The products at Miette on Magazine Street dot the shelves, the walls and the ceiling.
French Market coffee tins turned into clocks, Lego blocks used for jewelry charms and melted beads crafted into colorful lamps make up just a few of the artists’ work for sale.
Owner Angee Jackson, 34, says she opened the shop in 2010 to give local artists a place to grow and add to the offerings on Magazine Street, for years a mix of locally owned high-end furniture and fashion boutiques and thriftier vintage offerings.
“It used to be so much funkier,” said Jackson, who also owns Mojo Coffee House shops on Magazine and Freret streets.
The quirky landscape on Magazine Street has begun to change, riding the wave of an often-ballyhooed economic resurgence in New Orleans in recent years. The Uptown and Garden District neighborhoods around Magazine have emerged as hot real estate markets, driven by cash sales and offers from people flocking to New Orleans from across the country.
Meanwhile, national retail chains that once ignored New Orleans are now considering the city’s high-traffic retail corridors. In some cases, those areas have been proven viable by thriving locally owned shops. Home furnishings store West Elm is moving into the 2900 block of Magazine Street. Other nationals nearby include Jamba Juice, American Apparel, Starbucks, and clothing shops Free People and Chicos.
Some local owners see the trend as a threat to their businesses.
StayLocal!, an alliance of New Orleans independent business owners, recently surveyed Magazine Street businesses in response to concerns from its members. The group recently unveiled the results of the survey in a story for The Lens investigative news website. On Wednesday (April 30), a meeting of business owners organized by StayLocal! will be held to discuss the street’s future.
“Magazine Street is unique and that is the key to its charm,” said StayLocal program manager Mark Strella. “If chain after chain comes in, it’s at risk of becoming like every other street in the country.”
Twenty-three locally owned businesses between the 1900 and 5800 blocks of Magazine Street were surveyed. Of those, 65 percent reported noticing “higher than normal rate of rent increases” on the street. Nearly four out of five businesses said they are worried that higher rent will hurt their economic viability, according to the survey. Nearly three out of four shops reported fearing a rent increase could force them out.
Three out of four also reported viewing national retailers as a threat to the street’s character. The same number also said something should be done to manage rent affordability.
Three out of four also reported seeing national retailers as a threat to the street’s character and said something should be done to manage rent affordability, according to the survey.
Strella said with property values on the rise, business owners began noticing rising rental rates three or four years ago, but rent in the last year or two have clearly surged. He said he hopes business owners at Wednesday’s meeting will begin a conversation on the options moving forward, whether through a government policy or a private-sector marketing and business development effort, aimed at beefing up competition against the chains.
In several places in the United States, from the increasingly pricey San Francisco to the Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, governments have implemented various rules or limits on “formula retail” — chains that use the same products and design in many locations – to protect the flavor of certain historic areas or neighborhoods.
In New Orleans, national retailers are setting up shop citywide, developments that Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration and City Council members celebrate. The new arrivals inlcude Costco, Mid-City Market with Winn-Dixie, among other chains, two additional Walmart stores, Tiffany’s jewelry and the soon-to-be open outlet mall inside a renovated Riverwalk.
A report last year by the New Orleans Business Alliance, which counts retail recruitment among its missions, found that residents spend $1.9 billion on retail goods in neighboring parishes every year, more than the $1.48 billion spent inside the city.
Strella said chain stores can have a place in the city, such as anchoring a new development. “We’re not advocating putting up walls around New Orleans and keeping chains out,” he said.
Keith Adler, a sales and leasing associate with Corporate Realty, said he works as a broker on Magazine Street, owns property there and also lives nearby. Retail rental rates on Magazine Street are range from about $20 per square foot, per year, to $35 per square foot on the major shopping blocks, nearing historic highs, he said.
“I think that Magazine Street is a microcosm and a victim of the great successes and strides that New Orleans has made since Hurricane Katrina,” Adler said. The city has a finite amount of land to build on, different from cities like Memphis or Atlanta with neighborhoods and suburbs for ongoing expansion, he said. As national retailers look to move in to New Orleans, they are searching for proven retail ground.
Meanwhile, the growing number of new residents moving to the city “are not beholden to what old New Orleans used to be and the fabric of pre-Katrina New Orleans, but what they do want to see is their favorite dress store from home,” he said. On the other hand, proliferation of national chains looking for big-box style spaces will be hindered by the older, smaller building sizes on Magazine Street, he said.
In a shifting market, he said, there will be some businesses pushed out because of higher rents. But he said he thinks there’s room for everybody.
“What is happening on Magazine Street is good for New Orleans,” Adler said. “It’s a good thing for Uptown and it’s a good thing for our national presence. … I don’t blame the mom and pop retailer for being a little scared that they can’t afford what’s coming down the pipe. Those people cannot sit on their laurels … they have got to be proactive and find those spaces they can work their business in.”
Aidan Gill, founder of Aidan Gill for Men barbershop and haberdashery, owns the building for his Magazine Street shop. The Dublin, Ireland native founded the business in 1990. He said more and more tourists are getting out of the French Quarter and visiting the city’s neighborhoods, and it’s up to businesses on Magazine Street to work hard to compete, including opening for regular hours, handling garbage properly, keeping storefronts clean and being friendly to visiting customers.
“People aren’t coming to Magazine to find the Gap and Banana Republic,” he said.
Jackson said she is grateful that monthly rents at both her coffee shop and her artists’ gallery are reasonable for the current market. She pays $1,650 at the coffee shop, up from $900 seven years ago, although that increase includes the addition of a $250 storage space. At Miette, the rent is $1,900 per month.
She said she is concerned that costs will go up and put more pressure on her operation. She focuses on supporting other local businesses by spreading the word and serving coffee roasted locally rather than serving nationally known brands. But big corporations can afford to pay the higher rents, she said.
After Hurricane Katrina, Jackson opened Mojo Coffee Shop inside a former Rue de la Course in the 1500 block of Magazine Street. For a week after opening, she couldn’t get any cups. The neighbors showed up with their own cups from home, she said.
“I wish there was something protecting small business,” Jackson said. “We all take care of each other. It’s a Southern thing. I don’t want us to lose our Southern charm, and I think small businesses help with that culture.”
Originally posted here.