JW Low’s 5 to Dollar Store Lunch Counter

The JW Low’s lunch counter is a favorite memory of many from Opelousas. Thinking of it brings up memories of cherry colas, biscuits, lunches and of the candy counter. For me the memory of JW Low’s brings on memories of mom working there when we lived in Opelousas. Mom took this photo in 1953 or 1954 when she worked there while dad was on his first Army tour of Korea, before me or my siblings were born.

While I was pregnant for my firstborn, Chris, I would go to the lunch counter after my doctor’s appointment. Mom was working there at the time and she would treat me to coffee and biscuits. At that time JW Low’s had been there for about thirty years. It lasted about four or five more years from the time I had Chris.

As a child, my memories of it included going to JW Low’s to meet up with mom when my grandmother would take me and my older brother, Glenn, shopping. The store had the lunch counter plus fish, candy, toys, housewares, music albums, sewing fabric and so much more. It was the center of a “mini-mall” in that it could be accessed from the west on Court Street, on the east on Main Street, the north from the Abadalla’s store and on the south by East Landry Street.

Once mom took us to the office of the owner, Audrey Low so we could meet her. I was four years old at the time, and I was in owe of being an office as well as being in awe of meeting her.

When Glenn and I were older, after going to the Saturday matinee at the Delta Theater on Market Street, Glenn and I would cross from Market Street by the Court House to Court Street to enter JW Low’s on the west side. Our grandparents brought us to the movies, then we went to meet mom at JW Low’s after the movies to go home with her. We usually got some kind of treat including getting candy and sometimes a fish for our aquarium.

As I got older, often times I along with co-workers from Standard Fittings would go to the lunch counter for lunch with Boston cream pie for dessert.

Definitely a center place of memories for us.

Below is information from some research I’ve done on JW Low’s:

Opelousas Downtown Icon

J. W. Low’s, a five to ten cents store (later a five to dollar store) was once a central downtown icon in Opelousas, LA. It’s owners, William “Bill” and his wife Audrey Low, had come to Opelousas from Texas in the 1930s, looking for a place to establish their store. The store first opened in 1936 after being built by Allen Dezauche and Morrow Hirsh with the entrance being on Main Street.

In 1939 the Opelousas Herald had an article run that an additional 1408 feet of floor space was added to J.W. Low’s between Abdalla Department Store and the Exclusive Dress Shop on Main Street. A warehouse was also added at the rear of the store. There were also J. W. Low’s in New Iberia in 1937 and in Ville Platte in 1939.

On November 23, 1951 the Daily World published a larger publication of its newspaper which showcased yet another, larger expansion of the original J.W. Low’s store just a day before it opened. At that time the store was managed by brothers Vernon and Leon Huckaby.

This new expansion included:

  • four new shops were to open in the new Low’s Arcade – The House of Flowers operated by Paul Boagni, Jr and Jules Smith; Frank’s Men Shop operated by Frank Onebane; The Fabric Shop operated by Mrs. Ray Comeaux; and Kay-Lee’s Fairyland (children’s clothing) operated by Mrs. A. Gulino and Mrs J.S. Guidry.
  • Ideal Pastry and Super Market opened at the junction of the new and old part of the store, across the corridor of the soda fountain.
  • a lunch counter /soda fountain also opened in November 1951 with a convenient, comfortable ladies lounge above the lunch counter. The fountain which could seat sixty-five was said to be the largest in the state. Joint managers were Earl Colgin and Harris Chapman.

The original section of the store was to be remodeled after the 1951 holidays. The remodel had the same woodwork and color scheme as the new section of the store.

In later years, Larcade Insurance and La Boutique were some of the businesses that housed their businesses in the arcade.

The store had a breakfast – lunch counter and soda foundation, candy counter, fabrics, housewares, toys and much more. It was also considered one of the first “malls” as there were entrances to it from the north thru Abdalla’s by way of Bellevue Street, west thru the arcade via Court Street, and east from Main Street. In 1953 an entrance from the south through American Department Store (which later became Anthony’s) by way of East Landry Street was made available with the building of a facility for American Department Store, then on the same block but a little east of the new location.

On April 29, 1953, it was announced in the Daily World that a one-story modern building would be constructed in the Low’s Annex on the south side of the store on East Landry Street to house the American Department Store (ADS) . This new building would provide for a south entrance to JW Low’s via East Landry Street. In a Daily World newspaper ad on December 31, 1953 the new building was not quite ready for ADS to move into it. A few months later on March 19, 1954, ADS had their grand opening in the new building. C. R. Anthony Company purchased ADS eighteen years later in 1972. Anthony’s expanded into the 2,500 square feet area in 1975 that was once occupied by Outlaw Jewelers.

Low passed away later that year on September 26, 1953 from a sudden heart attack. It was said Low was a monument with civic pride and a valuable citizen. He was also co-founder of the Yambilee Festival along with Felix Dezauche which was discussed during a coffee conversation and the festival was first held in 1946. After Low’s death, Mrs. Low took over the management of the store. Mrs. Low passed away in Texas in 1994 and is buried alongside Low in Myrtle Grove Cemetery in Opelousas.

Although J. W. Low’s has been closed since 1979, people still talk of their memories of cherry cokes from the fountain, candy from the candy counter and shopping at the store. Many who may not remember the store have heard stories of the store.

There are some people whose memories are of being denied service at the lunch counter. In a Daily World article on March 16, 1965, there was a desegregation suit brought against JW Low’s, Inc. to allow use of the lunch counter without discrimination or segregation based on race or color. The article states the suit was filed on behalf of seven negroes who stated they were refused service at the lunch counter on January 9 and March 9, 1965.

A Daily World article on May 16, 1979 stated the store would be closing due to lack of traffic downtown. Mrs. Low (now Mrs. Taylor) stated she didn’t look at it as a loss, but a result of changing times. She said they were a part of the growth that occurred in Opelousas. She made a point of saying they did more than provide a store in that they gave employment opportunities to high school students to help them make something of themselves. What an great attitude to have had!

Memories from others

From Will H:

Karen, I enjoyed reading your posting recently about JW Low ‘s store. It brought back lots of memories. When I was a very young boy, I would sometimes stay with my grandmother. She did accounting work at Abdalla’s and would sometimes take me along while she worked. She would give me a silver 50 cents coin and let me shop for a toy while she worked. I would carefully look over and play with each toy in the store. I recall that sometimes I just kept the money instead of buying a toy. She would often buy me something at the lunch counter. Many years later, after my grandmother passed away, my grandfather and Audrey Low became close friends and she would often accompany him to visit us at our camp south of Krotz Springs. I recall that she was a very pleasant and elegant lady. We all liked her very much. Thanks for the posting!

PS – Interestingly, I often forget things I did yesterday, but I can still recall the sounds and smells at JW Low’s.

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Photos are property of my Lagrange Photo Collection and content is property of Karen Lagrange Cox and neither may not be used for personal or financial gain without expressed written consent by Karen Lagrange Cox.