Grand Opening | Shoppers swarm Steele’s

Published 11:52 pm Thursday, August 2, 2012


The anticipation has been building ever since the temporary Steele’s sign went up outside the old Eckerd Drug Store in Bogalusa’s Pine Tree Plaza in May. On Wednesday, as the long-awaited 9 a.m. opening neared, dozens of people, including some from as far away as Varnado and Mississippi, were at-the-ready to stream through the doors and start to shop.

Penny Buckley, of Bogalusa, was first in line, clutching a sales sheet and with her husband, Herbert, in tow. They said they’d arrived at about 7:45 a.m.

Penny said that when she got the advertisement, she told Herbert, “We have to go.” He obliged.

While they waited, Steele’s manager Lydia Crain split her time, alternately making sure everything was ready inside the store and checking on the growing crowd outside.

“I’m as ready as I will ever be,” she said. “I’d better be. It’s time.”

Crain, herself a Bogalusa resident, said that she has been hearing “kind of like a big buzz” of excitement about the new retailer coming into town.

“We definitely need something like this here,” she said.

Ryan Seal, executive director of the Washington Economic Development Foundation, agreed.

“We’re glad to have them,” he said. “Anytime we expand our retail opportunities in Bogalusa and Washington Parish it’s a good thing. And this is a quality company with reasonable prices.”

That’s what drew the crowd.

“They say ‘Real style, Real deals’,” said Arica Burton, who stood waiting with her mother Velma Magee. “We want to try to get us some deals.”

Valerie Thompson, of Varnado, echoed that sentiment.

“I’m trying to catch some sales,” she exclaimed.

Dot Johnson, of Bogalusa, knew that Steele’s, which is described as an “off-price concept for small town America,” shares the same parent company as Stage.

“I just love Stage and the quality of the clothes and everything,” she said. “And everybody is so nice. So if it’s part of Stage I know they are good people.”

While eager customers continued to try to find places in the packed parking lot that was partially roped off for striping, and then to gather near the door, Crain pulled out the scissors and red ribbon, perhaps a little before 9 a.m.

Flanked by employees, supporters and city and parish dignitaries, she held the ribbon as Mayor Charles Mizell’s executive assistant Kay Kay Varnado welcomed the new business to town and then cut the ribbon and let loose the crowd.

A few minutes later, Keonsha Greely’s shopping cart was filling up fast, and she said she was delighted with her finds.

A few aisles over, Brenda Schemp, stood with a decorative plant in hand while she read the label on a package of sheets.

“I think it’s an excellent place to shop,” she smiled. “I would hate to be closed up in here all day with all of this stuff because I’d want to buy everything.”

By 9:30 a.m., there was some chaos in the increasingly crowded parking lot, but the mood inside Steele’s, where local leaders shopped alongside residents and visitors, was positive.

The consensus was: There’s a new business in Bogalusa that brings inexpensive shopping opportunities, new sales tax revenues, about eight permanent jobs and another chance for bargain seekers to regularly experience the thrill of the hunt.