New national retailer on Magazine worries some, excites others

A new national retailer taking root at Magazine and 7th streets is drawing attention.

The popular home store West Elm is open for business, but Magazine Street purists wonder if another national chain will whittle away at the shopping district's local charm.

"We've got everything from great furniture basics to incredible statement pieces," said the store's creative director, Vanessa Holden. "We're definitely a destination for a number of different aesthetics, from something very globalist - in terms of pillows - to things that feel more contemporary, much more rustic and reclaimed.

West Elm has dozens of stores across the country and decided that Magazine Street was the right fit for their brand.

"Magazine Street is one of the great retail streets of America," Holden said. "For us coming to a new city, it's important for us to connect with that main street."

But for local purists like Susan Porche, old habits die hard.

"I think it's a shame they're taking away all our local flavor," Porche said.

Across the street at Discoveries, owner and Baton Rouge native Cat McKearn and her husband opened their imported furniture store in February, but welcome more company.

"This whole block is transforming, so I feel we got in at a great time," she said. "The reach they have that we get to piggyback on. People will want to walk down the street because it's inviting and different."

Michelle Kirk works a few doors down and sees national chains changing Magazine.

"We don't welcome it, personally," said Michelle Kirk-Loisel at Vintage Modern. "The landlords know they can get higher rents - now that's proving that to them. Why would they want to rent to a small business that can't afford the rent?"

Mark Strella is with Stay Local, a New Orleans business alliance based in Mid-City. The group completed a Magazine Street business survey in March.

"What we found was 65 percent of businesses reported rents going up," he said "Eighty percent worried about long-term effects, or if they could stay on the street."

"I grew up here," said Porche. "I remember it was nice. It's nicer now, but we should keep everything local."

Holden said that's just what West Elm is trying to do. In a special section of the store, the goods of 11 local artists are featured.

"This is a beautiful, one-of-a-kind art print," Holden said. "I like seeing individual maps very unique to the space. [It's by a] husband and wife team in Louisiana.

West Elm could be a catalyst for bigger things on the street, but only time will tell.

"A lot of cities would kill to have Magazine," Strella said. "I think we should be protective and make sure we can manage in a way that keeps it New Orleans."

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