GEISMAR, LA (WAFB) - I must admit I found this particular Hand It On a bit uncomfortable to write. As often is the case, there are two stories in one with this week's Hand It On. The first one is a happy one; the second rather sad; emotional.
Let me start at the beginning.
The first story.
I was contacted by Ken and Latasha Davis in Geismar. They wanted to do something special about a very special person in their life. A small town grocery store owner who helped the Davis' out during a time of need. Ken and Latasha lost the home they were living in to a fire. Over the years they had done business with a little, small-town grocery store called Geismar Grocery, owned by Mr. Kerry Volentine.
Mr. Volentine wanted to help Ken and Latasha during their time of transition after the fire. So he gave them grocery items and the like. GAVE them groceries. It was not a loan as the Davis' were never expected to repay Mr. Kerry (as they call him) back. This was Mr. Kerry's 'gift' to them while they were stumbling and trying to regroup after such a devastating loss.
The Davis' are now back on their feet in a new home and back to normal, including their weekly grocery shopping trip to Mr. Kerry's "Geismar Grocery."
Thus the reason for their initial call to me. Ken and Latasha wanted to nominate Mr. Kerry for WAFB's Hand It On. We accepted the nomination and came up with a story that I was going to do a story on the 'small town grocery store owner'. This is how we'd disguise our visit to Geismar Grocery on the agreed upon day and time.
The rouse worked. We surprised Mr. Kerry with a brief presentation in the middle of what turned out to be a pretty packed grocery store that afternoon. As he handed Mr. Kerry our Hand It On gift of $300 cash, Ken Davis said "You deserve it Mr. Kerry because you do a lot for the community. You put the community first, so sometimes you need to be first." Mr. Kerry was overwhelmed at the gesture and immediately said the $300 cash gift was going right back into the community.
As we were packing up our gear following another successful Hand It On experience, we stumbled into story number two.
Mr. Kerry operates his grocery store today just like they did back in Mayberry on the old Andy Griffith Show. He is all about helping people when things are a little tight and less about the almighty dollar. So it is not uncommon for Mr. Kerry to have 'open tickets' for a large number of his regular customers. They'll come in and ask "could you just put it on my bill?" Mr. Kerry obliges every single time without hesitation. Always has; always will.
And his customers are equally as good at repaying their debt. His customers are very disciplined about 'policing themselves' and never let their accounts get too large. Some pay a little toward their balance every day. Others pay their balance off in full weekly. Either way is fine with Mr. Kerry because in all his years running that little grocery store in Geismar, he has never had a problem.
Ken Davis summed up Mr. Kerry best: "It's not about color. It's not about your economic status. It's about helping people," Ken said as his wife teared up beside him. "When you come in here, you're a person. You're a human being. When you walk in the door speaks to you because he wants to. Not because he's forced to."
While he certainly didn't look the age for the part, Mr. Kerry has been in this location for the past 29 years. However he does not own the property on which the store is located. You see, twenty-nine years ago, Mr. Kerry's landlord offered to sell him the land for his store but it was an "all or nothing" deal. At that time it was not economically feasible to purchase one hundred-thirty acres with the building. So he decided to lease just enough of that acreage for his store.
Mr. Kerry is highly complementary of his landlord. The lease has been a fantastic partnership for both of them. However it's been no secret one day the landlord might sell the property. Yet while that fact loomed in the background and had yet to become a reality, there was never any misunderstanding between Mr. Kerry and his landlord. Mr. Kerry always knew his ultimate fate may one day be the loss of his store due to a property sale. However a serious offer for the one hundred-thirty acre "all or nothing" deal had never really presented itself to the land owner.
An investor has been in negotiation with Mr. Kerry's landlord for some time now about purchasing the entire plot of land including the portion that Geismar Grocery sits on. If the sale goes through, and it's looking very favorable it will, the investor is interested in developing a neighborhood with multiple single-family homes. However, Geismar Grocery that sits at the front of what would become this subdivision on Highway 73 between Highway 74 and LA-30, would be a casualty of the development. Period. End of discussion.
Mr. Kerry is not angry or bitter at all. He keeps reinforcing to me his landlord has been very, very good to him and this pending sale is absolutely no surprise.
"The end of a chapter?" I asked.
"A big chapter," Mr. Kerry said, looking down trying to conceal a large tear forming. Now looking around at his 'regulars', some paying on their bills, others just fellowshipping, Mr. Kerry really tears up. "I love them as much as they love me. A couple years ago I came in one Saturday and thyey had a store appreciation day for me. I got here – they had a pot of jambalaya, bar-b-que pit, bands, music, had set up a big RV with a sign that said Store Appreciation Day. So they love me as much as I love them," he repeated.
The Davis' spoke for the crowd of regulars. "We know this is going to deeply affect . This store is his life. If you think about your legacy, this store is his legacy. He may not know anything about you, but everybody from the little kids to the elderly know about Mr. Kerry. If this store actually closes, everyone around here is going to suffer."
"Do you agree with this Mr. Kerry?" I asked.
A shy, rather private man and still wiping tears, Mr. Kerry thought for a moment, then explained, "If everybody works together," his words now trailing off in a quiver, "take care of each other," he finally chokes up.
And the store clientele have known this inevitability for a while too. Throughout the store you heard emotional thoughts being verbalized. "Where will we go?" "Will anyone be able to help us with credit when things get tight?"
Then it was Ken Davis who summed it up best. "If he has to close, he's got a good legacy."
To nominate someone for Hand It On, send an e-mail to HandItOn@wafb.com. Make sure to include your contact information, especially your phone number.