- M. Wilson, Duarte, California
“I want one of everything.”
- J. Klingman, Yukon, Oklahoma
Established in 1863, the Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile store of Natchitoches, Louisiana is not only the oldest business in the city, but it’s an important landmark for the entire community! Founded by Jewish Prussian immigrants Adolph and Harris Kaffie, the store has since done its best to maintain the original appearance of the store – even though its products have changed across the decades.
Currently run by a third generation of Fredericks, Kaffie-Frederick has managed to endure a great number of hardships, beginning with the store’s inception – right in the midst of the American Civil War! A small, Confederate town, Natchitoches was chosen by the Kaffie brothers for its welcoming community, a rather severe change from the religious persecution they faced in Europe. As a result, the Civil War wasn’t enough to faze them – they had bigger things to worry about, like learning English!
Determined and resourceful, the Kaffies decided on following the example of other Jewish community members and establish their own small business. Initially, their peddling business simply consisted of door-to-door sales, with their biggest customers being plantation wives who needed regular household items such as needles, linens, new pots, and dry goods. Their endeavor was such a success that the brothers soon found themselves able to afford a bricks-and-mortar building, which was originally located on Front and Trudeau Street.
The first decade of business at this location was even more lucrative than the door-to-door sales had been, and by 1893, the Kaffie brothers paid $1616.29 for the land and construction of a building on the Front Street lot, where it still stands today! Feeling ambitious, the building was erected with two floors and a divider on the ground floor to separate house wares and hardware, with a staircase up to the second floor showroom.
Although the staircase was relocated and a wall later removed, almost the entire exterior of the building and most of the interior is unchanged from these beginning years. In the 1890s, a freight elevator was installed which is still in use today, albeit now run by electricity. In 1917, the store purchased its first cash register – run by a hand crank! – which is also still used in Kaffie-Frederick today, running almost as well as it did nearly a hundred years ago.
Though the First World War was a strain on the store and its merchandise, Kaffie-Frederick managed to pull through – and as the Great Depression ravaged the country, forcing banks to close and putting thousands of companies out of business, the community of Natchitoches enjoyed the celebration of Kaffie-Frederick’s 75-Year Anniversary!
It was only after World War II that the Frederick name became officially associated with the business, since up until this time, the store had been operated directly by the Kaffie Brothers and cousins.. In 1920, Titus Frederick began working at the store – and by 1939, he’d worked his way up to become the vice-president and general manager. In 1956, Frederick became partial owner of the company, a move that would benefit several generations of Fredericks – after all, Titus’ grandchildren now serve as the business’s co-owners!
As the times changed, Kaffie-Frederick changed with them. The business embraced new ideas while maintaining the same level of friendly and personal service, a combination which surely contributed to its longevity and enduring place in Natchitoches today! During the early 1900s, it wasn’t unusual to see items like harrows, cultivators, John Deere plows, clothing fabric, and groceries lining the shelves – even coffins! Today’s store has managed to maintain that sense of eclecticism, while offering items of both historical value, such as classic toys and Radio Flyer wagons, and modern-day products of use like gardening tools, swings, and kitchenware.
Certainly, Adolph and Harris never imagined that their small, door-to-door peddling business would grow into such an established and well-respected local monument – but after surviving two World Wars, the Great Depression, several yellow fever epidemics, and countless trials by Mother Nature, Kaffie-Frederick still stands strong, and continues to change and grow with the surrounding community.
Although it may be old, the ancient exterior of the General Mercantile store reminds visitors of this one, certain fact – no matter what storms may come, there is one thing the people of Natchitoches always have, and always can count on: Kaffie-Frederick.