The dream is mightier than the flood

For shoppers at Four Sisters & Etc. Antiques, the store at 21126 Plank Road in Zachary is a great place to find one-of-a-kind items, antiques, shabby-chic furniture and home décor items from dozens of vendors.

For owners and sisters Judi Downing Persick and Mary Downing Rovena, it’s a minor miracle that the store celebrated its fourth annual Christmas Open House Dec. 4. Four Sisters is a monument to the principle that hard work, grit, determination – and a lot of bleach – can overcome tragedy to keep a dream alive.

Sisters Mary Downing Rovena and Judi Downing Persick celebrated their fourth Christmas Open House at Four Sisters & Etc. Antique store in Zachary on December 4.

Sisters Mary Downing Rovena and Judi Downing Persick celebrated their fourth
Christmas Open House at Four Sisters & Etc. Antique store in Zachary on December 4.

Like so many others throughout the greater Baton Rouge area, the Great Flood of August overtook Four Sisters and transformed the antique shop into future debris piles. Judi learned the shop had flooded via drone footage on a TV news broadcast. She still gets emotional when she recounts the moment her husband, Allen, returned to her after surveying the warehouse section.

It’s gone, baby,” she remembered him saying. “It’s all gone.”

Mary joined Judi at the shop a few hours later that Sunday morning. The sisters stared in disbelief at the destructive power of water, which had floated merchandise from one corner of the shop to the other. They cried, searched for favorite pieces and cried some more. Then, red-faced and emotionally exhausted, Judi and Mary tried to decide what to do with a 20,000 square-foot building full of ruined merchandise.

We were in shock,” Judi said.

One thing was certain – they had to clean up the mess. Every day, the sisters hauled out soaked rugs, armoires, tables, cedar chests, hundred-year-old wardrobes, chairs, dressers, buffets and display cabinets to the side of Plank Road. They estimate the loss of merchandise in the “several hundreds of thousands of dollars.” One dealer alone lost at least $60,000 in merchandise, Judi said.

They scrubbed, mopped, swept and tried to keep each other’s spirits up while huge electric fans worked overtime to dry out the warehouse.

It would have been much easier not to reopen. The shop had always been more the fulfillment of an idea than the result of a strategic business decision. Judi and Mary each had full-time jobs, and for years they bounced from one antique shop to another in their spare time, sometimes as a team, sometimes solo. But the two Downing sisters from Brownsfield always held tight to the dream of opening their own shop, together.

This wooden Santa is one of the unique and affordable gifts shoppers can find at Four Sisters.

This wooden Santa is one of the unique and affordable
gifts shoppers can find at Four Sisters.

The opportunity came in 2013, when a warehouse and attached office in Zachary became available. Judi and Mary, who had since retired, and another set of sisters, who later gave up their partial ownership in the shop, formed Four Sisters & Etc. Antiques and opened in March 2013.

It was a hit. Four Sisters attracted some of the top dealers from a 50-mile radius and quickly gained a reputation for having a wide selection of quality merchandise at good prices. The shop soon boasted a roster of 75 dealers and enjoyed brisk business.

But the flood shut everything down, the water ruining nearly everything it touched. The task at hand for Judi and Mary was to wipe out every trace of their dream with mops, buckets and cases of bleach. They were bone-tired, discouraged and overwhelmed. Start over or walk away? It was a complicated decision, partly because most of the sales were from part-time dealers who rented space from the shop. Some of those dealers had lost their homes in the flood and weren’t focused on the business of the shop.

Honestly, we didn’t know what we were going to do,” Mary said.

It changed every day,” Judi added.

Then, people started showing up. Dealers, friends, family, church folks, strangers and even customers came by to help clean out the shop. It was as if the people of Bedford Falls had come to George Bailey’s rescue in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

At some point, we both said, ‘We are Downings, we’re not going to give up. We can’t let these people down,’” Mary said. “We decided we were going to pull up our britches and be big girls and go on.”

It took a Herculean effort, but Judi and Mary re-opened the shop on September 6, 2016, three weeks and two days after they first saw the damage. Since then, the shop is back up to 68 dealers, and customers are pouring in…and they are buying.

We have people that come in regularly and say, ‘I just need my weekly fix,’” Mary said.

This wood and metal island is a rustic, high-end piece, a style becoming more popular with younger shoppers

This wood and metal island is a rustic, high-end piece, a style
becoming more popular with younger shoppers

Since we re-opened, sales have been really, really good, but it’s more than just that,” Judi explained. “People who lost their homes, they are going through so much with the rebuilding, coming here is a relief. They need a break. You know they’re not ready to buy, they just need to come here and get away from what they’re going through. They come in, have a cup of coffee and talk. That’s what they need, and they are welcomed here.”

Details:

Details: Fours Sisters & Etc. Antiques, 21126 Plank Road in Zachary, one mile north of Main Street and directly across from Millwood Creek subdivision; 225-570-2339. Hours: Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sun. 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Facebook: www.facebook.com/4SistersAntiques/
If you missed the open house, no worries; Four Sisters has tons of new, high-quality antiques and decor items with more great “finds” coming in daily.

Sisters Mary Downing Rovena and Judi Downing Persick celebrated their fourth Christmas Open House at Four Sisters & Etc. Antique store in Zachary on December 4. 

Solid wood pieces, such as this antique painted dresser from Texas, are very popular at Four Sisters Antiques and Etc. in Zachary since the Great Flood.

This wooden Santa is one of the unique and affordable gifts shoppers can find at Four Sisters.

This wood and metal island is a rustic, high-end piece, a style becoming more popular with younger shoppers