New Orleans is a city of distinctly different neighborhoods. 73 of them to be exact.
We’ve got broad-brushstroke boundaries like Uptown, Mid-City and Algiers. Within those – and sometimes seemingly between them – we have areas with names like Black Pearl, Gert Town, Milneburg, and Desire. And if you want to get even more specifically local, you subscribe to the belief that no neighborhood is either “good” or “bad” with the uniquely New Orleans’ explanation, “It’s block by block.”
Normally, we use this yardstick to describe residential blocks. But the same calculus applies to opening a brick-and-mortar retail store. For example, one part of the French Quarter is very different from another.
Katie Schmidt launched her fair trade, sustainable clothing line, Passion Lilie, in 2013. But it wasn’t till 9 years later, in 2022, that she opened a French Quarter retail store on Chartres Street, just a stone’s throw from Jackson Square. What made Katie choose that particular spot? She explains why she’s on Chartres Street in the quarter and not Magazine Street, Uptown on this edition of Out to Lunch.
Aaron Newsome opened his store, The Bike Shop NOLA, on Freret Street, in 2011. Back then, Freret Street and its surrounding residential neighborhoods, were very different from the gentrified homes and restaurant and retail row the area has turned into. As the neighborhood has changed, Aaron’s clientele has changed with it. His customers started out as people with limited resources looking for a used bike, or coming in to get their bike fixed. Now he also has folks looking to buy new bikes, and at a decent price.
On top of that, in 2020 Aaron’s business was the recipient of more unexpected good fortune. The Covid pandemic and lockdown happened, and suddenly it seemed like every person in America wanted a bike. Aaron’s business is doing so well he’s been able to relocate to a bigger and better spot. Employing the New Orleans block-by-block calculus, the new location of Bike Shop NOLA is a block or so up Freret Street, near Louisiana’s most stylish Rouse’s.
There are a lot of magical things about living in New Orleans. Like, being able to stroll around the French Quarter, get beignets, listen to music, and shop at a fair-trade designer clothing store that sells exclusive but affordable fashion. And being able to saunter down Freret Street, sample all kinds of foods, from Creole to Greek, and go to a yoga class while you get your bike fixed. These aren’t fantasy videos dreamed up by the people who run the Visit New Orleans Instagram account. This is how we live.
In another city, maybe you wouldn’t put a bike shop and a clothes store on a list of magical experiences, but other cities don’t have the French Quarter or Freret Street. And they don’t have people like Katie Schmidt and Aaron Newsome who have chosen to live here. The businesses they’ve built and the lives they’re living are all a part of the simple everyday reality that collectively is the magic of the city of New Orleans.