Po-Boy Views: Gone Pecan

09:00 May 09, 2022
By: Phil LaMancusa

They sat together behind the counter of their small (but perfect, they claimed) shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans; they read and reread the letter. The letter was from a property management company informing them that their rent would more than double when and if they chose to renew their lease in ninety days. The raise in rent also included the triple net clause of them assuming the responsibility of paying for real estate taxes, maintenance, and insurance on the entire building while the shop occupied only the first floor and, at that, only the front portion.

They had taken a leap of faith to open the shop ten years earlier. Factually, being one of the first new businesses to apply for a license while the city was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina. They had sweat equity in their city and their business and had worked to build inventory and income, however, not to the extent of taking this kind of financial hit. The first response was disbelief: "What did we do?"

Their calls to the landlord went unanswered. "What can we do?" they asked neighboring small businesses, who, while expressing solidarity, had no answers. "We belong here; people come to see us; we're that funky little shop that visitors expect to see here; we love our city, our town, our customers, and our customers love us. What the f*ck are we supposed to do?" It was like a body blow, a sidewinder, a sucker punch to the gut. They were helpless and heartbroken when it settled in that there was no compromise available to them—no eleventh-hour-save on the horizon.

The landlord blamed the management company, the management blamed the landlord, and they both blamed current market rates for commercial property. Indeed, all around them, in the Quarter, mom and pop businesses were going under in the name of market rates that judged a business by how much they could pay per square inch of their floor space and not their heart and loyalty to their city. Small, single-owner shops and eateries washed away like love letters on a sandy beach.

Correspondence flowed in from customers to their landlord expressing the value of the shop and asking for some degree of mercy, and there was no mercy shown, no quarter given, no middle ground to be reached. When their friendship with the landlord turned to ice and the management company stopped being courteous with the deadline looming, they looked for a place to relocate. They were told, "It is what it is."

They were to become yet another subject of conversation that started with, "Didn't there used to be?" A conversation that they had had with returning visitors over their ten-year tenure: "Wasn't there once a record store, laundromat, hardware store, grocery, bookshop, a place to get a watch battery, use a computer, buy a stamp?" Mom and pop restaurants were being taken over by corporations; the soul of the French Quarter was being sucked away in the name of market rates, being replaced by Disney-like gift shops and get-it-anywhere souvenirs. You could now get your feet massaged where the spice shop had been; you could now get a cemetery tour ticket where there used to be an ice cream shop. Tourist information hawkers now took up space where neighbors once owned coffee shops—places where you could go for a cup, read your paper, laugh with friends, meet new people.

They found a place closer to home with more space, easier rent with a friendly landlord but less customer traffic; they watched their old shop sit empty for almost a year and wondered again at the turn of events that put them where they were, the taking out of the bank loan to move, the lack of business, their loyal Quarter customers were becoming less willing to make the trip to the new space. For four years, the bills went up, the sales went down. When the lease for the "new place" expired, they realized that they had no more resources to meet the expenses to remain, and they threw in the towel. "It had been a good run," they told each other. "We made some good friends, but I'll miss going to work every day. The shop was like our baby. I want to cry."

The "sale" sign went in the windows; first 10 percent off; then 25 percent off. Next it was half off and finally ten cents on the dollar. In the end, much was donated—shelving, rugs, wall pieces, cabinets, and office equipment. "Take it, we won't be needing it. Consider it a souvenir. Sorry? Yeah, me too."

Oh, don't worry about them, they'll bounce back. You know, when one door closes, another door opens. It's just another 'going out of business' sign on a place that you can't remember the last time you shopped in. But for them, another door closing does not always mean that another opens. Sometimes when your door closes, your walls cave in.

A few years later, they're still going by to feed the clowder of cats that they've committed themselves to. They have other jobs and a lot more free time as well as less financial strain. They count themselves fortunate that they closed before the pandemic crippled the local economy sending shockwaves to many more local businesses-ironically sparing market rates. The point being that property management (and real estate) companies stay profitable by setting and inflating these rates. That's how they pay themselves, and landlords naturally acquiesce.

Take from this what you will and consider that it is not an isolated story, but one to view as an example of the answer to your question: "Wasn't that a place called the Coffee Pot?" Or "Wasn't the bar we used to go to right there? Remember? I wonder what happened to them?"

P.S. They're still paying on that loan.

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