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

 

Tom Fitzmorris on Ted Brennan

From my perspective, this is exactly right. Thank you Tom Fitzmorris for giving Ted and the other Brennan boys their due.

Ted Brennan, 1948-2016.

There’s a tragic aspect to the end of every life. One hopes that the brighter qualities so outshine the darkness the the person’s life is celebrated gladly. Ted Brennan, who died on Wednesday, August 3, 2016 at the age of sixty-eight, had that balancing act pretty well accomplished.

Ted and his two brothers owned Brennan’s on Royal Street, one of the most successful, original, and loved establishments in the world history of the restaurant business. But three years before his passing he had to watch his restaurant pulled out from under him. It was a professional and personal disaster, one from which there didn’t seem to be any escape.
But Brennan’s was so much a part of Ted’s life that, even as his health gave out (Parkinson’s), he had plans in the works to open a new French Quarter restaurant with his son Teddy. It was such a reach that, frankly, I never thought I would see Ted Brennan’s On Decatur actually open. It hasn’t, yet, but all the pieces seem to be coming together for a fall opening. The plan includes Chef Lazone Randolph, the brilliant man who orchestrated the kitchen at Brennan’s for decades. I am ready to be very pleasantly surprised.
Ted was in his twenties, the youngest of Owen Brennan’s boys, when the three of them took full control of Brennan’s from their aunts and uncles in 1973. With their mother they already owned the place, having inherited it after father Owen died young in 1955. It was Owen and his siblings that had built Brennan’s into the fantastically popular and profitable restaurant it had become. (These aunts and uncles moved to Commander’s Palace, where they had to start all over again, and did-brilliantly.)
By 1973, Ted and his two brothers were already heavily involved in Brennan’s operation, and they were ready to run the establishment their way, without having to check in with Aunts Ella and Adelaide or Uncles Dick and John in every decision. The two sides of the family would never reconcile their differences.
That was okay with Ted, Pip and Jimmy. Pip eased into the nuts and bolts of general management. Jimmy became the man with the key to the wine cellar, which would become one of the best in America. Ted, with his good looks and sense of humor and hospitality, became the man standing at the entrance, making sure the VIPs and regulars were well cared for. I heard it said more than a few times that Ted most resembled his father Owen, who was one of the most convivial and best-liked hosts in New Orleans. Indeed, in almost all my meals and interviews at Brennan’s, Ted was the man I spoke with. Only once did I have dinner with the three of them at one table.
Two anecdotes about Ted and his personality: He showed up for a radio visit with me one afternoon. He walked into the studio with his finger on his lips. He pulled his hand away and shook it negatively. He pointed to his throat, then shrugged his shoulders. “What’s up?” I asked, puzzled. He grabbed a piece of paper and wrote on it, “I can’t talk. Laryngitis!” He can’t talk in an interview on the radio? Then he started laughing at me for falling for that.
Second anecdote: I was having dinner at Brennan’s one night, enjoying a half-dozen oysters casino. The dish is almost too simple: oysters baked on the shells with cocktail sauce and a slice of crisp bacon. Ted came up behind me and said, “Just like a stupid Irishman!” he said. “Eating oysters with hot ketchup and bacon. Hah!”
I looked up. “So why do you have it on your menu if it’s so awful?”
“Oh, no,” he said. “I like them too!” He didn’t have to tell me that he also was strongly Irish.
During their heyday from 1973 until just into the 2000s, the Brennan brothers had a simple business model. They knew it was a gold-laying goose, and they took very good care of that bird. They rarely made major changes in the menu. They were very generous with their friends and regulars. One staffer was responsible for contacting any friend of the Brennans who was having a birthday, and inviting the celebrant in for dinner.
For about ten years in the 1990s, they sent me a can of beluga caviar for Christmas every year. It would be clearly unethical for me to accept such a gift, but they wouldn’t take it when I tried to give it back. This led to my beginning a charitable dinner I would chef on Twelfth Night every year. The first of the ten courses was always beluga caviar atop savory waffles, courtesy of Brennan’s.
When we began the Eat Club dinner series in the 1990s, our first Christmas Eat Club dinner was at Brennan’s. To say that the wines and food they served us were far more valuable than what the Eat Clubbers had to pay is a gross understatement.
And then, in 2011, I was told that Brennan’s couldn’t do the Eat Club Reveillon dinner that year. Same thing next year, and forever after that. I would not have guessed that this was because Brennan’s was having financial problems. But that was the deal, all right.
And then Jimmy Brennan died. This clicked in one of several unusual agreements among the brothers as to what would happen if one of them died, retired, or otherwise left the scene. I have heard a few versions of how this worked, but most of them say that ownership in Brennan’s could not devolve to anyone other than one of the three brothers. The next development: Ted and Pip were taking legal action against one other. And then, they were all cast out, as new owners of Brennan’s cleared the deck, paying by far the highest price in the history of the New Orleans restaurant business.
And Ted was on the street. But he swore that he’d be back, with Teddy and Lazone, to re-establish his idea of what Brennan’s is supposed to me.
It gives me a sour feeling to review those desperate days for the Brennan brothers. Only Pip Brennan remains of the trio. Pip’s sons are in the restaurant business, but not here in town. I dearly hope that Teddy gets his father’s restaurant open this fall. I would give me something to smile about when I think of what happened to my friend Ted Brennan. Quel dommage!

Krewe of Cork 3 p.m. today

I’d put their route but they seem to not care to share it on their site. Seems more important to have all of their party pictures front and center.  And that they take all forms of credit cards. Priorities, after all…
Generally, it goes up Chartres crossing to Royal at Iberville and at Saint Ann to get back to Chartres.

Letter to the Editor on Royal St Mall

As a FQ resident, I am following the Royal Street pedestrian mall uproar with great interest. Here are my thoughts, also shared by some of my neighbors:

 

  1. I find the reasons for the NOPD closing the mall in the fall suspiciously close to the new arguments made by the businesses in the December letter. Shall we then assume that there was a prior conversation with the NOPD about summarily closing the mall without engaging the neighborhood associations or talking with the media first? If so, shame on you both.

 

  1. The argument against the mall for reasons of controlling terrorism are almost universally scorned by those I talk to in the Quarter. First, the LA Supreme Court sits across the street from the police station, second, the cross streets remain open and third, most people assume it would be easier for the bad guys if the street was open. Odd how other street closings have not been turned down for the same reason in any other situation or area.

 

  1. It feels like two issues are foremost for these businesses: convenience for deliveries/shoppers and reduction in the street culture that they believe negatively impacts their business. Neither of those will be solved with the loss of the pedestrian mall. As for the transient/homeless population in the Quarter, it is as large as I have ever seen it and many stay 24 hours a day on the same corner with noise and activity at high levels at all hours. It is clear to those of us who live there that the homeless and transient population problem needs more solutions and a process of its own and the dissolution of the five hour per weekday, 8 hour weekend per day mall will not alter it in the least. As for shopping, the amount of people who would find street parking is so minimal and counted against those who slowly and carefully make their way up or down Royal to shop slowly seems ludicrous.

 

  1. Statements like “the mall serves no benefit” are confounding to hear being spouted by business owners, especially those located on alleys that rely on foot traffic to reach their door. Really? No benefits at all? That sort of statement makes me believe that those against the mall have no interest in cooperating on a real solution. I hope they can listen to those of us who do find benefits to it: for example, some exciting and worthy musicians continue to use the mall to showcase the vibrancy that is the ever-changing New Orleans music scene.

 

  1. All day or night street closings in the Quarter have become constant for film productions, special events and repairs. It does not seem that these are coordinated with neighbors or businesses to control how many are closed at any one time or if one event over another should take priority. Seems to me a “heat map” of those closures and regular traffic back ups is something that a social entrepreneur may be able to help the city to collect data on to see what is really the main problem before we change 40 year old ordinance for a few businesses.

 

I’d ask that those that are in favor of this move actually openly prioritize the reasons they want this to happen and constructively work with their neighbors to solve their issues while realizing that many of us do see benefits to retain the mall.

 

D Wolnik

French Quarter