Magazine Street was the thoroughfare of my childhood. On the block near Napoleon Avenue, Winsberg’s was next to the Hibernia Bank (now the Mignon Faget studio), and there was a dime store with a soda fountain (now Peaches).
Friedman’s Department Store was down the block a ways, close to Casamento’s, where big burlap sacks of spent oyster shells awaited disposal. We always bought our shoes at Winsberg’s because my father, Leo, was best buddies with “Uncle Winnie” (plus my little sister and I liked to flirt with Uncle Winnie’s son — who grew up to be Judge Jerome Winsberg).
Magazine Street grew up too, as historian John Magill and photographer Margot Landen have chronicled in a colorful new book, “The Incomparable Magazine Street.” Released by River Road Press earlier this fall, the 240-page tome divides the 6-mile street into segments (“From Spanish Warehouses to World War II,” “Nashville to the Levee”), an approach that makes describing the history and development of the corridor manageable. And geeks like me will love the photos from the Historic New Orleans Collection.
Belladonna Day Spa (2900 Magazine St.) hosts a signing of the book Saturday (Dec. 9) from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., complemented by “bubbles and bites.” It seems like a festive way to join in on the “Merriment of Magazine” festival started by the 200–plus members of the Magazine Street Merchants Association, especially considering the fact that Santa will visit the New Orleans Fire Department station in the same block from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Magill begins his narrative with an account of “M Day,” an all-but-forgotten event in 1948 that heralded the removal of the streetcar on Magazine Street and its replacement with “trolley buses,” considered quieter and more comfortable than the rumbling streetcars of old. Magill posits that “modern Magazine Street” was born that day.
In a recent interview with Peter Ricchiuti on the WWNO-FM program “Out to Lunch,” Magill was asked if locally owned shops and businesses are at risk of being replaced by national chains. It’s not a new concern — remember when Starbucks was first eyeing the New Orleans market?
As it turned out, locals seem to be loyal to their local brands. Though Starbucks has a foothold here, it is part of a mix of coffeehouses that includes local independents and regional chains — something for everyone, so to speak.
In a way, as go the coffeehouses, so go the businesses on Magazine Street. Elegant dress shops and froufrou frock stores exist on the same block. High-end antiques and well-known designers keep company with stores that are just a step above junk shops. Dining runs the gamut from taco trucks to the best restaurants in the nation, and jewelry ranges from the finest to the most playful.
But it’s not all rainbows — what happens when the rents hit astronomical figures and the locally owned places can’t make it any more?
“It’s what makes Magazine Street different than anywhere else — the stores are locally owned. They know you and you know them and you can go in and chat,” Magill told Ricchiuti. “People don’t want to shop in malls anymore — they’re looking for personal enjoyment. What’s scary though is if the rents go up.”
At a book signing, Magill said he was asked by a shop owner where she would go if that happens.
“Tchoupitoulas Street,” he told her. And he meant it.
"The Incomparable Magazine Street"
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Belladonna Day Spa
2900 Magazine St.