industries dominated the headlines during the early part of the 20th Century, all across St. Charles Parish small businesses were also popping up to meet the needs of the ever growing population.

It was not unusual to have “peddlers,” selling everything from brushes to jewelry, go door-to-door with their wares stored in the trunk of their cars.

If the customers couldn’t go to them, the merchants went to their customers.

These merchants were known as drummers. Insurance salesmen visited customers at home.

Ice houses were located at various sites in the parish, but the “ice man” also made the rounds of the neighborhoods. Children would run after the truck shouting, “a chip, a chip.” Many merchants allowed their customers to use the “on credit” system.

As items were purchased, the sale was recorded, often in small receipt books kept on a rack behind the counter in the store, with payment due on “payday.”

Physicians made “house calls,” sometimes receiving goods for services.

W. L. Bergeron Machine Shop
The W. L. Bergeron Machine Shop and Garage on Paul Maillard Road in Luling was moved from Cousin’s Lumber Camp and the building is still standing today as Quality Wholesale and Janitorial. (Photo courtesy of Mrs. J. B. Nicholas)
Vial\'s Bar
Luling landmark, Vial’s Bar (the Corner Bar) also housed the Cobbler Shop, a barbershop, and a bus depot in the back. (Watercolor courtesy of Sylvia Corbin)

The Cobbler Shop

Patriarch of the Medina family in Luling, Francisco Medina came to St. Charles Parish as a railroad employee from Querato, Mexico, to work under railroad stationmaster Laurent J. Labry. As a side job, young Francisco apprenticed under Luling cobbler Ben Paul learning the artistry of shoe repair.

Francisco’s family has owned and operated the Cobbler Shop for decades, mending boots, shoes, purses, belts, and other leather goods. Medina passed away in 2016.

During the Great Depression, there were 120,000 cobbler shops operating in the nation. There are now only 7,000.

This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.

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