Magazine Street retailers battle decreased traffic by adopting new strategies to attract business
From the Audubon Zoo to the Irish Channel and the Lower Garden District, Magazine Street, the unique, 6-mile corridor that combines restaurants, shops and businesses nestled into residential neighborhoods, is one of New Orleans’ signature hot spots.
Recently, however, many retailers say things are cooling down. While Uptown street construction surely hampered many businesses during the past few years, most proprietors believe consumer shopping strategies have rapidly changed, and it’s driving them to explore and adopt new methods to survive.
“It has been really tough lately,” said Jack Forbes of Bockman + Forbes Design. “Nobody seems to be shopping on Magazine. I don’t think the local public realizes that if they don’t support our wonderful American streetscape of Magazine Street that it might not be around in the future.”
Word on the Street
“I moved off of Magazine Street in December, and it was the best thing I could have done,” Virginia Dunn said of relocating her eponymous home furnishings store. “There’s a retail mentality to say business is good, even when it’s not. They don’t want to put it out that things are bad, but it’s brutal.”
Dunn said she noticed a decline in traffic in 2016. “It just dropped,” she said. “You’d sit for days, and nobody would come in. It didn’t matter what you had. It didn’t matter how much you advertised.”
Now on Leake Avenue near Riverbend, Dunn said her customer base is growing.
Ann Koerner, owner of Ann Koerner Antiques & Design, has been on Magazine Street for about 20 years.
“I think Magazine Street is one of the most vibrant streets of any city, in terms of the number of individually owned businesses and the mix they represent, but as everywhere in the country, business is changing,” she said. “The way people buy is changing, what they buy is changing and it’s a challenge to respond to these changes. As far as whether or not foot traffic has diminished, I can only speak for myself, and I think that generally, people are buying more online than ever before and they are seeing everything online, so the incentive to go into shops has lessened.”
Carol Robinson has had her gallery on Magazine since 1980 and gets visitors from all over the country – especially New York and Texas. She says she’s blessed with wonderful, loyal clients, but not necessarily a lot of younger people.
“Looks like Magazine Street is thriving to me,” Robinson said. “I don't necessarily see a lot of millennials in the gallery, but I see them everywhere Uptown!”
Dunn said there is not a simple answer to the cause of the downturn, but believes it is a combination of people not spending as much as they used to, the change in the makeup of businesses on Magazine and losing clusters of similar stores, online shopping, paid parking and ticket enforcement.
A Magazine Street Success Story
Local artist celebrates successful first anniversary, praising his location
When New Orleans artist Terrance Osborne decided to open his own gallery last March, after more than a decade of painting and showing his art out of his Westbank home, he and his wife and business partner, Stephanie, had the whole city to choose from. They chose Magazine Street for Gallery Osborne. After a year in the location, the Osbornes say they have increased exposure and sales.
“Magazine Street feels great,” Stephanie Osborne said. “We wanted to find a place that was safe for clients to visit if we had a late night event. We wanted to be in an area where locals visited and also offered foot traffic.”
The gallery, at 3029, near Eighth Street, is in a former T-shirt shop in arguably one of the hippest stretches of the street. There, Osborne’s signature style is on display in several works and mediums that have earned him commissions from corporate entities, including Barq’s Root Beer, Nike, Heineken, The Hilton and Harrah’s Casino.
“The gallery is going great! We are happy to be in this location,” she exclaimed. “It’s changed our business drastically because we sell more and we have a venue to host events centered around the art.”
Osborne has painted four posters for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, including this year’s edition featuring the iconic Fats Domino. The artist set the painting so that it looks like a continuation of his 2012 Jazz Fest poster that features Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews.
In addition to showcasing art, the venue has also provided a sanctuary for Stephanie to lead guided meditation.
“When you enter Terrance Osborne Gallery, we hope that all of your senses will be gently stimulated with the beautiful scent of lavender, lively music, a thick red textured rug that guests love to walk on, and, of course, colorful, ‘Feel Great’ New Orleans artwork by renowned artist Terrance Osborne,” she said. “We pride ourselves on having something for every budget since we sell art that starts as low as $50 and goes up to $65,000. The rug is also used for our free weekly 45-minute guided meditation sessions every Thursday at 7:30 a.m.,10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Additional sessions are held on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and cost $10.”
While many shop owners are hesitant to give away proprietary business information, their belief in changing consumer trends compared to, say, a lack of potential shoppers is supported by Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport’s passenger figures. MSY set a record with more than 12 million total passengers served in 2017. That’s on top of back-to-back record-breaking years in 2016 with 11.1 million passengers and 10.6 million passengers in 2015. In fact, last year was the seventh year of continued passenger growth, with an overall increase of more than 35 percent in total passengers since 2010.
While total passenger figures are important, the number of deplaned passengers is most critical to local business as those are the visitors who are spending at local hotels, restaurants and attractions. The airport saw 8 percent growth in the total number of deplaned passengers in 2017, with more than 6 million people getting off of a plane in New Orleans last year compared to 5.56 million in 2016.
“Travelers from all over the world are flocking to New Orleans for the unique culture, experience and people here,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said about MSY’s 2017 numbers. “I’m so proud to see yet another record-breaking year for the airport. This is a clear sign that New Orleans isn’t just back on its feet. It is as vibrant as ever. As a top travel destination in 2018, we are in a position to see even more tourism growth during our tricentennial year. As construction progresses on the new North Terminal, which will be complete in February 2019, we will continue to open the doors to new opportunities for the people, businesses and visitors in our city.”
Deplaned Passengers Matter Most to Local Business
Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) set a record with more than 12 million total passengers served in 2017. That’s on top of back-to-back record-breaking years with 11.1 million passengers in 2016 and 10.6 million passengers in 2015. Last year was the seventh year of continued passenger growth, with an overall increase of over 35 percent in total passengers since 2010. The number of deplaned passengers is the one that matters most to local business, however, as those are the visitors who are spending at local hotels, restaurants and attractions.
To increase awareness of shopping and entertainment opportunities, the Magazine Street Merchants Association has reached out to the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC), a private economic development corporation that serves as the city of New Orleans’ leisure travel promotion agency, to assist in updating and further promoting the area to tourists and conventioneers though increased advertising, social media and Internet marketing.
“Over the past few years, we've definitely given Magazine Street coverage,” said Mark Romig, NOTMC’s president and CEO. “We can always do better — it's just a matter of keeping up with all of the great things happening.”
Romig said the organization has a number of Magazine Street-centric initiatives coming through its GoNOLA web and social media sites this year, including a new “Day on Magazine Street” video this spring and an updated GoNOLA Guide Magazine Street this summer. NOTMC will also update NewOrleans.com’s Lower Garden District neighborhood guide in the coming months and add Magazine Street Top 10 lists leading up to the start of the school year in August and into the fall.
Adopting New Strategies
As a result of changing patterns, many owners are looking at the adaptability of their businesses and how technology might draw customers even if foot traffic is down.
“I think Magazine Street is undergoing an amazing renaissance and that it will continue to be a destination for those coming from out of town,” Koerner said. “As for the future of my business, that is a very interesting question and one the answer to which I am trying to formulate. I believe it’s going to point me in a slightly different direction than the one I have now in that I see more bespoke pieces being part of my collection. I now have access to a workshop where things can be made to my specification and that is an exciting prospect. Also, my buying habits are undergoing a transformation to respond to the high cost of importing coupled with the availability of what is already in the country.”
LURING LEISURE LOOT
The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation uses many tools to draw visitors.
The New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC) is a private economic development corporation that serves as the city of New Orleans’ leisure travel promotion agency. The state Legislature created the organization in the early 1990s to promote New Orleans as a leisure tourism destination during slow tourism periods, traditionally summer and the holidays, and to attract visitors and their spending.
Today, it uses a broad program of advertising, public relations and other marketing strategies to advertise the city as a year-round vacation destination.
“We have produced numerous award-winning advertising campaigns that show the city’s value for tourists throughout the city, including the most recent ranking by the The New York Times as the No. 1 destination in the world to visit in 2018,” said Mark Romig, NOTMC’s president and CEO. “In the last three years, we have emphasized our neighborhoods to bring a better economy to every part of the city.”
NOTMC publishes GoNOLA.com, a New Orleans travel blog that features twice-monthly video updates, and partners with the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to produce the New Orleans Official Visitors Guide and manage NewOrleans.com, the city's official tourism website. In addition, it provides for the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network, the Mayor's Office of Film & Video, the Mayor's Office of Music Business Development, and the Mayor's Office of Tourism & Arts.
“I am especially proud of our partnerships with all other tourism organizations here. By working closely in particular with the NOCVB, including that we recently merged our website with theirs (NewOrleans.com), we have saved the taxpayers many dollars in efficiencies and offered a more cohesive tourism message,” Romig said.
The NOTMC is funded by the city's hotel room occupancy tax and an optional assessment agreed to by hotels in the downtown area. It receives additional funding from the RTA/hotel tax and from Harrah's Casino's agreements with the city and the hotel industry.
“It was a successful venture from the start,” he said, “and continues to assist in bringing a record number of tourists to this city.”