New Jersey brothers Walter and Patrick Hessert arrived in Lafayette this week expecting to find a sleepy, one-gator town. But what the brothers promptly discovered here is a small city with big ideas ­— and an entrepreneur spirit that’s highlighted by the countless small businesses and family-owned favorites that define the Hub City.

“There are places in the country known for their small business hot beds, like Boulder [Colo.], San Francisco and Austin,” Walter Hessert says. “Then there are places like this, where you’re surprised and swept off your feet by the energy. The small businesses here are vibrant, and the entrepreneurs here have epic stories.”

The Hessert brothers have been traveling the country for more than nine months to hear the stories of small business owners, all the while living out of an Airstream that’s the center of their own multi-media venture, The Million Dollar Road Trip:
Small businesses from all over the country buy space on the outside of our trailer and we promote them on the road and on the web. The ad sales fund our operations, promotions and grants.  We provide valuable marketing for all the businesses while covering the trailer with thousands of logos from across America.  We will create a monument to small business and entrepreneurship, and our goal is to put our Airstream in the Smithsonian Museum.
One of their first small-business visits here was a trip to Old Tyme Grocery, where the two were able to indulge on some quintessential Lafayette cuisine and hear the story of Old Tyme Grocery owner Glenn Murphree.

Murphree’s sandwich empire and decades of service in Lafayette inspired the brothers enough to include the Old Tyme story on their blog, as did Recycled Cycles owner Will Atkinson Jr. The two businesses are a perfect example, the brothers say, of the balance of long-standing businesses and new start-ups on the rise.

And the brothers apparently weren’t the only ones inspired by their visit with the Murphrees. The day after they met, Murphree found the brothers at the Airstream Village set up downtown for Festival and had with him a list of more than a dozen small businesses in the area with a story worth profiling.

“There’s a nice marriage between established institutions and emerging businesses,” Patrick says. “There’s a lot of support for each other.”

Just in time for Festival, the brothers are anchored downtown until they depart Sunday for their next destination. The goal of the year-long trip is to sell $1 million worth of ads to wrap their bright blue Airstream, meanwhile sharing “epic stories” of small businesses that have shaped the towns in which they were established.

If you happen across the Airstream (it’s pretty hard to miss), take a minute between Festival stages and sangria to see what Patrick and Walter are about. If their energy is even remotely close to what it was when we met briefly a few days ago, you’ll be glad you did.

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