|Treasure Hunting||Published Jan/Feb 2005|
Feather your nest with some finds from revamped Magazine Street in New Orleans, an antique hunter’s paradise.
By Robert H. Goldberg
|When my wife and I returned to New Orleans in the 1970s to join her mother in the antiques business, Magazine Street was a quiet commercial and residential backwater. The New Orleans antiques trade was centered in the historic French Quarter where the long-established dealers with elaborate multi-story shops catered to their local clientele and visitors.
In contrast to those dignified premises, the majority of Magazine Street antique shops in the area referred to as Uptown were homey family-owned establishments without much in the way of fancy fixtures. Our first shop at 2900 Magazine St. was across from the Salvation Army Men’s Lodge. On most mornings, men from the lodge camped out on our doorstep.
The block, reduced to ashes by a fire in 1979, was a microcosm of Magazine Street, exuding funky down-at-the-heels ambiance, which appealed to local antiques fanciers and a few venturesome tourists seeking furniture and decorations at appealing prices.
“I felt that Magazine Street, which we affectionately named ‘The Street of Dreams’ with its many abandoned buildings, had a very edgy quality about it in those days,” said Allain Bush, now a second-generation antiques dealer for 24 years.
She now presides over Bush Antiques, with two-and-a-half renovated buildings filled with European antiques (one devoted to bedroom furnishings) in the 2100 block. Her success is a tribute to that change of atmosphere and the transformation of Magazine Street into a fashionable avenue.
In contrast to the 1970s and ’80s, Magazine Street is enjoying its best days. Many of the humble cottages and corner grocery stores that once provided shelter and provisions to generations of the surrounding families are being converted into attractive shops and art galleries. The Salvation Army was converted into an attractive contemporary complex housing Joan Vass, a high fashion boutique; Café Rani, a charming bistro with ample outdoor seating; and CC’s coffee shop. Suddenly, everyone wants to become part of the Magazine scene. What happened?
Kerry Moody of Lucullus, the French Quarter shop specializing in culinary antiques, opened a second location on Magazine Street several years ago. Moody said their local clientele enjoys the convenient location and ease of parking. Bush, of Bush Antiques, said shoppers, tiring of the mall experience, love the character of small stores.
The appeal of great antiques shopping blending with attractive restaurants, boutiques and art galleries seems to be an enticing recipe for New Orleans residents and tourists. But even with the changes, Magazine Street has retained its unpretentious character. It’s still a casual place where local people live, shop and play. Most of the 19th-century buildings are no taller than three stories, giving visitors a small-town atmosphere.
Getting your bearings
Magazine Street begins downtown at Canal Street and parallels the winding Mississippi River for six miles, ending at Audubon Park near the zoo. Visitors staying in the French Quarter or downtown may want to ride the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcar to the Jackson Avenue stop and walk towards Magazine Street along the edge of the historic Garden District.
Antiques lovers will find the shops scattered the length of Magazine Street, beginning at about the 1800 block.
“The enormous variety of antiques for sale has made Magazine Street a shopper’s mecca,” said Macon Riddle, the owner of “Let’s Go Antiquing,” a personal shopping service.
There are more than 75 shops overflowing with formal and country furniture, collectibles and decorations from the 18th century to today’s kitsch. Widely popular French provincial furniture and decorations are prominently displayed at Karla Katz Antiques, Uptowner Antiques and Empire Antiques. The As You Like It Silver Shop and Mélange Sterling Silver Shop offer silver for every taste. Furniture with an English accent fills Jon Antiques.
Two of America’s leading regional antiques auction galleries operate on Magazine Street. New Orleans Auction Galleries in the downtown Arts District and Neal Auction Company hold regularly scheduled catalogued sales with extensive previews. Check their schedules and you may be able to combine some auction action with your antiquing.
Add to the mix Oriental rug dealers, and lighting specialists and it’s enough to whip your acquisitive nature into a frenzy.
If time allows a day to meander on Magazine Street, you will not go hungry among the plentiful restaurants.
Sample the local gumbo, jambalaya or red beans and rice at Joey K’s, a Magazine Street landmark. Another staple of the street is Casamento’s, offering melt-in-your-mouth oystersfried or raw. In the evening, Lilette Restaurant and the new, highly regarded Petite Grocery Restaurant will satisfy your craving for even more sophisticated cuisine.
Although we closed our shop several years ago, we return regularly as visitors to enjoy the changes on Magazine Street that were once only imagined. It’s no longer “The Street of Dreams,” but “The Street of Dreams Fulfilled.”
Robert H. Goldberg is a new contributor from New Orleans, La.
For an illustrated shopping guide and map or more information, contact the Magazine Street Merchants Association, 1-800-387-8924 or visit www.magazinestreet.com.
More Southern Treasure
The South provides ample hunting grounds for antiques, with plenty of places to track down your prey in these Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi cities.
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