The City’s Longest-Running Trade Show Returns to the Convention Center

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NEW ORLEANS – The longest-running trade show in New Orleans has returned to the city, connecting business owners and everyday bargain hunters to deals on fine jewelry, apparel, bath products and plenty of unique finds. Helen Brett’s New Orleans Gift and Jewelry Show kicked off this morning at the New Orleans Convention Center in Hall J, and will run through Sunday, Aug. 18. The weekend portion of the event is open to the public.

More than 300 exhibitors participate in the show, which attracts more than 40,000 buyers and vendors from across the South to New Orleans, each year.

We ran some numbers, and ten years after (Hurricane) Katrina we’d already brought 1.5 million visitors to New Orleans area,” said Robert Kolinek, the president of Helen Brett Enterprises, which is based in Illinois. “We’ve considered New Orleans to be our home away from home.”

Kolinek’s grandmother, Helen Brett, established the show in New Orleans in 1952.

“She was a traveling saleswoman, and part of her territory was Louisiana,” said Kolinek, explaining how she would visit the city with a handful of vendors selling similar products. During the 1960s, she began organizing what would become an annual trade show, and welcoming new vendors along the way.

“The next thing she knew, she was filling up the Roosevelt Hotel with 90 exhibits in the ballroom,” said Kolinek.

Brett eventually moved into The Rivergate, an exhibition hall into downtown New Orleans that could accommodate the trade show’s 150 trade booths. The show was only open to fellow merchants who could buy products and leave with them that very day, rather than pay costly shipping expenses.

Nearly two years ago, well after moving into The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Helen Brett’s New Orleans Gift and Jewelry Show opened to the public.

“Wholesalers come in and get special wholesaling pricing. A lot of merchandise that they purchase, the general public doesn’t necessarily see. It may not be there the next day because (the wholesalers) are taking it with them,” said Kolinek. “Then the public comes in and they get to see different products, new products.”

Kolinek encourages guests to thoroughly explore the show, by stopping at each booth and asking the vendors questions about their merchandise.

“You find some of your best deals are located back behind a booth in the obscure corners that you wouldn’t normally see just by walking down the aisles,” he said. “You may find a product that someone else doesn’t even know exists, because it was sitting back on a shelf, but it turns out to be the biggest seller that the vendor has ever had.”

Tickets for Saturday and Sunday can be purchased at the Market Access Counter in Registration at the New Orleans Convention Center for $15 (free admission for ages 12 – 15). All military and first responders, with proper identification, will receive free admission into the show on Sunday, Aug. 18

For more information on the International Jewelry and Merchandise Show, visit


Suzanne Pfefferle Tafur is the associate news editor of

Categories: Around Town, Morning Biz, Today’s Business News