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Freret Street resurgence continues with new wave of businesses planning to launch

Mark Waller, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Mark Waller, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on November 27, 2012 at 4:52 PM, updated November 27, 2012 at 9:11 PM

Along Freret Street, between the smartly renovated restaurants, shops and bars that have emerged in recent years, a new group of storefronts is under renovation, signaling the arrival of yet another wave of small businesses moving in. Before Hurricane Katrina, about 40 commercial properties in the area were occupied, a number that rose to about 60 in the years after the storm. Now at least five more are on the way.

It's been five years since neighborhood leaders successfully encouraged the City Council to designate Freret from Napoleon to Jefferson Avenue as an "arts and cultural overlay district," welcoming nighttime establishments that meet certain standards, such as limited operating hours. The resurgence, also fueled by the post-Katrina rebuilding drive, now is ensconced.

Among the businesses soon to open are three music clubs, an artisanal sandwich shop and a coffee shop. While a previous class of businesses owners was attracted by the potential of a once-thriving, but long moribund corridor and its stock of empty buildings, the new arrivals say they are inspired by the activity they already see on the street.

"There's so much talk and hype about Freret Street right now," said Toni Arnona, who along with her brother Vincent, is renovating a former boxing gym site into a sandwich restaurant called Wayfare, which they hope to open in January. "It's been a really neat experience building something, seeing it come together."

Freret Street Sidewalk Sign.jpg Freret Street sidewalk sign.

Shanekah Peterson also is looking to Freret as the place to reopen the Funky Butt, the jazz club she ran on Rampart Street before Katrina. She lost her home in the storm and was displaced to San Antonio for a few years, but always longed to restore the business and return to the music scene.

"I'd been looking and looking and looking," for the right spot, she said. "It was just very important to me to find a location that was true to what the Funky Butt was."

Freret Street works, she said, because neighbors support development, it has a mix of different businesses, it's close to universities and it's spaced nicely between the Oak Street corridor and Tipitina's. Peterson hopes to open by Mardi Gras.

"Everybody's got their own little niche in there. It's kind of a group business environment." - Rhett Briggs, co-owner of Publiq House

"You have a lot of foot traffic," she said. "It's very difficult to have a business and expect it to flourish when there are no businesses."

Another music venue under construction, Publiq House, will feature live performances in an art deco-inspired setting, and will have a full-service bar. Publiq House is taking shape in a building that formerly housed a Canal Villere grocery store with a goal of opening in the coming weeks.

"It was an area where a lot of young entrepreneurs were coming out," said Publiq House co-owner Rhett Briggs. "Everybody's got their own little niche in there. It was really organic and it's a very tight-knit little neighborhood. It's kind of a group business environment."

Publiq House construction on Freret Street.jpg Publiq House music club under renovation in a Freret Street building that once housed a Canal Villere grocery. It is one of a new batch of businesses getting ready to open on the resurgent Freret corridor.

Meanwhile, Scott Solo is developing the Rook Café, a coffee shop where he expects paintings to cover the walls and board game tournaments to unfold in a gathering space at the back of the shop. And Micah Burns and his partners are developing Breezy's as a venue for "experimental" music. The business is named in honor of Robert Borsodi, an icon of the city's coffeehouse and poetry scene who ran a gathering place on Freret before his death in 2003. Borsodi's spot was called Breezy's, Burns said, because the building had so many holes in the walls.

"It's a cool place that kind of disappeared and we wanted to keep it alive," Burns said.

Both the Rook Café and Breezy's are aiming to open by Mardi Gras.

Neal Bodenheimer, who was one of the first to bet on the resurgence of Freret when he opened the cocktail bar Cure in 2009, said he and his partner are blown over by the fast pace of development on the street.

"It's going better than we expected," he said. "We thought it would take longer."

Just a few years ago, Freret Street suffered from blight, stagnation and an aura of grittiness, he said. Now, the strip is full of "craft" businesses that focus on producing detail-oriented, high-caliber food, drinks and other offerings.

The growth presents a new kind of challenge for the corridor: to maintain a balance -- for example ensuring that music clubs aren't clustered too densely and that other kinds of businesses, such as boutique shops, have room to join in.

"I always hold my breath when new businesses open because I want to make sure they're of quality," Bodenheimer said.

Greg Ensslen, a real estate developer and longtime leader in Freret business and neighborhood groups, said the upcoming music venues will add needed evening entertainment options. "We have some retail people kind of poking around the edges," he said, suggesting another potential draw.

The special zoning district for Freret also helps harmonize the businesses with neighbors, Ensslen said. It outlines size limits for businesses, allows only two cocktail lounges per block, prohibits adult businesses and sets closing times at 11 p.m. for restaurants, midnight during the week for entertainment venues and 2 a.m. for music on weekends. Some of the incoming business owners said they sought approval of their plans from Freret Neighbors United before proceeding.

The monthly Freret Street Market, the annual Freret Street Festival and Friday Night Fights, which take place in the parking lot where the market convenes, all have helped rev up the neighborhood, Ensslen said.

Solo said he expects to procure soup ingredients for his coffee shop at the market.

"This is largely a self-directed revolution," Ensslen said. "There's a bunch of us all pulling in the same direction."


Easy upgrade for New Orleans tourism: Letter

Letters to the Editor, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Letters to the Editor, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on November 24, 2012 at 6:46 AM, updated November 25, 2012 at 2:13 AM

New Orleans is in the midst of a lot of hype, preparing for its Super Tourism Moment: the 2013 Super Bowl squeezed into the middle of Mardi Gras. A lot of rushing is going on in the city: rushing to get streets and sidewalks repaired; rushing to get streetcar lines down and cars rolling; rushing to get taxi cabs updated; perhaps even rushing to repair or replace some of the broken and missing street lamps.


Accompanying these hasty improvements are the inevitable inconveniences and, in some cases, downright injustices to the people who reside in the city. I wish to suggest one perhaps easy and noncontroversial improvement our city can make, both for tourists and residents alike: upgrade the luggage caddies at Louis Armstrong International Airport and make them free. It's outrageous to have to pay $4 for a caddy for less than an hour to simply move your luggage from a baggage belt to the back of a car. Caddies in other airports are free as well as lighter and more modern. Why can't we provide the same?

Carol Allen

New Orleans


Black Friday crowds ease in early morning hours, due to late-night sales

(Gallery by Brett Duke, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)
Sarah Tan, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Sarah Tan, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on November 23, 2012 at 10:21 AM, updated November 23, 2012 at 3:54 PM

As fog fell over the West Bank early Friday morning, many of the big box stores were quiet, with most of the Black Friday customer rush having taken place late in the night. The parking lot of Walmart in Harvey was about half-full, with wrapping and assorted trash scattered in empty spaces. Bleary-eyed employees at the Target in Harvey grouped together at the entrance, glad for a break in the barrage of shoppers. 

Black Friday Best Buy.JPG A calm scene at Best Buy, with a sign instructing customers placed off to the side. (Sarah Tan/The Times-Picayune)
Target store manager Cheryl Runez said the store was "pretty crazy" in the late evening and early morning, but that the rush had died down around 3 a.m. 
A slow trickle of people were still going in and out. Connie Madden and her sister, Bonnie Andrews, of Harvey, were just entering the store, though they didn't expect to be able to grab any sales at this hour. 
"This is late!" Andrews said. 
"This year, we decided not to worry about Black Friday specials," Madden said. "But this is kind of a tradition for us."
At Walmart, where some sales started Thursday at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., Craig Mailhos of Belle Chasse was shopping for a laptop for his daughter. He said he and his wife had passed the Walmart last night but decided to come later after seeing the parking lot entirely filled. 
"I figure if I can't get deals here, I can always get it online," he said.
Walmart store manager Darrynika Brown said that the store was chaotic last evening, with people starting to wait outside the store around 5 p.m. 
"I asked them, 'Why aren't you at home with your family?'" Brown said. "I don't think the holidays are like they used to be. One lady told me she celebrated Thanksgiving the day before so she could shop today."
At Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie, most stores, including Macy's, opened at midnight. At 7 a.m., a steady stream of shoppers were going in and out. Retailers said traffic would likely pick up by 10 a.m.  
For Target store clerk Josh Parker, this was his seventh year working Black Friday. He said he understood people waiting outside stores for hours, even if it meant missing out on Thanksgiving dinner. 
"If I didn't have to work, I'd shop," he said. "I'd do that for tennis shoes, so I understand, you have to wait for what you want."
He added, however, that working Black Friday wasn't something he always looked forward to. 
"I'll try to take a nap later," he said. "I hope to make this my last one."
Black Friday 2012 Black Friday 2012 A crowd of shoppers wait for the doors to open at the J.C. Penney store in the Lakeside Shopping Center during Black Friday in Metairie. Watch video

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Smoothie King to move HQ from Covington to Metairie, add 60 jobs

Metairie-based Smoothie King Franchises Inc., bought this year by a South Korean company, plans to keep its 50-person headquarters in Metairie and add 60 jobs. (Photo by The Times-Picayune archive)
Drew Broach, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Drew Broach, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on November 20, 2012 at 2:30 PM, updated November 20, 2012 at 6:40 PM

Smoothie King Franchises Inc., after flirting with a move to Texas, will instead moved its 45-person headquarters from Covington to Metairie and add at least 60 jobs, officials announced Tuesday. The state Department of Economic Development and Jefferson Economic Development Commission played key roles in the decision. (See update.)

The company has more than 600 stores in 32 states, the Cayman Islands and the Republic of Korea. It was sold this year to a South Korean company, SK USA Inc., headed by chief executive officer Wan Kim.

Wan is a Boston University graduate who opened his first Smoothie King in 2003. Since then, his Smoothies Korea has opened more than 100 locations.

Earlier this year, he said SK USA planned to open more than 1,000 new locations in the United States and worldwide by the end of 2017.


Fat City's next opening to be an 'upscale' Japanese restaurant

fat city salvatore's restaurant.jpg
Salvatore's restaurant in Fat City, shown here in 2001, will be converted into a Japanese restaurant. (Photo by The Times-Picayune archive)
Drew Broach, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Drew Broach, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on November 19, 2012 at 7:30 PM, updated November 19, 2012 at 10:50 PM

Fat City’s next new business will be an “upscale” Japanese eatery at the site of the former Salvatore Ristorante, the property owner said Monday. It could open within four months.

Salvatore’s, 3226 N. Arnoult Road, closed in January. On Oct. 23, Chuck Loescher of Chalmette bought the real estate from Frank DeSalvo of New Orleans for $510,939, according to 24th Judicial District Court records.

A new restaurant on that spot could help long-term efforts of Jefferson Parish officials to remake Metairie’s former nightlife district into a thriving neighborhood of retail stores, dining spots, apartments and condominiums.

“It’s not quite there yet,” Loescher said, “but if everybody pitches in, it could happen.”

Loescher would not identify his tenant but said the restaurateur has operated several eateries in Baton Rouge.

He said he has applied for permits to renovate the Salvatore’s property inside and out and that the new restaurant could open in 90 to 120 days. Among the exterior alterations will be sidewalks on trees on both North Arnoult and 18th Street, he said.

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