Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The State of Businesses in New Orleans

I know I have been absent lately, but got an email today that broke my heart. Lemme back up a little.

A couple weeks ago, my grandson and I were walking down Decatur Street. We passed one empty storefront, then the next had a huge sign reading, "Liquidation Sale, Everything 50% OFF!" A tourist couple saw the sign and delighted exclaimed that they could get ALL the tshirts they needed in this one shop---CHEAP! Having been a tourist myself in various places I understood their thinking and the dynamic at work, but as a resident of New Orleans, watching a New Orleans business crash and burn in the wake of the Katrina, I wanted to snatch that woman bald headed and scream, "Do you NOT realize what you're looking at?" But I knew that this couple was spreading the contents of their wallets around the city, so I had to see that as the silver lining to their obtuseness.

The email I got today showed this problem from the inside. This is a French Quarter business. As this letter was sent in confidence, I wrote asking for permission to post it. This is critical. People need to SEE this and understand what's happening here, even in the "French Quarter's Okay" frame of reference that most tourists see. I have omitted the author's name and the address of the business.

This is the letter in its entirety and without editing of any kind. Please. Pass it on.

"Yes, we are desperately hanging on... Running onlyabout 20% of pre-thing. We believe and everyone we speak with believes that we have a service business absolutely vital to the quarter and surrounding area. We have lost use of our bank account and credit cards because we couldn't keep up. Our credit is destroyed. Our landlord has reduced our lease payment by 28% for June, July, august, and September, but we can't even make that. I have to call him tomorrow to tell him we still don't have our august rent. We haven't been able to pay payroll since march. We've not been able to pay our [much larger] electric bills [Entergy] since were opened. We now owe them almost $4,000. Our smaller staff feels that with what we do - bringing crucial technology services, parts and training to the residents and visitors of the quarter - it would be criminal if we were forced to close. Our friends, neighbors, and visitors are begging us daily not to close.

We first opened in January 2004 and paid the bills from the first day. For the first time in the French Quarter one could buy a keyboard or a mouse without having to drive to Metairie, or ordering online - if they could even get online. We help people connect with the world every single day, from all over the world.

I re-opened on October 3rd, when the stench in the quarter was at its worst and so very few places were open, and gave free internet access and telephone service to anyone who needed it for weeks until the landlord insisted on being paid rent. Dozens located loved-ones and pets all over the country using our services during that time. It was enough to make you weep. A state trooper from New Jersey broke down crying as he sent an email to his wife describing what he'd seen - the diplomas and marriage certificates floating in muck, prom dresses, toys, everything one can imagine, including lives... All destroyed.

I lost my own home. not due to flood, but because the landlord hired a group of non-local laborers to go in and get the reeking freezer and fish tanks out of there. They stole whatever they wanted, which was just about everything. I think they left me with 3 t-shirts and some dishes. I slept on the floor of the store with my three cats [who I had evacuated to Texas with me] until Christmas eve, when a customer turned friend whose family would not let his 80 year-old self return to new Orleans, opened his condominium to me.

I operated the shop by myself until late November. While 'living' in the store, on November 16th, I had a stroke while I slept. Customers got to me and got me to medical help. Thank god for their care and for the tents of the 'spirit of charity hospital' [at the convention center at the time], and for Touro infirmary. Mostly recovered now, but with effects [and medical bills] I'm told I'll suffer the rest of my life. I need carotid artery surgery if I want to live. No chance of affording insurance. No help available from any level of government, the medical business offices tell me as they call wanting payment. My prescriptions run about $1,200 a month. I can only afford to get those filled that medical people tell me I must take to stay alive. 3 out of 22 I believe. Local medical people have helped to get two of those donated by the pharmaceutical companies because they are vital to live.

On our block [the 800 block of Chartres, between st Anne and Dumaine], 'le Madeline's' has never reopened and just recently vacated - a huge-huge setback for the quarter. Same with 'three dog bakery' on royal street. The 'librairie bookshop' is barely staying alive, as is the now mostly closed 'violet's' and it's 2 sister stores on the square. It's been published that they're surviving off their credit cards and hope to hang on until things improve [does anyone have any idea when that will be?]. Harry Anderson's [of TV's 'night court' fame] 'sideshow' tried to make it and couldn't. they've now sold the building, which was also their home. Harry has also been forced to close 'Oswald's' the speakeasy and his comedy club which was at esplanade and Decatur. He's lost his money and more importantly, his dream. He loved new Orleans. He and his wife, Elizabeth, are leaving for Asheville, north Carolina at the end of September. He's also vacated the space he rented for his magic shop in the old'wing lee laundry' at 830 Chartres.

Continuing on, 'in theory' a men's clothing shop next to the wing lee never reopened and has had to vacate. 'the padded cell' has been trying for months to open in that space and cannot, due to lack of funds and resources. The 'idea factory' gave up and has closed until September 1st. I'll be stunned if he reopens based on our discussions and the decline we're all experiencing. 'bel et bon', on the other side of us is never open. We are the only shop open in the two blocks on our side of the street.

The uniform store that was fully-stocked and poised to open on the weekend of the thing, never did open andthe space sits vacant at Madison and Chartres.

French Quarter Realty tells me they are only doing about 20% of pre-thing sales. Seems 20% has taken the place of what was 35% when all the first-responders were here to help. Neither number allows any of us 'mom and pop's' to survive.

'Arthur's', once on royal and Dumaine did well immediately after reopening, moved to canal place, and failed within 60 days. 'the Bienville shop' on the other side of the square did all of $1,500 in sales from reopening through January 1st. They are now closed. The coffee shop just down from him never reopened and vacated.

The pontalba café on the square, once with scores of tables filled all day, never has more than a few tables to serve now. Same with peré Antoine's at royal and st Anne. The 'alpine' never has anyone in there anymore. 'Chartres house' too, is always empty. The fancy restaurants I hear are doing well. Anything less than 'big name' or fancy, are barely surviving, if they are open at all.

When I was able I'd walk from block to block in the quarter to see how business was surviving. Immediately following jazz fest, 48[!] businesses closed their doors forever. I expect many more will be forced to close before September 1st arrives. There are no lines at banks. You can get right to a teller.

We have lost our central a/c [$3,500], 5 printers and 6 computer systems since reopening due to power fluctuations, which are not covered by insurance. We can't afford toner for our copier and haven't been able to sell copies to our customers for months. We can't replace inventory. What we do here at our shop is my own dream and that of those wonderful saints who work with me; to bring today's technology to our French quarter neighbors and visitors. I will do everything in my power to continue, but we cannot survive on less than $50 a day in sales. We know that comp-usa could come in, stuff the place with parts and inventory and do far more than we, but they couldn't love their customers or provide the caring service that we do.

We want to start giving much needed, much in demand classes - that would bring in much needed revenue. We need about $3,000 in equipment and material to start. We don't have it and don't know where we could get it.

We believe in the French Quarter. We are dedicated to what we do. It's all about heart. We have it and we believe our existence this long throughout what we've all been through has proven it. We won't pull theplug, but very soon BellSouth will turn off our phones, Entergy will turn off our lights, or some other creditor or the landlord will pull it for us. we need help. We need it now. Please...

Thank you for sharing with the Governor."

3 comments:

kudzukid said...

Hi, Slate.
I found your blog either through Metroblogging NOLA or the Third Battle. I read both regularly.
I live in Houston but grew up in New Orleans. My family moved here in 1980. My heart has always remained in the Crescent City.
The email you published today further broke my already broken heart. I am so deeply saddened by the situation that New Orleanians find themselves in, especially the dire circumstances of the shop owners.
This email should be shared with everyone in New Orleans and everyone who has loved ones there. The precious people in NOLA need help and fast. I totally agree.
I am always ready to do my part.
Liz

Zihuatanejo said...

Nice Blog,

Unless that was you there I urge you to take part in the discussions at this community. It is very popular, especially with the New Orleanians of all stripes. It also a great place to poll the community with quick questions and get tons of feedback.

The community is New Orleans or:

http://community.livejournal.com/neworleans



My belief is that to get real transparency in our government and in our planning process we need to get the young folks involved and up to speed on the new paradigms. Teaching only civics in school and not smart growth and new urbanism concepts is like teaching our kids to count to ten without teaching them arithmetic, algebra and calculus and then expecting them to make it in this world.

Help us get those concepts out there! Create an account on live journal and help build a community, an educated community.

Thanks,

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