Exit 33 off of Interstate 10 is considered not only a path to services for residents and tourists, but as a lifeline for businesses along Martin Luther King Highway.
The roadway leads to a corridor — between I-10 and the Calcasieu River — that hosts dozens of small businesses and franchises that could be regarded as the economic heart of north Lake Charles.
Mitch Bush owns several businesses on the 1115 block of North Martin Luther King and constructed two strip malls along the road. He decided to make an investment in the neighborhood during the late 1990s because of the area’s proximity to highway systems.
“I saw the opportunity for business growth because of lots of traffic. Not to mention, the area had been neglected for so long,” he said.
Bush refurbished the building his businesses New Look Furniture and New Look Fashions are housed in. He employs about 40 people. Combined with the other businesses in his building, more than 100 are employed.
Customers from the northern part of Calcasieu Parish and north Lake Charles visit the complex daily, but Bush said residents from the southern section of the city also visit the businesses.
In his opinion, the location on Martin Luther King Highway is a gold mine, and he thinks people who think otherwise should investigate the area.
“North Lake Charles is a good place to be to do business. Everybody is friendly here. I can make my living here,” he said.
Bush hopes city officials do more to help market the businesses along the road in the future.
Two months ago, Chhunheang Savun opened Donald’s Donuts at 1125 N. Martin Luther King Highway. His family operates doughnut shops in Sulphur and DeRidder already.
While driving around Lake Charles in search of a location to open a shop, Savun said high traffic numbers along North Martin Luther King stood out to him.
“Business has been good because of all of the traffic. A lot of cars move back and forth,” he said.
Donald’s Donuts has been open three months. Savun said other business owners should consider locating along the corridor.
Mark Senegal owns a building at 1540 N. Martin Luther King Highway that is home to a T-shirt shop, salon and nail care business. He decided to invest in the corridor after observing economic potential too.
“The area had been underdeveloped for many years. I saw an opportunity to grow into my business and right here in north Lake Charles,” he said.
“The stigma about doing business in the community is being removed, and people are not afraid to stop at our locations.”
Senegal thinks city officials should focus on keeping the area around North Martin Luther King Highway clean. Senegal said an appealing area would get the attention of potential investors.
“We have to maintain a good image,” he said.
Senegal is concerned that high-priced vacant property stunts the chances for more investment along the highway.
“Property owners have got to understand that they have to be reasonable with the prices of land. I think that is one of the major reasons why you have empty lots around here,” he said.
“Nobody is willing to take a risk of starting a business and have to buy unreasonably priced land and also pay the costs of starting a business. The investor and property owner have to meet halfway.”
Several months ago, Walter Williams opened Good Times Cafe at 1850 N. Martin Luther King Highway.
He bought the property that the restaurant sits on 19 years ago and after leaving his job at a utility company, decided to open a place where locals and visitors could get a good meal.
“I wanted to invest right here in my community. Since I’ve been open, the community has been really supportive,” he said.
Williams has observed customers from Moss Bluff and Lake Charles, along with travelers from motels near the restaurant.
He encourages business-minded people to consider the corridor if they want to invest in a venture.
“Do it,” Williams said. “Do the research. Make sure you are in for the long haul because being successful in business does not happen overnight.”