David Luedecke agrees it’s good to be concerned about code violations to prevent a disaster, but as the Gonzales code enforcement task force makes its rounds, the owner of the love-it-or-hate-it Emporium wants to make sure the city inspectors ‘don’t just do it to some,’ but that they ‘do it to all'
Some say it’s an eyesore, others view it as a treasure trove. Some mount campaigns to rid the downtown landscape of what they consider to be a scourge, while others flock to the historic building in eager anticipation of a once-in-a-lifetime find.
It’s a polarizing place – either you love it or you hate it – and there seem to be plenty on either side of the retail debate.
For owners David and Barbara Luedecke, it’s a business that’s helped support their family for the past 15 years.
The Emporium – one of the city’s most popular destinations for those who enjoy junking while at the same time a quirky business looked upon with distain by those who envision a different downtown landscape – was among the first on the city’s hit list Sept. 4, the first day Gonzales cracked down on code enforcement violations for both commercial and residential locations.
The new code enforcement task force – comprised of city inspector William Ince, fire Capt. Mike Terry and police officer John Brummie – combed through jam-packed aisles of merchandise stuffed into the 124-year-old building located at the corner of St. Paul and St. George streets. There were surely some raised eyebrows and some inaudible “oh, wow!” exclamations as the inspectors discovered code violations that had gone undetected for years.
The inspectors advised David Luedecke he would receive written notification of their findings. And the fear of the unknown fueled his anxiety.
When Luedecke received the inspectors’ report last week, his worst fears – spend thousands upon thousands of dollars in updates to bring his building into compliance or risk his business being closed down – proved largely unfounded.
To be sure, he didn’t get off scot-free by any means. But he can live with the findings and what’s expected of him. And he’s relieved the city is allowing him ample time to correct the deficiencies found, which was one of his original fears.
He accepts the findings by the inspectors.
He accepts that he needs to make some changes.
But by no means is he happy with the city’s enforcement efforts. And he’s quick to invoke the lyrics from a Hank Williams Jr. song: “This ain’t Dallas.”
“The historical businesses were the first to be hit with these inspections – code inspections, fire inspections – and that’s OK. We understand it’s been a lot of years since a lot of these buildings have been checked. And mine, amongst others, came with code violations, fire violations,” Luedecke admits.
“I’m not saying I’m not in violation, I’m not saying that at all. I’m not saying I’m not gonna do what they’re asking. There’s no way I’m rebelling. The [violations] I got will be remedied – fixed,” he promises.
“I just want [the city] to do what’s right,” he says. “If you’re coming down on the business community and doing it to us, do it to everyone. Don’t just do it to some, do it to all.”
Luedecke warns against the city singling out businesses or individuals for scrutiny, and charges that there are those pursuing an agenda that is contrary to business success, in general, and the Emporium, in particular.
“There’s an element in this town that stands in the way of business. They’re not business friendly. Instead of approaching me personally, they’ve got to run Letters to the Editor [in the newspaper] and slanderous, untruths about me or my business that will not hold up. And I’m tired of this,” he says.
“I’ve had conversations with the historical commission, and I’ve had a conversation with Mayor (Bobby) Logan and my councilman, Clarence Opiela, about my situation here at the Emporium, and they told me ‘We’ll do what it takes’,” Luedecke says, relating his concerns that the Emporium is being singled out for closer scrutiny.
“It’s important that not only the Emporium and the downtown businesses are going to be looked at, but ALL businesses, in particular where people congregate such as churches, schools, eateries, etc., all will be looked at equally and fairly, and then on to the residential areas for code violations, fire violations, in particular code violations, sewer violations,” he says. “And I was assured by the mayor that that was going to be done.
“As my sweet, departed mother would say, ‘What’s good for the goose is good for the gander’,” Luedecke says.
Gonzales city manager Allen Barnes echoes Logan’s assurances.
“There has been essentially no code enforcement in Gonzales for at least the last decade,” Barnes says. “It is going to take a long time to reach all the businesses and residences, but it is our intention to enforce the code equally all over town.”
Barnes also reported that City Hall was inspected last week, and that “we had a few issues we’ve gotten taken care of and a couple we had to order some things for. After all, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. We’re not exempt.”
While Logan and Barnes addressed Luedecke’s main concern, he questions the priorities of those who profess to have the best interests of the community foremost on their mind.
“Someone, please, realize the drug problem in this town, the poverty in this town, the recent shootings that have occurred, the shooting of someone in the head in front of City Hall … we’re not going down the right path,” he charges. “It’s good to be concerned about code violations, because we don’t want a building to burn down, but we’ve got a lot of other problems in this city besides code infractions.
“We need to redirect the energies of some of the people who are venting their wrath on the business community. Their energies are needed in the community otherwise, to address the poverty and the other problems we have,” Luedecke says.
Barnes concedes that the city is faced with several challenges, but maintains that code enforcement is one of the tools for addressing those issues.
“The city has many issues we must face. Drugs, violence and poverty, and I’ll venture to say code enforcement, are all intertwined,” he says. “An example of this line of thought is discussed in the book ‘Tipping Point.’ In the 1980s, the New York subway was plagued with assaults, robberies and murders. A new Transit Authority police chief came in and had his officers focus their attention on fare jumpers. After early objects from his officers, they quickly learned that by attacking fare jumpers, they had a positive impact on the other crimes.
“The cleaning up of our community is important. While I don’t see how [code enforcement] will impact poverty, I do believe it could have a positive impact on the issues of drugs and violence,” Barnes says.
Among the violations found at the Emporium involved electrical, doors being blocked and clutter in the aisles, the latter of which Luedecke says is a characteristic of most resale stores.
“In a lot of ways, it’s the nature of the business,” he points out. “But everything in here is for sale, even the counter tops. It’s all transitional; it’s all for sale. There’s a misunderstanding about this kind of business.”
Even before the code enforcement task force started making its rounds, complaints were lodged with the city about merchandise Luedecke displays on the sidewalks around his store. But he maintains that the reason the merchandise remains on the sidewalk is because he continues to be in compliance with city ordinances.
“Every time I’ve been approached about the sidewalk issue, I was within the boundaries that I was told to be in,” he says. “Never once in … months and months … was I out of line as far as the sidewalk is concerned.”
Luedecke defends his placing of merchandise in such a way as to block one of his front doors. He says that he was “trying to keep the winos from bedding down in front of the Emporium,” a problem he says was reported to the police department for remedy.
“They’re putting the ordinance on us to tell us what to do with the sidewalk that we allegedly own? If you want to do all this, why don’t you take over the sidewalk and upgrade the sidewalk. I don’t want the sidewalk, you can have the sidewalk. But you be responsible for the sidewalk and you be liable for what happens on the sidewalk,” he challenges the city.
Luedecke has until Nov. 4 to address the violations found during the inspection.