The New Owners Of Boudreaux’s Have Encountered One Unforeseen Obstacle After Another
By Brad Goins
At the beginning of 2020, husband and wife Jesse and Kylee Vidrine had a plan. They would, somehow, acquire the struggling business, Boudreaux’s New Drug Store, and turn it around.
It would take a loan. An unusually large loan. They started trying to get one in January, 2020. But apparently, not everyone was impressed by the business prospects of Boudreaux’s. The first nine banks the Vidrines applied to for a loan turned them down. But the 10th bank said yes.
So far, so good. But then COVID made its unwelcome appearance. The bank that had issued the loan to the Vidrines rescinded it. Because of the uncertain economic conditions, all banks began restricting loans more than they had before.
The Vidrines started approaching additional banks. Once again, the first nine banks said no, but the 10th said yes. The Vidrines finally had their loan.
“Most people would have quit” before they jumped through the hoops at 20 different banks, says Jesse. “We took a risk in the middle of a pandemic — the absolute worst time to buy a business.”
At some time during the loan search, Kylee learned she was pregnant. When she helped her husband open the new business, she was five months away from delivering her child.
The couple was finally ready to start running their business. “We had everything on the table,” says Jesse.
It was exactly two weeks before Laura’s landfall shortly after midnight on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020.
After Laura’s winds had diminished significantly, the family set out from their home in Westlake to see how the Boudreaux’s building had fared. It took them 1 1/2 hours to reach their destination.
Jesse says the family was on the I-10 bridge when Westlake’s Biolab “exploded.” Over the course of two days, the chemical manufacturing plant burned to the ground, sending thousands of pounds of chlorine into the air.
When the Vidrines finally got close to the Boudreaux’s building at 7 am, says Jesse, the National Guard was already there. “Part of Lakeside Funeral Home was in the street,” so it was necessary to find another means of approach to the pharmacy.
“It was a really tough moment for us,” he says. “We were basket cases.” For a time, the husband and wife hugged each other and cried.
The two buildings next door to Boudreaux’s simply were “not there” any more, says Kylee. As for the pharmacy, while its roof had experienced some damage, that could be patched up adequately for the short term.
But of course, the business had no clean water or power.
Going home to Westlake wasn’t an option, as the couple didn’t want their 2-year-old daughter Madelaine exposed to any chemicals that might be lingering in the air there.
And so they evacuated. Roads and interstates were blocked. “We had a little hairy moment there,” says Jesse.
The family made for the Crescent City. Because COVID restrictions were in place “New Orleans was a wasteland,” says Jesse.
With his long background in construction, Jesse had many contacts that might prove useful in this extreme situation. One of these was the “chief water man” at Abita beer, who gave the beleaguered couple six 50-gallon drums full of water. Another contact directed them to a party in Lafayette who could set them up with a generator.
Jesse has noticed that young children tend to get short shrift in narratives about disasters. He witnessed what a hard time his very young daughter Madeline was having with the long, troubled exodus. “It’s really tough for a 2-year-old.”
Two days after Laura’s landfall, the couple — against all odds — were ready to open for business. They conveyed the news to Gator 99.5 that they were open and customers began to show up.
Also showing up were a majority of Boudreaux’s employees. The Vidrines had gotten in touch and told all of them that if they came to work, they’d be provided with food, showers and places to stay. “They knew we were going to take care of them.”
Large numbers of customers began to bring in emergency medications. Most had no prescriptions. A customer might walk up to the counter and put down 15 medicine bottles. But many of the medications that were sought were for ongoing, potentially life-threatening conditions, such as high blood pressure. “We were literally saving lives,” says Jesse.
The lines of customers stretched out the door, down the walkway and into the parking lot. Much of the time, members of the National Guard stood sentinel near the long line.
Among those coming into the pharmacy after Laura’s landfall was a woman who pulled in at closing time with her daughter, who, at the age of 3, had already had three heart surgeries. The mother was at her wit’s end. She had just been told she’d have to go to Baton Rouge to get her daughter’s custom-made pediatric medicine. The Boudreaux’s staff immediately set to work preparing the medicine in the shop’s compounding laboratory.
As more pharmacies gradually opened, Boudreaux’s gained some new customers because other venues were declining to make emergency refills of Xanax. As Jesse accurately observes, the aftermath of a hurricane is no time for a person to start going through Xanax withdrawals. As for the other pharmaceutical operations, including those in the big boxes, “all they know is to follow the rule books,” says Jesse. “These are imaginary rule books.” In contrast, Kylee, who is the pharmacy manager at Boudreaux’s was “practicing with common sense.” As Jesse explains, Boudreaux’s was “under emergency orders from the state. You’re not going to get in trouble.”
In the days following Laura, the Vidrines slept inside the pharmacy at night. One reason was that their commercial generator could power the store’s air conditioning system. But it was still a catch-as-catch-can situation. Kylee slept on an air mattress, while Jesse slept on the anti-fatigue mats the employees used to stand on while they worked. “It was a pretty crazy time. We had a lot going on,” says Jesse.
When the Vidrines took over Boudreaux’s, the operation was struggling. But after Laura, he says, “it was almost like a boom. A lot of people appreciated the fact that we were open.”
As Jesse recalls it, “Delta was almost worse” than Laura. Laura had ripped off part of Boudreaux’s roof. Jesse had made temporary repairs to make do until the problem could get a real fix. He knew the roof patch would never hold up to Delta. So he prepared for the inevitable damage by stocking up on dehumidifiers and fans.
It was the right move to make. “Delta dumped in rain” and drenched the interior of the pharmacy, says Jesse.
Kylee’s baby made its appearance in December, 2020. After a week of recuperation, she was back at work in the pharmacy.
When it became clear in the early weeks of 2021 that a COVID vaccine would soon be available to the public, Boudreaux’s was inclined to take a pass. They missed the first application deadline for the vaccine. They felt that the message they were getting from their customers was that most didn’t plan on getting the shot.
After receiving word that those in some local markets were intent on getting vaccinated, Boudreaux’s made a belated application to the Louisiana Pharmacy Assoc. One week later, the pharmacy received 150 doses of the vaccine.
They were gone within two hours. Jesse says he was thinking, “this is crazy. We didn’t think they were going to get it.”
Boudreaux’s started a website where people could put themselves on the waiting list for a vaccination. In two days, 5,000 people signed the list.
Telephone activity was far more brisk than that. After consulting with phone techs, Jesse felt that the store had a top-notch phone system with enough lines to handle any call volume. Yet he sensed some callers were not getting through on some of the lines. And so he consulted the phone techs again.
He was told that Boudreaux’s had gotten 9,000 phone calls in the previous 24 hours. “It basically broke our phone system. At that point, we knew it was serious.”
And just when they knew it was serious, they began to experience a serious bottleneck in vaccine delivery. As the store went two weeks without receiving any new vaccine, Jesse did some investigating and found that all the vaccine deliveries in Lake Charles were going to the big boxes.
“I got pretty upset,” he says. He began by calling the Louisiana Independent Pharmacy Assoc. He was told by that group that Gov. Edwards was picking the sites that got vaccine shipments.
His next step was to call the governor’s office, repeatedly, only to find that the office would not take his calls. He then got in touch with the governor’s attorney, and the two had a “cussing match.”
All the while, Jesse knew that at least one big box in Lake Charles was getting more vaccine than it could possibly administer with its limited staff. The big box worked hard to get the vaccine to some operation that was able to give the shots before the vaccine went bad. Jesse was frustrated with the common notion that big boxes were somehow more reliable when it came to vaccination. Big boxes are routinely understaffed. “They are slow and cumbersome,” says Jesse.
Jesse next turned his attention to other political figures who had a strong interest in the health care issues of Southwest Louisiana. Eventually he found two who were willing to help: Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh (head of La. Health Region 5 and family medicine specialist in Sulphur) and state Rep. Phillip Tarver (of Lake Charles). A week later, Boudreaux’s received 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
In no time, Boudreaux’s was administering 400 shots a day. The pharmacy worked at that rate for three months. Kylee devoted her work time exclusively to the vaccinations. By the time the great effort was over, Boudreaux’s had vaccinated 9,900 area clients.
More Rough Weather
Jesse is from the country and is used to driving big trucks through water. But in reference to the May 17 flood of Lake Charles and other parts of SWLA, he says, “I’ve never driven in water so deep.”
But he had to drive, as his daughter’s day care center, Leap Into Learning, was flooding, and he had to go get her.
“I got so nervous,” he says. Instead of putting his daughter in his truck’s passenger seat, he sat her on the center console in case he needed to grab her quickly and make a run for safety.
Once his daughter’s safety was assured, he used his tall, three-quarter ton truck to help several parents rescue their children from their day care center.
A Resounding Message
During the last year, the more the weather has battered Southwest Louisiana, the more its residents have fixated on warnings of storms and tropical depressions. It’s a trend that makes Jesse uneasy. He says he “still gets” PTSD about the recent weather calamities. He readily admits he experienced a high level of anxiety when they were going on.
He feels that Kylee had less pronounced reactions to the ongoing stress. “I don’t know how Kylee did it,” he said. “She’s so mentally strong.”
Strong as she is, she admits the couple and their family “have had a roller coaster ride” in the last year.
Why did they stick with it? “We wanted to take care of our community,” says Jesse. “That is the resounding message. We did something that was very difficult. We succeeded because of the community.”