Capital City ‘ghost town’ Tuesday, but some brave wintry weather

The specter of sleet and snow left downtown Baton Rouge nearly empty Tuesday as many restaurants and businesses remained shuttered and governmental offices closed ahead of the winter storm bearing down on the region.

A handful of bikers and joggers braved the freezing rain Tuesday morning, but the streets around the state Capitol were largely devoid of traffic.

“It’s a ghost town,” said Jamall Jackson, a letter carrier with the United States Postal Service, who encountered a number of locked doors and darkened storefronts along his route. “But I still try to satisfy my customers.”

Md Hye, manager of the Chevron on St. Ferdinand Street, said he stayed open in case downtown residents had an emergency and needed to buy food or fuel.

“I’m taking care of the people,” Hye said. “Everything is closed, so I’m keeping open.”

On the other side of downtown, customers were filing into the Spanish Town Market as an icy rain beat down in the early afternoon.

“We were scared that the weather would be bad for business since so many of our customers come from state offices downtown, but it’s actually been pretty busy,” owner Taylor Blanche said. “I think people are just looking for something to do, so they are coming in and sitting and drinking a cup of coffee.”

Blanche said the grocery will be open Wednesday and will continue neighborhood deliveries as weather permits.

Another grocery store that stayed open Tuesday was Calvin’s Bocage Market on Jefferson Highway.

Manager Charles Rodrigue said business was brisk Monday night and early Tuesday, calling it “hurricane-esque.”

Customers waiting at the door when the store opened Tuesday scooped up items, including bread, bottled water, milk, batteries as well as roux, chicken, sausage and rice.

“I’d like to go home with half of these people to see what they’re eating,” Rodrigue said.

The store also sold 20 cases of manufactured firewood in about three hours.

North of the city limits, not much was happening at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport Tuesday after flights in and out of the city were canceled.

Spokesman Jim Caldwell said there were “very few” passengers at the airport because most had time to make other arrangements.

“Most rebooked for Wednesday and beyond flights,” he said.

Airport officials urged travelers to check with their airlines to find out the status of any Wednesday flights to or from Baton Rouge.

Across the parish at Perkins Rowe, several motorists stopped at the Starbucks and left in dismay after finding it closed. The Mall of Louisiana remained open, though many stores were closed.

“I’m not working and it’s pretty boring at home,” said Maria Guevara, who went to the mall with her family. “We’re just coming to shop.”

In some of the homeless shelters around the city, the upbeat atmosphere was sprinkled with talk, particularly that everyone was happy to be out of the cold.

“It’s a big help being off the streets, not having to worry the little family you do have or your friends,” Ruth Lenoir, 52, of Baton Rouge said, while sitting at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Women’s Shelter on St. Vincent de Paul Place.

Michael Acaldo, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, said the shelter served 367 hot lunches Monday and gave away the same number of bag lunches. Among the diners were quite a few children, many of whom came with their families because of school closures.

Acaldo said the shelter doubled its capacity at the men’s shelter Monday night from 31 to 62, which is standard when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, but there still were a few beds open. The women’s shelter was full and the men’s shelter on Plank Road was over capacity, but Acaldo said no one would be turned away.

“‘Thank you for being open,’ is something I heard more than once,” Acaldo said.

The Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless’ One-Stop Center, also had an influx of people.

“It’s really important for us to be open today,” said Randy Nichols, Capital Area Alliance’s executive director.

At the front desk, several bags sat filled with blankets, sweaters and jackets dropped off by area residents. Gladys Thompson, a volunteer, said the staff gave away about 210 blankets Monday and Tuesday.

“With all the calls I’ve been getting with the weather bad, people think about the plight of the homeless,” Nichols said.

Josephine Denise Jackson, 49, who was formerly homeless, walked about the center, inviting people to stay in her home Tuesday night.

She said she was homeless for about 18 months, worked hard and was able to buy a house. When she was homeless, though, people helped her. So, on Monday she decided to repay that kindness and invited 12 homeless friends to stay in her home.

“Let them know somebody cares,” she said.