Helen Amber Koenig, who for decades provided the raw materials for elaborate Mardi Gras Indian costumes, died Monday. She was 94.
“Miss Helen,” as her customers knew her, co-owned Broadway Bound, a Mid-City store that sells gems, feathers and fabric — all things that go into the costumes of Mardi Gras Indians and mainline krewe members alike.
The store also is popular among members of the Zulu organization because the glitter it sells is crucial to decorating the coconuts that Zulu members hand out during their parade.
“I can’t sew, honey; I just sell,” she told writer Katy Reckdahl for a 2003 profile in Gambit.
Before Broadway Bound, Koenig performed basically the same function at Greenberg’s on North Rampart Street, working there from the 1950s until its owner, Jules Greenberg, retired three decades later. Koenig and her son, Roland “Sonny” Borey III, then opened their own store at 2727 Canal St., and her customers followed.
“All the Indians knew my mom. People all over the city knew my mom,” said Borey, chairman of the mayor’s Mardi Gras Advisory Committee.
Though displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Koenig returned to the city to do what she could to help maskers get ready for Mardi Gras 2006, even though that meant working out of a second-floor office. The store had taken on 6 feet of water, Borey said, but Koenig “was doing her best to operate upstairs.”
Broadway Bound was able to reopen a few months later.
“She was determined to come back,” Borey said. “We came back better than ever.”
In 2012, Koenig appeared in an episode of the “Treme” television series in which two Indian krewe chiefs shop at her store for costume materials.
She was still active in the store up until her death. “She was at the store at least three or four days a week,” Borey said.
Koenig was there Saturday to watch the Endymion parade pass by on Canal Street, he said. She was planning to attend the Orpheus parade, a krewe that Borey co-founded with Harry Connick Jr., on Lundi Gras evening.
She died that morning, however, and the krewe dedicated its parade to her. At the organization’s Orpheuscapade that night, Connick sang “A Closer Walk With Thee” in her honor.
“My mom was a very, very large influence on my life,” said Borey, who was executive director of Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carre for more than a decade. “She was bigger than life, and she was loved by all.”
Broadway Bound will remain in business, he said. “She had talked to me, and she wanted to make sure that if anything happened to her, that her business went on,” he said.
In addition to Borey, survivors include nephews and a niece.
A funeral service will be held at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home, 3827 Canal St. Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to noon. Interment will be in St. Roch Cemetery No. 2.