Going Back to New Orleans

Discussion
Feb 02, 2006
George Anderson

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

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9 Comments on "Going Back to New Orleans"


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David Livingston
Guest
15 years 1 month ago
For the past few months, New Orleans and the surrounding area has been like a second home to me as we try to analyze where to put the next supermarket. For businesses to come back, they need consumers. I don’t know who to blame, but getting FEMA trailers in the driveways of residents and utility hookups has been a slow process. Another problem is getting rental housing available to people who want to live in New Orleans while helping rebuild the city. The city can’t do anything. It’s up to FEMA to provide housing, the insurance companies to pay claims, and the desire for individuals to return. In order for the wheels of progress to turn in New Orleans, business owners must be “connected.” Nothing gets done without those wheels getting greased. It’s almost like going to a foreign country. Companies based outside of Louisiana are probably facing many more difficulties while the local business owners navigate their way through a Napoleonic maze of bureaucracy. The city will probably never be repopulated like it was… Read more »
Daryle Hier
Guest
Daryle Hier
15 years 1 month ago

I love New Orleans or, that is, loved. The French Quarter and its history … and Bourbon Street.

I agree generally with most of the comments. What the Rubensteins are doing is commendable and valiant, which is typical of small business.

But I feel like this is the Emperor’s new clothes and Atlantis all wrapped up in one. Better yet, on this Groundhog Day (& in reference to the movie), I believe we’re to repeat the same tragic circumstances over again.

I’ll not rant but just say this: A different, smaller, safer more protected and in the long run maybe better New Orleans is needed … but sadly I don’t see how.

Bob Houk
Guest
Bob Houk
15 years 1 month ago

New Orleans will go the way of Galveston, which is a fun tourist location, but of no importance economically.

Would YOU invest significant money in New Orleans? Neither would I.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

I have no idea how many retail stores will reopen (actually I have no idea how many total retail stores there were in New Orleans pre-Katrina) but I think the big will win and the small will fail. What could change that equation? Tax relief, more effective federal aid, and a better plan for reconstruction. In other words, I’m not betting on it.

Alex Eisenberg
Guest
Alex Eisenberg
15 years 1 month ago

As a regular visitor to New Orleans, a stop into Rubenstein’s was always an opportunity to find that “perfect” tie or sport coat along with the classiest service around. If the convention business returns, so will theirs. But I strongly advise the family to diversify against that risk by opening a second store along the Gulf Coast — looking to a growing city like Tampa or Sarasota. Check your mailing list, or ask AMEX to run transaction data to see where there might be a secondary concentration of customers who already know you. Finally, keep the name visible by opening a limited eCommerce website under the rotating banner of: Rubenstein’s Ten Perfect Gifts for …Father’s Day, Birthday, Christmas, Derby Day, etc. See you soon.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

New Orleans’ recovery is still getting a very bad press here in the UK. As I seem to be on a “trust” kick today (see posting about eBay), I would say that a great deal of trust has to be re-established before businesses, customers, residents or tourists would come back. I have always wanted to go to New Orleans but will not wait until I am very sure that what I would see strongly resembles what I would have seen pre-Katrina. I wish the Rubensteins and other business owners all the luck in the world and hope that they and other residents manage to find a way to return to their homes and establish at least the same, if not a better standard of living.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
15 years 1 month ago

Every day that passes without meaningful levee restoration and other vital services lowers the odds of recovery. So many people have given up on New Orleans that it makes the reversal that much harder. I had a hard time understanding why someone would want to live there before the hurricane and can’t imagine it now. I have had many pleasant trips to the French Quarter and have totally enjoyed their restaurants. But good restaurants can be built anywhere. The history and charm of the area are worth trying to save but at what cost? The poor that have managed to escape may have a better future elsewhere as it doesn’t look like NO has the resources to be able to help them any time soon.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 1 month ago

Whatever percentage of the population returns will be mirrored by the proportion of businesses that return. And when the tourist-driven businesses recover, there will be a visitor boom like never before. Basic utilities and bullet-proof environmental protections need to be installed, or there won’t be a city worth the name New Orleans anymore. They won’t get a second chance. The longer they delay, the more likely they won’t get any chance at all. A Las Vegas casino operator could recreate New Orleans in Nevada and beat the original, if the recovery delays continue.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
15 years 1 month ago
What city in America has the unique characteristics of the Crescent City: Mardi Gras; delicious French and Creole cooking; chicory coffee and baguette; bawdy Bourbon Street; Canal Street, Garden District and French Quarter; a Street Car Named “Desire”; original American jazz; river boating; gambling; musical and burial traditions; unique street smells; and even its history of corruption? The answer “No city.” So let’s fan the fire of encouragement. America would be benefitted from the Rise of a new New Orleans. I may be a cockeyed optimist but I think New Orleans will rise again. It’s a place with a rare and lively spirit. But because of its co-dependency on secure levees and necessary new housing it will require the rebuilding of levees to 21st century, highly protective standards and a massive new housing effort and rehabitation by its “departees.” Actions such as those by the Rubensteins as well as predictable forthcoming actions by the government, and housing and business entrepreneurs, which will likely occur soon, will energize the process — hopefully. (Yes, I’m hedging my… Read more »
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