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After 70 years in business, family closes store in wake of owner's death

Posted at 10:27 PM, Jun 18, 2024

EUNICE — A family, as well as the Eunice community, are saddened after the owners of Coutee's Grocery decided to close the store's doors.

"This place was home; it was home," said Paige Coutee, the daughter of Joe Coutee, the store's owner.

The atmosphere at Coutee's Grocery is somber. Located on Martin Luther King Drive in Eunice, a black bow hangs on the front door of the cyan blue building.

Right before Father's Day, Joe Coutee, the face and the spirit of Coutee's Grocery, passed away after suffering a massive heart attack. A memorial sits right inside the store. With his death, his family decided it was time to close.

"It's very surreal with my father passing unexpectedly and having to close this store down. It's crushing," said Coutee.

Customers spent the day passing by the grocery store, saying their goodbyes and consoling Paige Coutee, one of three children who helped her father, Joe Coutee, run the family store ever since she could remember.

"Our community, the community, is processing this loss as well," said Coutee.

Joe Coutee ran the supermarket after his mother and father passed him the torch. He served the community, offering fresh meats, produce, and even a community favorite since 1947.

"Momma, can you get the sauce pack? I got you! Joe's sauce packs were famous for sauce picante; I had to get them,"said Sandra Wilkins, a long time customer.

Customers also enjoyed the store's famous cold cups.

"Oh my goodness, I grabbed myself a cold cup, and root beer was my favorite," said Sheila Vallier, a customer since the first grade.

"This store brought people together. Absolutely, without a doubt it's much more than a store. Everybody was connected, everyone met in here, everyone knew each other," said Coutee.

" It's family, we know each other like it's blood kin," said Wilkins.

Wilkins has visited the store since she was a young adult; she says the store makes up the rich fabric of the Creole and African-American community in Eunice.

"You can't duplicate this. It would not be Coutee's if someone took over the store. It would not be that entity of spirit, people, or culture; they are the epitome of the Creole culture," said Wilkins.

In addition to her father's death, it was a challenge for the mom and pop store to stay afloat.

"It's hard to stay alive when there are other retail stores in the area, like Walmart and the dollar store. It's just hard to survive," said Coutee.

But there is one thing she will never forget once she closes those doors for good.

"The people, I will surely miss the people," said Coutee.

The store is expected to close its doors at the end of the month.