Broad Street, aka Highway 90, is a historic thoroughfare beginning at Napoleon Avenue and meandering into Gentilly. It is host to architecture ranging from grand to barely standing, notable to downright ugly, historic to horrific. And yet, every bit of it comes together to make an urban landscape that tells a story, has a feel, and speaks volumes about New Orleans. Our city is made up of the good, the bad, and the ugly, and this—like it or not—is the real New Orleans. We are a city of have and have-nots with an amazement of beauty and uniqueness interwoven into it. Broad is a street that I have come to know and love.
Broad Street connects and intersects many neighborhoods, and bears witness to so much change within this area. From thriving times to sluggish economies, the street is now beginning to experience some serious sparks of renewed life. It was the diversity and proximity of these varied neighborhoods that inspired Broad Community Connections. The BCC has spent nearly 10 years now forming a unity and a will, and acquiring funding to resuscitate a major artery of New Orleans. The BCC was founded in 2008 and has been a motivator and advocate for Broad Street (specifically from Tulane Avenue to Bayou Road), partnering with others to spearhead projects like the Lafitte Greenway.
The Broad Theater
The historic U.S. 61 "Blues Highway" (Tulane Avenue) meets Highway 90 (Broad Street) at one end of this state-designated Main Street—history lies just beneath the cracked streets and sidewalks of the Broad Street Corridor. We will begin our short road trip with the Criminal District Court looming above Tulane Avenue. The massive building of Neoclassical design is adorned with some of the best stone relief carvings to be found in Louisiana (Angela Gregory, age 25, was commissioned as the sculptor in 1931). This corner block of justice (or not) and incarceration is historic, infamous, and a great reason to proceed on down the road.
The first time I walked this strip, I was less than impressed. Sure, I'd driven down it many a time, but it takes a sidewalk stride to take it all in. And that first stroll had me thinking, "Just how many beauty, nail, hair salons, and barber shops does one street require, and are there really that many strands of hair and nails in need?" I was dismissive. Well, since then, I have come to see that each is independently owned (mostly woman-owned!) and that within each salon are the hopes and dreams of ownership, of being an entrepreneur. Also, within these salons, a sense of community is felt—friends gather, gossip, and indulge in a bit of pampering. So, can there ever be too many places like this?
Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club
Broad Street will never revitalize into a Magazine Street vibe—and perhaps it shouldn't. We need streets that offer services, supplies, and staples—neighborhoods should be within reach of everyday needs without someone having to trek miles away from home. So, while there isn't a lot of glamour to the family/locally owned auto shops, plumbing and janitorial suppliers, grocery stores, a bike shop, attorney-at-law offices, dentists, doctors, CPA/tax offices, car title businesses, and banking, etc., these are the businesses that keep the adjoining neighborhoods functioning and grounded.
Is there room for—a need for—a little scattered spice and commercial bling; some dashes of upscale venues along with youthful entrepreneurial enterprises? You betcha! Broad is the type of corridor where old school meets, and is neighborly, with the new kids on the block. A microbrewery, hip tapas café, vegan restaurant, bakery, art gallery … all these would brighten and spark this strip and bring traffic to the existing businesses that would certainly enjoy a boost in commerce.
Already, there are some really eclectic destination-type businesses—some are new, while some have deep and long-standing roots here. Crescent City Steaks (est. 1934) looks rather parental across the street from Seasoned: Experienced Cookware (est. 2014). And there's the renovated 90-year-old building now home to The Broad (Movie) Theater (talk about old merging with new); the crossing of the Laffite Greenway at the St. Louis pumping station (magnificent building); a sleek renovation housing a construction firm; and a splashy, brightly painted and stenciled bike shop and repair (woman-owned) next door to an upscale salon within an old shotgun double. And the list goes on!
Crescent City Steaks
And keeping it real and funky, a young couple runs a family business (established 1983) selling spiritual healing in the form of herbs, waters, and candles. There's the Zulu Club and their Zulu gift shop across the street. Adding to the diversity is Ideal Market at 250 S. Broad where, swear to God, you feel like you have just taken a mini-vacation to Mexico. Enter this market, and the aromatic allure of food cooking and simmering on-site will bring you to your knees in thanks of such cuisine.
One of the biggest surprise hits on this street has been Whole Foods and the ReFresh project at Broad and Bienville Streets. We have Broad Community Connections (BCC) to thank for this. The rehabbing of this Katrina-wrecked Robert Fresh Market (formerly Schwegmann's) food store has not only refurbished and revitalized a major block, it has brought a much-needed healthy and affordable grocer to this area (yep, if you shop wisely, this Whole Foods will prove affordable). And they own a commitment to this community.
Miracles on Broad St.
There are so many stores and stories along this road and many more just off its beaten track. Each block has its own quirks, offerings, and soul. Every day as I walk from my morning coffee at Whole Foods to Bayou Road, I grow more connected to what it means to be a New Orleanian. Do we define a city, or does the city define us? Either way, I suggest it is the streets and neighborhoods that make a town, and Broad Street takes on this task.