Going Back to New Orleans
By George Anderson
The Rubensteins know exactly what Fats Domino was singing about when he recorded the classic Walkin’ to New Orleans.
“I’ve got no time for talkin’
I’ve got to keep on walkin’
New Orleans is my home
That’s the reason why I’m goin’
Yes, I’m walkin’ to New Orleans”
The family, which operates Rubensteins clothing store on Canal Street in the Crescent City, may not be walkin’, but the family is united in its determination to go home and rebuild their lives in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The store, which first opened its doors in 1924, was the first to reopen its doors on Canal Street post-Katrina. Approximately 40 percent of businesses closed by the storm in the city have yet to reopen.
“We wanted the store to be a positive symbol to the city and the nation, amidst all the dire predictions, that we’re open for business, that New Orleans was open for business,” Andre Rubenstein told Forbes.
David Rubenstein said the store started by marking everything it sold down by 30 percent and followed that up with calls to vendors such Armani and Hugo Boss.
“I said, ‘We’re going to come up with a plan, and I just wanted you to know you’re not going to get paid for a while, but we will figure it out and we will get back to you,'” he said. The vendors agreed.
While Rubenstein’s reopening can be seen as victory of the human spirit, there are still many hurdles facing it and the city it serves.
According to the Forbes report, only about 30 percent of the New Orleans’ residents have followed the lead of the Rubensteins and there is a real concern they may never come back.
The lack of returnees has meant that retail businesses are struggling to find employees and customers. The city’s tourism business has been decimated.
Even the stalwart Rubensteins have their doubts. David’s daughter Allison asked, “What is this city doing? We put men on the moon. Shouldn’t we be able to build levees that protect one of our most precious cities? Three months later and the stop lights are still out, even around city hall?”
Moderator’s Comment: What percentage of retail businesses that have reopened in New Orleans do you think will make it back from Katrina? Can the city
do anything to help with the rebuilding of retail businesses? –
George Anderson – Moderator