By Emily Hingle The businesses of the 20th century may have closed down, but somehow still remain in our collective consciousness. As New Orleans is becoming more metropolitan and modern, the establishments that shaped our way of life are omnipresent, reminding us of our past. You don’t have to look hard to find something that techinically, as musician Benny Grunch would say, “ain’t dere no mo’, but still lives on.
You can easily find something of old New Orleans at small, local businesses around greater New Orleans. Fleurty Girl is a popular store with local flavor. Their t-shirt designs bear clever phrases like “Boutte Call” and representations of the New Orleans accent such as “Zink” [sink] and “Mynez” [mayonnaise]. The K&B crayon symbolizes that unique shade of purple the company used. Skip & Whistle located on Oak Street is a t-shirt store with a local mindset. You can choose from many business logo designs like Jax Brewery and Shwegmann’s Grocery, or the quirky NOLA-themed designs such as “Gretna is for Lovers,” “Kiss Me, I’m Creole” and “Makin’ Groceries.” For dressier occasions, Jose Balli creates elegant jewelry that shows his love for home. While many of his designs include fleur de lis and native wildlife, his New Orleans collection has pieces with business logos and icons. For example, the New Orleans Nostalgia Bracelet has McKenzie’s, Shwegmann’s, D.H. Holmes, K&B, and Rosenberg charms plus more.
One jewelry maker and glass etcher supplies many stores that carry nostalgia with her gorgeous pieces. Celeste Haar began her own business celebrating New Orleans. She explains, “I have always had a love of everything old New Orleans. I grew up with a historian, Buddy Stall, as a close family friend and was always asking about the days of yesterday to my family. My pawpaw was a milk man for Borden’s. My dad would tell me tons of stories about the city and all of the wonderful things he learned in his [father’s milk truck] routes.
When I decided to start etching back in 2007 I was not aware that there was anyone else doing things with nostalgia. I started with the K&B and Pontchartrain Beach and just kept building on it. Then I became a history junkie! I wanted to make sure that pieces of history were not forgotten and it really is my love note to the city. Through building my business I have found out so much more that I love about the city. I want to know all I can.”
Celeste’s collection includes the NOstaLgiA Bracelet with pictures of K&B, Dixie Beer, Maison Blanche, Pontchartrain Beach logos and others. “The jewelry is all [made by] me. I make each piece by hand. My glassware is all etched by hand. That means I don’t use any stencils or machines. I take a lot of time to find glass shapes, findings and sizes that are unusual. I am not content just to do the status quo.” She also makes NOstaLgiA earrings, glassware, and necklaces.
The most nostalgia-heavy places are the ones that have been a huge part of the city’s history; restaurants and bars. Some places we are nostalgic for still exist, like Brennan’s. Many are gone, but remain through other businesses. Tastee’s Donuts bought McKenzie’s Bakery recipes when the bakery went out of business. Restaurants and bars all around the city like Rivershack Tavern have walls filled with decades old business signs, concert flyers, and, oddly, lots of Velvet Elvis’ Banks Street Bar uses a Dixie Beer sign for their main sign, and serves Dixie Beer, which is now brewed out of the state. People are even living in nostalgia as the Dixie Beer and Falstaff Beer breweries are being converted into condos.
The restaurant Parkway Bakery and Tavern is covered in memorabilia from the last hundred years. Jay Nix, owner of the revitalized po-boy restaurant, collected a huge amount of everything New Orleans from business signs to grocery bags, newspapers, beer bottles, and even some old restaurant menus when the prices were just a fraction of what they are today. His collection is so big, however, that not all of it can fit on the walls and it had to go in storage.
Jay says, “I’m hoping to start changing the stuff. My favorite piece is the Woolworth’s sign which came from the Canal Street store. They wouldn’t let black people sit at the counter to eat. We have such a diverse crowd here that it stands for reasons that should be remembered. It marks the end of all that segregation, that ugly period where black people were treated like second-class citizens. Here, everyone is treated like first-class citizens. It’s a nice symbol of changing times.
I also love my Rolling Stones poster when Mick Jagger came to the Superdome. He has a Goodyear Blimp between his legs.”
Some different objects also pop up like a Halloween Schwegmann’s bag. “I have a receipt for two Regal Beers, 70 cents a piece.” Since reopening Parkway Bakery, he was adamant about having a nostalgia theme. “You can decorate a restaurant in a million ways, but when you decorate with nostalgia, you never have to redecorate because it just keeps getting better.”
When discussing nostalgia, stories come in abundance. Jay and I talked for some time. Items brought back memories and stories from his youth and legends of the times he lived in. He would say, “You remember that?” and tell me a tale. The sign from Yvonne’s Bar brought up the story of the bar’s namesake. “I especially love my big Coke sign that says ‘Yvonne’s Bar.’ She was the first female bookie in Midcity for the race track.” He went on to say that she lost her fingers working at the American Can Company, “which a lot of people did.” Celeste enjoys hearing people’s memories, “I love it when people share their stories and histories with me. I have always been a student and love to learn about our city’s history. My brain is chocked full of trivia, but it is those stories that really make me happy.”
We are surrounded by our city’s nostalgia. The best part is that everyone has a personal reason behind their love for it; if they tell you the story or just keep it as a secret memory. Jay Nicks hints at the idea, “I think people just like to look at it.” Celeste expands the concept, “I love it when someone can pick up a piece and they get misty eyed, or you see a little light behind their eyes when they remember going to Bali Hai after prom, or going to Krauss with their mom. Sometimes they don’t even buy the piece, but thank me for taking them back there. I love seeing someone pick up a piece from my table and they just have to have it because it reminds them of a moment of happiness and joy and they want to keep it close to them.”