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Ex-naval officer to open resale store in California for veterans, others

By JUDITH PRIEVE | East Bay (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Times | Published: December 4, 2018

(Tribune News Service) — The poorly dressed older woman did not give her name, but when she came in on a recent rainy night to the yet-to-open Antioch New To You Vets Resale store, volunteers immediately gave her some new clothes and a fresh, dry blanket.

The woman found a bright, royal blue, sequin dress and pulled it on over her clothes, smiling and swirling all around to admire her reflection in a store window. The dress made her feel pretty, and she danced about and sang to herself for a bit. But instead of going to a fancy dinner or a dance, the rain-soaked woman walked away with her new clothes and clean blanket to find a dry place nearby to sleep for the night.

It was just what retired naval officer Louis Conway Langston, 79, had in mind as he worked on getting his new nonprofit resale store in shape for its Dec. 12 grand opening in the Eastwood Shopping Center. The Vietnam war veteran and former businessman said he’s always wanted to “help the world” but only recently scaled that back to helping his community, especially veterans.

At an age when most people are relaxing, the humanitarian and former architectural draftsman, logo designer, baker and bed-and-breakfast owner decided to do something to try to help veterans and others in need, especially those who are homeless, disabled or displaced and trying to reintegrate into society.

For the past six months, the Union City retiree has been preparing to open a large resale store that will send a portion of the proceeds to help veterans groups such as the Wounded Warrior Project. The large, empty north Antioch storefront not far from his brother’s church offered the perfect location.

“As a humanitarian, my goal has been to save lives, relieve suffering and pain and help maintain human dignity,” Langston said. “To make a difference in the world they live in, to make someone’s life better than what it is and to ease the plight of people that have little hope.”

A dozen years ago, Langston and his wife, Sandra, operated Castro Valley’s first black bed-and-breakfast, LouSan B&B, which became known for its Southern tea cakes, based on a 100-year-old family recipe. They even sold them at the local Safeway. But then his wife had a stroke and later needed a wheelchair, so he couldn’t keep up with the demands for cakes and decided to close those businesses.

Eventually, he focused his energies on doing something for veterans.

“We have problems as veterans that nobody wants to hear of,” he said. “My idea was to provide an open mic, give veterans a chance to voice their opinions. Not being able to talk about something, that causes mental anxiety. When I came back from Vietnam, no one wanted to even see us. Now there’s an open desire to help veterans.”

Once the store gets up and running, Langston plans to open a space inside where veterans can share their experiences with other veterans and anyone else who will listen.

“It’s not as difficult as people think, just a little room where they can come down and share their testimony, share their experiences with family,” he said. “An open mic for veterans — that’s my mission, my ultimate goal.”

The nonprofit has been accepting donations — clothes, furniture, household goods and more — for the past several months, and volunteers have been sorting through them, setting up displays. One of those volunteers is Pauline Davis, of Brentwood, a stay-at-home wife and former Silicon Valley executive assistant who said she was “tired of staring at the walls.” A chance meeting with Langston changed all that.

Langston was outside the empty A Street storefront cleaning up litter when he got into a conversation with Davis and told her about his project.

“He is very passionate about this business,” she said. “He wants to help the community and rebuild this shopping center.”

“There are so many people out sleeping by the railroad tracks, so we supply them blankets and whatever we can do to keep them warm,” said Davis, who is now New to You’s vice president and a daily volunteer. “When they come in, they are never turned away. We’ve gotten to know the homeless around here as people. They know us, and we know them.”

Davis said some come asking for shoes, socks or pants, others just to look around or help out even though the store hasn’t opened yet.

“It’s a business to help people feel that they are worthy of something,” she said. “If you’re volunteering, we’ll give you somewhere to be in the daytime. It keeps you off the streets.”

Another volunteer, Tim Guerrero, said he finds time to help out, cleaning bathrooms, washing windows, moving furniture and more, despite his full-time work, because “this is a good place” and Langston is a “good man.”

“I like to be able to give back and help out,” he said. “They are my neighbors.”

For his part, Langston said he hopes helping veterans and the community will be his legacy.

And while the commute from Union City might seem like a long haul at times and the work at the store endless, Langston said he doesn’t get tired of it. A couple of times per week, he takes his wife of five decades with him just to watch.

“I feel that I can give back to the veterans with a sustainable business — but my wife, she is what provides my inspiration,” he said. “I have a space for her inside the store, so she gets to watch what’s going on. That’s our lifestyle. That’s what we do. That’s what we are happy to do.”

©2018 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.eastbaytimes.com
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