The power of the purse

This story appeared in the November 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!

Last November before COVID-19 vaccinations were available, when we were still gingerly navigating the safety of everyday activities, the fate of many local New Orleans retailers looked bleak. The holiday season was looming, and business owners were uncertain whether shoppers would be willing to don masks and navigate the COVID risk while purchasing gifts in stores — or if 2020 would be the year that Amazon finally put the final nail in the coffin of local enterprise.

Fortunately, New Orleans residents know the importance of shopping local and supporting our homegrown businesses. Shoppers hit Magazine Street; families ordered to-go meals and catering; and homeowners even hired artists to decorate their houses as floats when Carnival parades were canceled.

While that support helped many businesses stay afloat, as did some federal assistance, it remained a difficult year for many. Sadly, we lost several businesses altogether since the last holiday season. For some, if COVID’s impact didn’t shut them down, it was then Hurricane Ida that did them in.

Many restaurants didn’t get the federal assistance they needed to stay open. Neighborhood favorites Carrollton Market, long located in a charming shotgun in the Riverbend, and Cavan, a wonderful restaurant in a restored Magazine Street mansion, are two examples of restaurants that have shuttered in recent months. Other casualties include clothing boutiques, bars and novelty shops.

The restaurants and shops that have made it through the struggle of the past 18 months once again deserve our support this holiday season. The independent retailers and restaurateurs of our city are a large part of what makes New Orleans such a great place — both to reside and to visit.

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I can’t wait for my local shopping traditions to begin in coming weeks. As an Uptown resident, my picks tend to be close to home. My first stop is always Hazelnut; its collection of Christmas tree ornaments range from whimsical to hilarious, and always delight. It’s also an ideal place to stock up on a variety of gifts, from chic housewares to jewelry to candles. Home Malone is another local purveyor that has fun holiday ornaments and décor, all handmade by artists, as well as other festive gifts, such as cheeky socks and ties, door hangers and the perfect cheese plate. Octavia Books always has stellar recommendations, and Garden District Books’ children’s section recently expanded — and can’t be beat. Baldwin & Co. in the Marigny is another fabulous option for your literary friends. (Don’t miss our interview with Baldwin & Co.’s owner DJ Johnson on page 34.) Museum gift shops always have a wonderful assortment of curated treasures; I personally love the gift shops at the 1850s House and The Historic New Orleans Collection.

And, of course, don’t forget us at the Preservation Resource Center. We have lots of New Orleans-centric gifts that make shopping easy, including history and architecture books, including our gorgeous Building on the Past: Saving Historic New Orleans; Mignon Faget cocktail glasses and ornaments; tote bags, T-shirts; and more, all at PRCNO.org.

For the shopper with coins to spare, one high-end gift we’re thrilled to offer this year is a bronze house plaque and/or house history for your favorite New Orleans building. Though the plaque and history booklets won’t be done in time for the holidays, we can prepare information for you to wrap, giving the recipient something wonderful to look forward to in the new year.

As much as possible, keep your spending local this holiday season and keep your dollars in our community. Our historic city has always relied on neighborhood merchants to bring goods and vibrancy to our residential blocks. Let’s support them in this continued time of difficulty.

And please share your favorite merchants and holiday shopping traditions from around the city with me! Send your favorites to ddelsol@prcno.org. We will feature some of your submissions this holiday season on our social media accounts (make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) to inspire people to shop local.

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