Visitors to New Orleans plan to come with an empty stomach, the better to enjoy the world-renowned cuisine. Only the initiated know to bring along empty bags as well, the better to fill them with wonderful surprises waiting in unique stores throughout the city’s charming and accessible neighborhoods.
When it comes to shopping, few American cities offer the unusual blend of originality, charm and convenience that characterize the New Orleans retail experience. Not to say there is any lack of major national department stores such as Sak’s or Macy’s (most of the nation’s big name brand names are here). But it is in the one-of-a-kind specialty shops tucked away on French Quarter streets, or on the 5-mile long Magazine Street, or in the Arts Warehouse District community located near the Convention Center and hotels, and increasingly in the Bywater/Marigny area just below the French Quarter that comprise an incomparable shopper’s paradise.
How to get it all in without missing the Jazz clubs, museums and restaurants on your short list? It’s easy: make a plan.
Plenty of small boutique stores and shops within the French Market sell New Orleans hot sauces, spices, Jazz music CDs, Cajun music CDs, Mardi Gras masks, Mardi Gras hats, Mardi Gras beads, cowboy hats, funny hats, and general purpose hats, New Orleans history books, cook books, New Orleans, French and Fleur de Lis wall décor, T-shirts, wind chimes, umbrellas, French Quarter street signs, posters, posters, bumper stickers, sun glasses and more!
The real secret to New Orleans shopping is that it doesn’t take long to get anywhere – much less from one shop to another, or from your favorite restaurant to your new favorite shop. Traffic tends to be lighter here than in most American cities, and the public transit system is excellent and well utilized.
What can you get here that you can’t get elsewhere? Try plantation furniture gems; 19th century jewelry that graced the thrusts of Creole beauties; huge sets of elegant china, crystal and silver from Uptown mansions, country hide-aways and French Quarter town houses; contemporary, folk and early American art; original contemporary jewelry; apparel and objects made by regional designers and artisans who prefer the special charms of New Orleans to the rigors of big city art scenes.
Antiques come in from the country, off containers from England and Europe, or out of homes that prefer designs from bygone eras to today’s high-tech or over-decorated interiors. Designers can be as stylish as Mignon Faget, New Orleans’ own Elsa Peretti, or as flamboyant as Yvonne La Fleur. Her hats are just the thing for over-the-top Easter parades of carriages through the Quarter, or your next girls-only lunch at Galatoire’s or Antoine’s.
Stationery designer Alexa Pulitzer’s note cards, invitations and pads feature Palmetto plants and elegant little crowns, a testimony to the sub-tropical landscape and the pervasiveness of carnival’s royal tinge. Glass makers, potters, metal designers, furniture makers fill weekend art fairs with their work. Vintage shops offer excellent carnival costumes along with the city’s once ubiquitous linen suits and great old straw hats.
Want to know where to shop for what? Here are some clues:
Antiques and Gifts
Looking for high-end European antiques? Head for the French Quarter or the Upper numbered blocks on Magazine Street. Elegant old china sets, classic 19thCentury crystal, elaborate silver can be found at M.S. Rau Antiques on Royal Street. New Orleans Silversmiths on Chartres and As You Like It Silver Shop on Magazine.
For estate jewelry, try Joan Good Antiques and Dixon and Harris of Royal, both on Royal Street. Scouring the city for vintage clothes and accessories, hand-made, one-of-a-kind tops, skirts, dresses and long coats from old kimonos, gowns and other fabrics? Head to Royal Street in the Quarter.
For leftover Mardi Gras costumes from previous revelers, from Kings to clowns, just right for your one day of masking in the Quarter, or whatever wild party is ahead in your life, try almost any antiques shop on Decatur Street in the Quarter.
Apparel, Accessories and Jewelry
Looking for established apparel designers? Try Canal Place. Check boutiques on Magazine Street for the hippest, trendiest clothes in almost any size.
Shoes for Fashionistas
Victoria’s uptown or in the Quarter; Shoefly, Shoe Nami, and Pied-Nu on Magazine Street, or Saks in Canal Place.
Funky, handmade, reconstructed, gothic and vintage apparel: try Lower Magazine Street, the Quarter or the Marigny.
Need Contemporary Jewelry? From silver seashells to six strand button pearl chokers? Try Mignon Faget on Magazine or Canal Place. Alligator, Lizard bags, belts and boots can be found at Wehmeier’s in the Quarter.
Art and Objects d’art
Want something new for your established contemporary art collection? You’ll find over a dozen nearby on Julia Street in the Warehouse district.
To find art by the latest sensation in town, or from other key national art centers, go to the Contemporary Arts Center on Camp Street (near Lee Circle) where sculptures, paintings, photographs and more are exhibited and can be purchased.
Are you an “emerging” art collector looking for the newer and less costly works of art? D’Alley, Inc. will have something for you in the Quarter, or try RHINO Contemporary Craft company in Canal Place.
Is your home more traditional, and a nice landscape or still life just right? A Gallery for Fine Photography on Chartres, Alexander & Victor Fine Art, Martin Lawrence Galleries, and Bryant Galleries are all on Royal Street and may have something for you.
Looking for folk art from the region? Head for the Louisiana State Museum Gift shop on Jackson Square (inside the Cabildo) or John Stinson Fine Arts on South Peters at the edge of the French Quarter. What about exotic African, Caribbean, Haitian and New Orleans original art? Try Stella Jones Gallery downtown on St. Charles Avenue or Street Scene Galleries on Decatur.
Weekend art fairs in Mid-City and Bywater-Marigny will feature the typical range of crafts, but with plenty of New Orleans originals such as old post-card tiles and coasters.
Information courtesy of New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau