Glitter Box

Written at the start of 2020 when retail was doing its thing:

Anyone who has spent time in the Quarter knows that Royal Street has more than one face. Starting at Canal Street, the 100 to the 900 blocks are replete with glittering windows of goods, carriageways selling framed art, and even a few stately hotels with ornate entrances that offer a peek at plush interiors. The shops are famous for offering a wide set of items including antebellum Southern furniture, elaborate lighting, French kitchen items, Italian stationery, books, a wide variety of souvenir items, even a tiny grocery store.

Seeing it all at a human pace is aided by the pedestrian mall that Royal is transformed into between the 400 and 700 blocks from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Once the car traffic goes away, those blocks are crowded with street musicians, “poets for hire,” hustlers, unhoused folks, and painters using the ironwork of the St. Louis Cathedral’s back garden to show their items. Oh, it’s a scene.

However, once past the little Red Schoolhouse at the corner of St. Philip, the street quiets considerably. Like neighboring Bourbon Street, it then becomes mostly residential and therefore invites fewer tourists. For the curious who continue in that direction, there are many wonderful surprises to discover, including a tiny store in the 1100 block with a simple red and white sign: Glitter Box.

The first mention of a building at 1109 Royal in the Vieux Carre Digital Survey Database is in 1828, erected by the Company of Architects of the City of New Orleans. Here is Stanley Clisby’s description of the company and the block in his 1930s book,  Old New Orleans: A History of the Vieux Carré:

“STREET OF BALCONIES 1101-1141 Royal Street. Upon our return to Royal Street, our attention is instantly caught by the row of houses on the left-hand side of the thoroughfare and their balconies covered with cast-iron lace and twining vines growing from the flower boxes and pots that line the galleries. These houses were all erected at one time by the forerunner in New Orleans of what we now denominate homestead and building and loan association. This particular company, headed by Jules Mossy and operating under the name of La Compagnie des Architectes, purchased the entire site and in the winter of 1831-1832 built the houses and sold them individually at public auction.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, FQ resident and writer Darlene Fife identifies the shop as the “first natural foods store in New Orleans” when it was known as The Sunshine Workshop. In her memoir “Portraits From Memory: New Orleans in the Sixties,” Fife remembered that the store’s only books were by the Anthroposophic Society  which advocated “”spiritual science” theories developed by Rudolf Steiner and how the owner Michael Coby didn’t carry dairy products because he “could smell people who ate cheese.” Legendary Covington Farmers Market vendor Norma Jean Marcon remembered working at the store in the early 1970s and that she got the job because her astrological sign aligned with Colby’s. She remembers it as a great era.

The address’s cavalcade of characters also included “Mr. Joe” a licensed embalmer at Thorp-Sontheimer-Laudumiey Funeral Home who was also active in the Vieux Carre Commission. His children, Jonathan and Romany, grew up there, no doubt roaming the French Quarter as happy little pirates. From his online memorial: “Mr. Joe” became a French Quarter personality. Everyone knew him and loved him; his ‘white balcony’ at 1109 Royal St. has been seen in many films.”

Honoring the building’s colorful history, the current operator Glitter Box at 1109 Royal packs a lot in its 800ish square feet: it offers unique gifts, art, apparel, printed materials, and health and wellness items presented artfully and with approachable price points. All items are made exclusively by women and femme-identified Gulf Coast artists living and working from Texas to Florida. GB also creates items in collaboration with Women with A Vision that supports WWAV’s work with previously incarcerated women under the Glitter Box Goods brand and acts as an education and community resource center.  For example, the shop is a community outpost for Reproductive Justice Action Collective (ReJAC), which distributes free and by-donation emergency contraception through community partners and a network of community support members in the greater New Orleans area.

A collaborative nature

The GB brand was unveiled at the location in 2017 after spending a few years as the Foundation Gallery, which had a related but wider mission of supporting regional artists and was also funded by the Heymann Foundation. Co-founder Alice McGillicuddy was behind the idea to change it to Glitter Box, adding maker events, and building its artist roster, all ideas enthusiastically supported by co-founder Lila Heymann. The change came from both women’s desire to support a wider range of artists and promote intersectional feminism, becoming more of an approachable community space than a traditional art gallery.

When the shop is open, two floor-to-ceiling windows on Royal show off its colorful displays, but its entrance through the courtyard to the right confounds many, even with the a-frame sign next to it, inviting people in. When its white shutters are closed, it is almost impossible to notice. 

Curator and manager Kate McCurdy is originally from New York City and has been in New Orleans for seven years.  She says, “this gallery is why I live in New Orleans; It has a supportive nature, a collaborative nature.” McCurdy started out by hosting Craft Nights, where the events range from knitting circles to Carnival headdress workshops which, because of McGillicuddy’s reputation as a movie prop fabricator, were well-attended from the start.

McCurdy is always seeking new types of products for the shop and working with the artists to source materials as locally as possible and encouraging eco-friendly packaging and materials. Fairtrade sourcing is also suggested when the artist is using materials from outside of the U.S., and McCurdy has been thinking about how to help the gallery’s artists with building fair wage jobs when they get to that level. It’s something she has some experience with as she was one of the founders of the Lucky Art Fair which centers on the philosophy of fair pay for artists.

Currently, there are around 150 artists represented in the shop with some of the items sold through consignment.  McCurdy gets 2-3 emails a week from artists inquiring about space, and does her best to direct artists to resources like the Fab Lab at Delgado which has free access to laser cutters, CNC routers (used for cutting plastic, model foam or other soft materials), a vinyl cutter, 3D printers, and more.

“The idea is to give them (artists) whatever support we can.”

Glitter Box also created the “Babes In Business” map and online directory, to encourage support of women-owned businesses across the city. The online directory features over 500 women-owned businesses and is searchable and divided by business type. The Glitter Box also holds a wide selection of workshops and community events like their new book club and donates a percentage of total sales every month to worthy non-profits and community groups. Since opening in 2017, they have donated over $40,000 to organizations like Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response (STAR), Planned Parenthood Gulf South, BreakOUT!, and NOLA Women & Children’s Shelter.

Everyone connected to the shop packs a lot of community into their day:

Lila Heymann: Owner & Co-Founder. Heymann has been recently working to become a licensed social worker while currently living in Charlottesville VA, although often back home in Louisiana working on the family foundation. The Foundation was founded to honor the family’s deep roots in Lafayette as business leaders: The Heymann’s Department Store was opened in downtown Lafayette by Maurice Heymann in 1916, and was a full-scale retail store, remaining in business downtown until the mid- 1980s. Uncle Maurice Heymann developed the present Oil Center in 1960 into a major retail, professional, and medical office facility that remains the nerve center of business in Lafayette.

Alice McGillicuddy: Co-Founder & Curator.  McGillicuddy is focusing on her doula career, now in Scotland. McGillicuddy worked as a prop fabricator in television and movie projects and on installations including the well-loved Music Box Village originally in City Park,  now in its permanent home at the end of North Rampart at the Industrial Canal.

Kate McCurdy: Shop Manager & Curator, Her latest side venture is the Lucky Art Fair, an event showcasing unrepresented artists working in New Orleans, where the goal is to fairly pay artists and art workers. McCurdy is also involved with Ladies in the Arts New Orleans (a networking group for all kinds of creative womxn), and the Krewe of Full Bush.

Karin Curley: Content and Marketing Coordinator. Curley also works for local non-profit festivals such as French Quarter Fest and Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo and also manages marketing for GinaWare Costumes and Clothing, a monthly and pop-up shop in Mid City which features recycled and vintage clothing, costumes, and costume pieces and parts for men and women. 

Neisha Johnson: Glitter Box Goods Designer and Production Assistant. Neisha was originally brought on to the team through Glitter Box’s partnership with Women With A Vision. She created a poem and design called Beauty of My Struggles which she silkscreens onto t-shirts and tote bags, along with other designs from the Glitter Box Goods in-house line. Her design represents the personal strength she discovered and leaned on to pull herself through dark times in her life, and acts as a promise to herself to never settle for less.

Jillian Desirée Oliveras: Shop Assistant. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Jillian made New Orleans home post-Hurricane Maria in 2017. Jillian, a photographer, joined the shop as another way to connect to the local community outside of her bartender profession.

With its multitude of items and educational purpose focused on female entrepreneurs and community health, Glitter Box is a great argument for a long walk through the Quarter the next time that you are in need of a few gifts or just some inspiration.

I wrote this in 2020 for an online site where I had published similar stories but these were never finished by the editor; all of them will instead be published here.

Shopping 1825-1925

Our best French Quarter museum, The Historic New Orleans Collection, has another interesting exhibit that just opened and will run for 6 months over on Royal Street. Their exhibits are free and are conveniently located just off the gift shop. The exhibit is called Goods of Every Description: Shopping in New Orleans, 1825–1925.

So much of what we ate, wore and used in this colonial city was imported from other American cities and in the case of the furniture or finer household items, quite often from European makers. One of the luxuries of being a significant port city.

2015-0464-20.jpg

Mule-drawn streetcar model; between 1865 and 1870; silver, gold; by Zimmerman’s (New Orleans); The Historic New Orleans Collection, acquisition made possible by the Laussat Society, 2015.0464.20

Facebook event page

 

Kruz celebrates 44 years in the Quarter

Red velvet cake for Kruz customers on his 44th anniversary.

Red velvet cake for Kruz customers on his 44th anniversary.

The Jolly Lama aka The Night Mayor aka The Funtrepreneur Pat Jolly shared this today:
A couple of weeks ago 3 different people asked me if Kruz had died!!!
So I decided to write to tell you that he is very alive and happy!!!

KRUZ moved to a new location!
1301 Decatur St. (kitty corner from his old location)
504 523 7370
http://www.kruzshop.com

Celebrate his 44th anniversary this weekend … Whoohoo!!!
September 26-28, 2914
Please help get the word out to his cherished customers and friends

You can also like and share his Facebook page

How Tacky T-shirts Became Contraband in New Orleans – Reason.com

I like some of this tacky stuff and also like the welcoming attitude for our millions of tourists of having many kinds of shops.I do think some of the shopkeepers could try a little harder to find a new niche, rather than crowding more of the same on doorways and on racks with nuclear-level lit interiors and blasting Cajun music across the Quarter. HOWEVER, I agree with a friend of mine interviewed recently in this blog who think incentives and marketing assistance to find new niches may work better than a crackdown, especially one that seems uneven in its focus on certain retailers.
This article makes some very good points here although I might suggest that the author’s comment about “there is little reason to believe they will be replaced by wine cellars or art galleries” is a light slap and one that has no basis in reality, as art galleries do exist in the Quarter, as well as some of our city’s finest antique stores. The culture of our city includes those things and just as some of our loveliest restaurants and best bookstores are found in our city center, those others can and will be found here too.

While a small store owner like Azemas would have to carefully calculate the number of New Orleans Saints shirts he could display in his storefront window when the Saints kick-off their first home game this September, large nearby retailers such as Walgreen’s or H&M can stock rack after rack of New Orleans themed gear without any fear of crossing the 35 percent threshold.

Certainly, no one wants to live in a city overrun with tacky tourists shops, but as the residential population of the French Quarter shrinks, souvenirs are a retailer’s safest bet. Even if opponents of t-shirt shops succeed in getting a few shut down on Bourbon street, there is little reason to believe they will be replaced by wine cellars or art galleries.

Some charge that the attack on t-shirt shops is really an attempt to sanitize the French Quarter and push poor and middle-class people out. Many of the stores are owned by Asian immigrants, and they cater to lower- and middle-class tourists. As an example of zoning enforcement being applied unequally, business owners point to new shop Fleurty Girl. The locally-owned, upscale t-shirt boutique opened a French Quarter location after the 2011 ordinance went into effect—without any major objection from the VCPORA.

LINK

Dispatches From New Orleans, Vol. 3: A Literary Interlude Starring William Faulkner and Vince Carter – The Triangle Blog – Grantland

An excellent trip through the remaining bookstores of the Quarter and its people and oddities. I’d keep this column as a reference if I were you…Although, his worry about being judged by the booksellers of the Quarter when browsing or buying is entirely unwarranted. If anyone cares less about your preferences than the people of the Quarter, I don’t know who they are.
Rembert Browne (@rembert) is a staff writer for Grantland.

Dispatches From New Orleans, Vol. 3: A Literary Interlude Starring William Faulkner and Vince Carter – The Triangle Blog – Grantland.