I’m a Preservationist: DJ Johnson

This interview appeared in the October issue of PRC’s Preservation in Print magazine. Interested in getting more preservation stories like this delivered to your door nine times a year? Become a member of the PRC for a subscription!

 

I’m a Preservationist

DJ Johnson
Owner and founder, Baldwin & Co. Bookstore and coffee shop

 

Your professional background is in internet technology, not bookselling or coffee shops. What inspired you to open Baldwin & Co., the lovely new coffee shop and bookstore at 1030 Elysian Fields Ave.? It was a bold move to open a bricks-and-mortar bookstore in the age of Amazon.com.

I was inspired to open Baldwin & Co. by the impact a community bookstore could make on improving the literacy rates in New Orleans, closing the opportunity gap in black and brown kids, and the ability to reinvest in the community as well as build up the community. More than 70 percent of Baldwin & Co.’s revenue is reinvested back into the local community of New Orleans. I felt like I had the advantage above Amazon in being able to offer a personal touch to community redevelopment, and at the end of the day, people support people over a business.

 

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The building that houses Baldwin & Co. is beautiful. Tell us about the renovation. Do you know the history of the building?

It is one of the rare Art Deco-style buildings in the City of New Orleans. Prior to the building housing the business Curbside Daiquiris, I was told the structure was originally part of a funeral home that was next door owned by Ransom and Sons. The building is a two-story structure; originally the funeral home was joined to the building by a corridor on the second floor, and there were offices on the second floor. On the ground floor, the front part was an insurance office, and the rear was where embalmment occurred. The door that joined the two buildings on the second story is actually still existing. The corridor has been demolished, however. The second floor has now been renovated into a luxury four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bathroom apartment. It is a quintessentially New Orleans apartment and retains the architectural details that make New Orleans homes interesting and beautiful: 15-foot ceilings, marble bathroom floors, original red pine hardwood floors and a beautiful sunroom view over the city. The ground level has been renovated into a nerd-chic coffeeshop and bookstore with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, hardwood floors and a glass-walled podcast studio.

 

You also developed the NOLA Art Bar, an upscale art gallery and lounge in the Faubourg Marigny. Tell us about that property.

The NOLA Art Bar was previously Ily’s Bistro, a sister restaurant to the world-famous Gene’s Po-Boys. Prior to that, in the early 1900s, it was a filling station. The street curb cutouts where cars used to pull in are still existing. Today, that property houses NOLA Art Bar, an upscale art gallery and lounge.

 

You grew up in New Orleans but left for many years to develop your career. How did your upbringing here influence the work you do today?

My upbringing in New Orleans developed a resiliency inside me; it developed a mental fortitude of strength and persistence. New Orleans is one of those cities similar to Chicago and New York — very rich in culture, but also rich in challenges and crime — and if you can make it in New Orleans, you can make it anywhere.

 

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If you had a magic wand and could improve one thing about New Orleans, what would it be?

The literacy rates. I would make New Orleans the most literate and well-read city in the world. New Orleanians would read at astounding high levels if I had a magic wand and could improve one thing about New Orleans. There is a profound correlation between literacy rates and crime and mass incarceration: 74 percent of adult inmates only read at a fourth-grade level. Individuals who are avid readers are 122 times more successful than those who do not. Imagine how amazing New Orleans could be with a culture based on reading.

The building that now houses Baldin & Co. was origially part of a funeral home owned by Ransom and Sons. Photos by Liz Jurey.

 

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