This November marks two years in our relocated shop. Boyfriend and I moved our business here after 10 years in the Quarter. Two questions are asked of us most every day: “What neighborhood is this?” and, “How’s this working out for you, business-wise?” First off, no one seems to know exactly where we are! Some call it the 7th Ward, some refer to this as Esplanade Ridge, others say Tremé (and that would be incorrect—I just think everyone now wants to be Down in the Tremé). I call it the Bayou/Broad corridor. One of the things that sold me on this retail space was the ability to have two entrances and two addresses—N. Broad and Bayou Road. The dynamics of this area shift, change, and merge, and all within a small triangle of N. Broad, DeSoto, and Bayou Road, with Bayou Road being of great historic importance.
Any hoot, this location is slap-dab in the midst of so many viable and diverse neighborhoods. Our shop touches the corners, sides, and tips of many, and is within shouting distance to an array of other ‘hoods. If this doesn’t explain where we are, then I can make it even clearer: between Tastee Doughnuts and McHardy’s Fried Chicken. There, now you know!
Next question: How’s this working out, business-wise? This is even harder to answer, because what we love about our relocation is diametrically opposed to what makes money. This peaceful and laid-back commercial corridor is a delight, after years spent dodging a gazillion tourists, traffic and parking issues and noise and nuisance crimes. But with all the congestion and commotion of being in the French Quarter came lots of walk-in business. Being a book store deflected the party animals and invited the more respectful visitors. Sure, we got our share of tourists seeking directions and concierge consultations (“Any places to eat nearby?” and, “How far are we from the French Quarter?”). Yet more times than not, assisting our visitors was a pleasure. However, my good humor could be strained. Example: up on a 12-foot ladder, changing light bulbs above the entrance, and being asked from below, “Where should we go for lunch?” as their six-year-old scales my ladder.
Vacuum cleaners, shaky ladders, wet paint, and full bladders seemed to draw customers in the door. I could sit (or pace) on a slow day waiting for a potential customer and nada, zip, zero … until I opened that paint can to do some touch-ups or decided this was my moment to enjoy a long-awaited pee. Now, at our relocation, I could paint the entire shop (two coats of paint) and have it dry before anyone enters. Never complain about customers—when you don’t have ‘em, you change your tune.
So … business is a wee bit slower than before. With that comes debt, and debt makes me anxious. I nervously chew my lips now, and this is the only exercise I get as we both work 60 hours a week trying everything to keep this shop afloat. We promote pop-ups, potlucks, politicians. We engage in community meetings. We network and natter. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I spend hours being social with my imaginary cyber-friends. And then I rejoice and jump from my desk chair (which has become one with my butt) when I can wrangle a $15 website sale.
We are too much in debt to even think about closing. Going out of business takes capital. And frankly, neither of us wants to close. Boyfriend has his motivations and dreams for this shop just as I do. Closing is not a viable option—at this point. We have simply become very attached to this place, this neighborhood. Which brings me to this point: from the very beginning, this place—this small retail community and the locals who frequent it and/or live right here—have all become my heart. True, some folks you merely exchange pleasantries with, but most are like family now.
Our first new family member was Nabil. He manages the Boost Mobile next door to our shop. We knew we had to succeed and stay in business from the moment he said, “Debbie, Philipe, I am so happy you are my neighbors.” I knew then that matters other than money would steer us.
There is a sort of magic in this small hamlet; it is the diversity, the “off the beaten path,” the slight time-warp—this is still old-school New Orleans. We got our first taste when David Montana, Big Chief Indian for the Washita Nation, invited us into his home next door. He didn’t know us from Adam’s house cat, but there we were in his living room. I think we took the lease just to be next to his Mardi Gras Indian gang house. Some days, feathers float out the windows and through the air as the Indians sew their suits. Muslim, Asian, African American dominate this retail sector, while still welcoming us less colorful folks. Sure, gentrification is making its mark, but the minority is still the majority and I pray it stays this way.
The characters that possess and give character to this neighborhood vary, from the guys who stoop every day, rain or shine, seated on their milk crates with bagged cold ones in hand outside the convenience store, to Sister Bonnie who directs and houses the faith-based volunteers here to help our community. Albert, keeping it real with his neighborhood bar and eatery; Pagoda Café keeping the hipsters grounded with amazing food; Vera, Jennifer, Emma, Matt, Carla, Mark—heck, we have even had cupcake fairies and a king and queen. Magic, music, and muses are all mentored here. And we need these people in our life. Oh, and did I mention the eight feral cats that depend on us outside our shop? Guess we are trapped here by love.