Brigitte DeMoss's Commentary:

Posted November 20, 2006 (user submitted)

I worked at Petite Sophisticate in N.O. Centre, summer of 1995. Here are my memories.

New Orleans Centre is the mall connected to the Louisiana Superdome and the dome-serving Hyatt Regency. Katrina did it in for good, but that mall was pretty dead from the time it opened. Located downtown, it only really attracted a) downtown workers on lunch, b) people from the nearby public housing projects (walking distance!), c) people from the Hyatt who forgot something on their trip and were wandering in to get socks or whatever. After 5 p.m. NO CUSTOMERS could EVER be found in that place.

The anchors were Lord and Taylor--NEVER popular down here--and Macy's. The Macy's was really popular with the downtown workers. When I was in medical school and residency (1995-2004), we'd often head to the mall for lunch (their food court was extensive) and maybe head into Macy's, but not much else. Macy's had a great shoe selection.

First floor was sort of depressing and dark gray (as noted by a previous submission). Much of the food court was here, had Steak Escape, 2 Chinese places, A non-Popeye's fried chicken place, a Popeye's, Barney's coffee, Subway, a Mike Anderson's seafood (local restaurant chain). The rest of the floor had several fleeting businesses, except for Electronics Boutique and Claire's, which were there a long time. Other businesses included--at various times--a wig store, a hot-tramp clothing store, an African American Lit store, Sunglass Hut, Vison Plaza, and some church gathering place. The first floor had little access, and I'm pretty sure *no* access from the garage. Beyond the food court you felt like you were wandering into a zombie movie. It was just stark down there.

Second floor was most popular, and most frequented. This was the easiest-access floor, from the garage AND the street. This had many long-lasting businesses, including a really good Gap, a custom suit place, the best Macy's entrance, Kay's Jewelers, Rapp's Luggage and Gifts. Part of the food court was also here, including an indoor Cafe Du Monde, a Mexican place, a daiquiri place, and a Cajun place. These were all there a long time.

Third floor, as noted by a previous poster, was DEAD. Always DEAD. For a brief while after the place openend, there were some cool stores there, such as Contempo Casuals. But soon the only lasting store up there was Victoria's Secret. Ballin's (a socialite soiree store), a "dress for success" place, a job-skills-training place, WB channel 38, Regis hairstylists, a kids' clothing discount place, and others were included in the fleeting businesses on the 3rd floor. I think there might have been a workout place; not sure.

Lord and Taylor NEVER had any customers, and all their clothes were dowdy--just the worst. And you could never get anyone to help you, even when you were just looking for someone to hand your money to. Macy's was the only store anyone went to that mall for. And the food court was top-notch.

At Petite Sophisticate, a store that sold ugly clothes anyway, we could literally go an entire day without a customer...even though we were located right next to the 2nd-floor Macy's entrance. We'd set lofty sales goals that were really just delusional. We'd end up hanging out with the also non-busy Rapp's and Kay's employees.

Our clientele--other than the businesspeople--were pretty undesirable, and we lost a lot to shoplifting. CONSTANT scams were always being pulled on us, such as a) the mom who sends her kids running around the store to distract you; b) bad check-writing; c) stealing something from another Petite location in the city and trying to return it to us; and more. Other than downtown workers, we really did only attract folks from the projects. We constantly were on the lookout for various scams. It was awful.

I can't believe that mall lasted as long as it did. The stores they had, had more limited selections than other branches of same stores at other locations. Lord and Taylor, which I'd seen up North on occasion, was WAY worse than a "real" L&T.

New Orleans Centre is now serving as an emergency room for the Katrina-damaged Charity Hospital.

Justin Priola's Commentary:

Posted March 23, 2005 (user submitted March 18, 2005)

The New Orleans Centre is relatively unique as malls go - it is located downtown. It was opened in 1988, at the end of the oil boom, with the completion of the CNG (now Dominion) Tower, a gaudy pink skyscraper across the street from the Louisiana Superdome. The mall is contained within the building and comprises most of the bottom three floors. The two anchors were Macy's (still there, unbelievably) and Lord & Taylor (left in 2004 as part of shift in company strategy, leaving markets where they had a marginal presence - the L & T at the NO Centre was the only one in N.O.).

Actually the N.O. Centre is not the only CBD mall - there is the Riverwalk, which is more of a festival marketplace (it was developed by Rouse Corp.) and caters to tourists, and Canal Place, which has carved out a niche at the very high end of the market with the presence of Saks Fifth Avenue and a movie theatre that shows mainly foreign and independent films. Both predate the N.O. Center by a few years.

The trouble with this mall is that it was built at a time when the developers believed that there was enough wealth and activity in the CBD to support another relatively medium to upper-end mall (explaining the anchor choices). As it is they were probably banking a lot of their success on the opening of the second downtown Miss. River bridge (also in 1988) and the proximity of the Dome (there is a walkway from the Dome's deck to the mall's second level). The retail hub of N.O. has historically been located on Canal Street, so the developers were taking a risk with locating a mall on the office-tower Poydras corridor many blocks from the main Canal Street retail areas.

Let's just say that things didn't go as projected. The location is pretty far from tourist areas, of which the other two malls are square in the middle (on the riverfront at the foot of Canal Street), so banking on the tourist trade was not a real solution (though a Hilton hotel is accessible from the mall). With the oil bust, real affluence disappeared in the region, and the city became a lot poorer overall. White flight to the suburbs exaberated the trends, leaving a primary customer base that is in the main African American lower to lower-middle income. (Similar shifts were responsible for the decline of the Plaza Mall in N.O. East.)

So the mall must make do with the customer base from the surrounding area, which mainly means office workers from the buildings on upper Poydras Street, the surrounding urban neighborhoods, and spillover from the occasional event in the Dome. Very few if any people go there from the suburbs; there are already thriving malls out there to attract shoppers, and the N.O. Centre has nothing special or unique to attract customers.

When the mall opened, it seemed to thrive for a short time (I vaguely recall from my infrequent trips to the mall in the early 90s), but at least for the past few years the place has been on the decline. I can't say that the mall is truly dead. The food court on the first floor is still packed during lunch hour, and has a wide availability of choices including Subway, Sbarro, Dunkin' Donuts, and some Chinese places. But the retail end is not so healthy. While the number of abandoned spaces in the mall is not incredible, there is only one primary tenant in the mall that I know of - the Gap - and the remainder of the stores are secondary stores, mainly catering to African American working class customers. There is an Afro-American book shop, a few athletic apparel and shoe stores, some other clothing stores, and some tourist-oriented souvenir shops (like we don't have enough of those in N.O. already). Every time I am at the mall the foot traffic is generally quite low. This was true even before the departure of Lord and Taylor.

Part of the mall's troubles stems from the design. The first floor has had no access to Poydras Street since Lord and Taylor closed (you had to pass through L & T to access the mall's lower story) and no access to the Dominion Tower parking garage across Girod Street (accessible from the second and third floors, however). The first floor, however, has the bulk of the food court, which is the most popular part of the mall, and street access to LaSalle Street (the Superdome side, but very pedestrian unfriendly). The second floor actually has the best access, since it has a separate entrance to Poydras and access to the Dominion Tower garage, the Superdome parking garage, the Hilton, and the rest of the Dominion Tower. Most of the decent stores and a branch of that N.O. institution, Caf‚ du Monde, are on floor 2. The Macy's accesses all three floors and has direct access to the parking garage.

The third floor, however, is pitiful. Institutional uses, a gym, and a TV station entirely occupy floor 3 now, and remaining retail spaces sit abandoned. To see the third floor is to understand why this mall certainly qualifies as dead or near dead.

In recent years my excursions to downtown have become more frequent and I always end up in this mall, since short term parking at the Dominion Tower is dirt cheap (and long term parking at the Dome is cheap also), plus it is proximate to my destinations. The mall is actually quite convenient for workers at City Hall (across Poydras Street from the mall) and the other high-rise buildings in the area. It's always a quiet, tranquil place, relatively well maintained, and a good place to read a newspaper without much disturbance.

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