Thursday, November 30, 2006

Are We Open for Business--a Potpourri of Answers

First the great news that Greg Peters, Suspect Device, is progressing well. The best news of the day.

A couple weeks ago, someone spammed several NOLA blogs anonymously asking "Are you open for business or not?" I was annoyed, started to respond to Anonymous, but decided not to as it appeared that this person was clearly baiting several blogs.

The question is now being discussed over at ThinkNOLA in the comments section of a post on Microsoft's blatant use of Katrina recovery as a marketing tool. It's interesting because with the republishing of all the emails from last year over at Katrina Refrigerator, I've been re-reading them and in one I talked a bit about how difficult it was to respond to the question "how are things down there?" That was a year ago. It's still difficult. Last year we felt we were doing a great disservice to New Orleans by answering, "It's okay" to that question, but we also were not always in the mood to go off on a rant about the problems. Here we are a year later, and the same issues remain in terms of how to respond to that question.

Let's start with SOME things are better.

Some people are coming back. Houses are being gutted and repaired. Some of the pre-Katrina Christmas events will be taking place this year, making some things seem normal. Some schools are up and running (although a recent report said that Katrina was the biggest educational upheaval in history with so many children losing from 7 weeks to one year of schooling). Some people have street lights in a relatively consistent way on their streets. I can hear the calliope on the Natchez most weekends now, and that's nice. The Saints are back and doing well, the talk of the town. Some hospitals are open. There are some, but not enough, beds for mental health patients. Some stores that said they wouldn't come back, have. Some grocery stores are open but many neighborhood ones are not. Some of the musicians are coming home. Some of the artists have returned to Jackson Square.

Some Friday and Saturday nights in the Quarter look more like pre-Katrina than they did last year at this time when the streets were full of mostly military vehicles and contractors. Some of our restaurants have re-opened.

::::::::Anonymous hollers, WAIT! You make it sound like no one should come down there! What the hell do you MEAN, "some" of the restaurants are open. You should be telling people that everything's great! Come down, spend your money, enjoy New Orleans!::::::::::::

Well, Anonymous, I do, in fact, say that regularly to people I talk with. There is plenty to do and plenty to spend your money on here---yes, right now----tons of entertainment from theatre to sports and everything in between. Please, conventioneers, tourists, please come to New Orleans, and have a wonderful time. It absolutely can be done with very little effort. That part is easy. Hey, the QE2 is coming to town. Things are looking up! But please don't expect me to gloss over the problems that remain.

What's not easy, for us living here to deal with or for those not here to understand, is how much is still NOT open for business. I hope that some of those tourists and conventioneers will notice how many empty storefronts there are in the Quarter alone. Maybe they'll even wonder why. I hope they venture out into the neighborhoods and see how much has not been done, how much of this city is absolutely NOT open for business--or living for that matter. I hope they talk to some of the people in the neighborhoods who are working tirelessly to form neighborhood associations and to monitor local politicians' "plans" for their neighborhood. These people, many of whom are still in FEMA trailers (a little less than 500 sq ft I understand), are the real pioneers, the ones who remember civics class.

Would Anonymous prefer that we all tell people a sweetness and light story of one year after Katrina? It's really too bad that it can't be tied up like a one hour TV show, with no loose ends and a happy ending.

The problem with doing that, the sweetness and light approach I mean, is that we do ourselves a disservice. As we here already know, many many people across the country think everything is peachy here now. I mean, hey, look at all that money that's been coming from the Feds (not), look at all the various fundraisers they've given to to help us (we appreciate it very very much). In a many corners of this country, folks think that we're all rolling in folding green (that most of us here didn't deserve to begin with in their estimation, and the truth is that I know very few who got anything at all) and they see us in the Superdome painted and cheering, so things have to be okay now. I mean, we HAVE football, what else could we need? Besides, President Bush said "as much as it takes for as long as it takes." Unfortunately it's turned out to be kinda like the No Child Left Behind edict he issued---great soundbite, no funding, and still--not to harp on this or anything but----NO LEVEES that can keep this from happening again.

If we don't keep talking about it, people will forget it. Besides, how can bodies floating in the streets of an American city keep the attention of a country that's more concerned with Britney text messaging Kevin to notify him of their impending divorce and whether or not they should go to Zales to make sure their significant other has a diamond bigger than the neighbor's holly berries for Christmas? Some American's attention spans are short and overall they prefer to not go too deeply into something that's disturbing.

I don't understand why people across this country aren't appalled at what's happened here. Why they don't notice how much we're spending to fight a war across the world for some vaguely messianic crusade to spread freedom and democracy to people who may or may not want it, but they kvetch about money for the Gulf Coast. I don't get it. Oh wait, I forgot, TomKat's wedding just happened and we really want to know what a Scientology wedding is like. Forgive me.

There are many people who write to me asking what they can do. They do realize there are still problems here, and many are totally disgusted with what they're seeing, or not seeing. They ask how they can help, but most are very leery of gigantic charities or funds. They want to actually hand their money to someone here who needs it.

So, for Anonymous and all those who ask me how they can help, here's a small list of businesses and organizations that can use the help. If you're still not done with your Christmas shopping, and you weren't up at 5AM to head to the mall on Black Friday, or you just want something different that can make a difference, then consider shopping New Orleans. If you're here in NOLA, stay out of Best Buy and Walmart if you can. Shop local. If you're not in NOLA, some of these businesses and organizations can still accomodate you. This is a very short list. Travelling Mermaid has a more extensive one here. (Thanks, TM!) I highly recommend that you take a look at her well compiled list.

Other local entities with websites:

Dirty Coast tshirts are a bargain at $20 bucks each. Great designs, locally owned and operated (these are the guys who made my "Be a New Orleanian Wherever You Are" shirt that some of my visitors have wanted to steal!) I asked a few weeks ago for a link ad for this blog, but they must be (hopefully) swamped. They offer gift cards so you can buy a shirt for someone and let them pick their own from an extensive collection.

EDIT: I found the code so that cool add flashing over on the right hand side is the Dirty Coast link. Just click it and it will take you right there. Their link is also on the Katrina Refrigerator site.

Two groups who really needs some help as their membership has dropped by more than half are Save Our Cemeteries and Friends of the Cabildo. Save Our Cemeteries does some great projects and has a fun little shop on its website under the tab "merchandise." Looking to weird out your boss? How about a replica of Marie Laveau's tomb? SOC has that and more. Friends of the Cabildo helps to keep several of our best museums up and running, including the Cabildo, Presbytere, 1850 House and Madame John's Legacy (which still hasn't opened.) They lost so much of their membership that they had to lay off most of their staff. If you get a membership or just donate some money to them, you'd be helping a lot. Besides, the membership will give you free entry into those museums when you come down for a visit.

Music of interest to you? Maybe instead of Amazon, you could buy a CD for that friend from The Louisiana Music Factory. Great regional music and a store that we have to keep in business. Tower Records, now a casualty of a corporate merger, will be gone, but Louisiana Music Factory is a gem that we can't afford to lose.

Don't want a CD? Okay, how about helping out a real life musician? So many of them lost instruments, or have no place to live. Both Tipitina's and WWOZ Radio have been doing "direct into the hands of musicians" help. And I know some of you are listening to OZ on your computers wherever you are right now. Help them out in someone else's name if you have a friend who already has way too many reed vases in their house, or give it as a gift to yourself.

And finally, on the website list, is WRBH Radio. Go to their site and you'll see a link for, which will allow you to buy anything from soup to nuts with a portion of the proceeds going to help keep WRBH in business. Not one of the big stations, it is an important station. WRBH is "reading radio for the Blind and Print Handicapped." They read news stories from various sources in their entirety, as well as fiction, non-fiction, kid's books 24/7 for those who are unable to read themselves. A very worthy station.

If you're local and want to avoid big box stores, below are some of my favorites. Granted they are near my house, but they are also of interest to all those tourists and conventioneers we want to attract, so come on down from the Irish Channel or Uptown or Lakeview, wherever you are. I know parking is a mess, but it'll be fun and the residents have already started putting garland on the balconies and galleries.

If you need something different, really different, head for Yesteryear's at 626 Bourbon. Okay, you're saying, you can't seriously be sending me to a Bourbon Street shop. Oh, but I am. While Yesteryear's does have tshirts (of exclusive designs, absolutely NOT the "I puked on Bourbon Street" variety), it also carries some of the most exquisite porcelain dolls you've ever seen, in many sizes and price ranges. This place can turn you into a doll collector even if you're not one now. And you can completely avoid the big jewelry shops as Yesteryear's has some very unique and beautiful gemstone pieces, again in a wide variety of prices and styles. The clothing carried in this shop is fun, affordable and here's the big one, wearable. This store has been in business for more than 26 years, acting as a counterpoint to the schlock commonly found on Bourbon Street. Let's keep her in business now.

Need computer stuff? Some peripheral for a PC or a Mac? Head for French Quarter Computer Services at 824 Chartres. This guy has been going without his meds to keep the business open. He is the only computer store in the Quarter, and for those of us in the area who might not necessarily want to go Uptown for that new mouse when this one craps out, he's a life saver.

Books? New or used there are plenty of places to support. My personal favorites:

Arcadian Books, 714 St. Peter, right down from the Cigar Store Indian (oh yeah, and if you are looking for cigars, go check out that Indian. You'll find Armando in there will be happy to help!)

Faulkner House Books, 624 Pirates Alley, great selection of regional, trade and used books.

Librairie Book Shop, 823 Chartres (yup, right across the street from the Computer store!). The guy there knows just about every book in the store, and like the owner of Arcadiana, if he doesn't know for sure that it's there among the stacks, he sure knows where to look.

So, Anonymous, if you live here, I hope that you'll keep these places "open for business," and if you don't, then please buy a plane ticket, come down and carol with us at Jackson Square, and drop by some of the above-mentioned establishments. Maybe talk to the proprietor's about how they're managing with only half the locals back in town and a much smaller tourist pool. You might get a better idea of what's really happening here, and better yet, you'll be able to DO something by handing your dollars to someone here, right into their hands.

And please don't spam the comments sections of blogs anymore, or if you absolutely must, then at least be brave enough to sign your name.

Any locals who want to add to this list of local businesses in the comments section, please feel free to do so!
EDIT: Thanks to rcs (although thanks isn't the right word) for this: "Unfortunately, according to this post ( forums) FQ Computers is closing down for good today. Shame."

You can find the link in rcs' comment. FQ Computers will be closing. Another one lost.


rcs said...

Unfortunately, according to this post ( forums) FQ Computers is closing down for good today. Shame.

Anonymous said...

You can get the code for the Dirty Coast ad on their website. Or I will email it to you once I get home.TM

slate said...

rcs, that is truly horrible news. I'll have to make my way over there at some point today. My husband really DOES need a new mouse and maybe my little 20 bucks can help in some way.

All the more reason for all of us to SHOP LOCAL. I don't want to see this happen to more and more small businesses. It's a horror.

rcs said...

Oh, and of course, consult New Orleans-based sites and for more local businesses.

slate said...

Thanks, TM! I found it and managed to put it up all by myself. Amazing! Thanks again!

ashley said...

Nice post. I referred the spammer to this post, which explains that we are as open as the airlines are letting us be...

Professor Zero said...

Excellent post.

E.J. said...

Wow, phenomenal post, and so well put! Everything you said is on the money.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I wholeheartedly agree! Shop Local to help New Orleans, even if you can't get there right now. I have been lucky enough to get there three times this year.
Was just there two weeks ago (the 15-17) and knew I would find a 'white elephant' gift for a party game while there...sure enough, Yesteryear's TOTALLY filled the bill!!! For the measly sum of $9 + tax, I picked up a 'crab-baby' doll!!! A plush-crab figure w/a porcelain baby's face!!! It was grotesque and yet intriguing. At the party, the hostess chose the wrapped version (the spiffy wrapping disguised the freakishness w/in). She was somewhat mortified at first, then became very protective of it! LOL!!! Yesteryear's is pretty much the only shop I make a point to stop in on Bourbon. The staff is great!
Regards, and hope to see Nola again soon!
(sorry to read of FQC closing, they were my fave and definitely preferred internet source in the Quarter - hope everyone is okay and someone please pet the Pug for me!)
Elspeth Ravenwind