The historic riverboat town of St. Joseph, Louisiana, is experiencing a rebirth. St. Joseph is located along the Mississippi River levee in one of the state’s poorest parishes. Local entrepreneurs are buying historic buildings, renovating them and turning them into trendy clothing and home decoration and antique shops, galleries and restaurants.
“It was dead, it was absolutely dead,” says Donna Ratcliff, who grew up in St. Joseph, population 915. Ratcliff is the tax assessor of Tensas Parish, Louisiana’s smallest parish. Ratcliff’s father owned the town’s Western Auto Store on Plank Road. She bought the two-story dilapidated building in 2013. Since then, she has been transforming it into a collection of shops, offices and a second floor art studio for her daughter-in-law, Leslie Ratcliff. Leslie’s large art studio is full of daylight from tall windows, and overlooks the transformation taking place on Plank Road.
REBIRTH BRINGS FASHION TO TINY ST. JOSEPH
Natalie Schauf met her husband in college in Louisiana and then moved to St. Joseph, his hometown. She could see something was starting to happen. First an antiques store and an interior design business. “I definitely wanted to jump on board and get a part of it”, explains Schauf. So she opened Shop All Daye, a fashionable women’s boutique on Plank Road. She expected that her online sales would outpace her in-store customers. But that didn’t happen. And she has moved her retail store to a larger building a half-block away to handle the larger volume of shoppers.
A GLOBAL HEADQUARTERS IN TINY ST. JOSEPH
A funny thing happened on the way to success in the big city for Rebecca Vizard. After starting an interior design business in New Orleans, she moved back home to St. Joseph and opened a second location. Her shop on Plank Road sells collectibles and design pieces. But she specializes in creating pillows from antique fabrics that can cost several thousand dollars. Vizard sells those high-end pieces to customers around the world. Because of that, the sign on the front of her St. Joseph, Louisiana store says ‘B. Viz Design – Global Headquarters’. Vizard says, “I went from trying to get out of town to realizing how many talented people were here, even though it’s such a small area.”
ST. JOSEPH’S GROWTH CONTINUES
At lunchtime and in the evening after work, you see people having a casual meal and sitting at a sidewalk table outside Maria’s Mexican Restaurant. And a second restaurant is under construction, which will add to the downtown experience in St. Joseph. Support for this rebirth also comes from nearby Lake Bruin, an oxbow lake surrounded by some upscale residences, vacation homes and Lake Bruin State Park. The summer season brings a crush of people to this normally sleepy river town.
HISTORY ON DISPLAY IN HISTORIC LIBRARY
The Tensas Public Library is located in the middle of St. Joseph’s downtown renaissance. In addition to books, the 1850’s antebellum structure also houses the parish museum. You can see numerous photographs and artifacts from the riverboat and plantation days of this Mississippi River community.
The town of St. Joseph, Louisiana is located in the delta farming region of northeastern Louisiana, midway between Ferriday and Tallulah along U.S. Hwy 65.