Coming soon: Pirates of the Vieux Carre
(Art by Eric Styles)
“Those Bourbon Street bar owners must make money hand over fist.” We as employees ring up thousands of dollars every night, take home wads of cash from our tip buckets and read about how we are part of a $9 billion-a-year industry. We roll our eyes when our employers bitch about us wasting cups or over pouring shots. All they have to do is just open the doors at 10 a.m. and the money just blows in the doors. After Mardi Gras, they must be sitting on six figures easy, yet they whine.
Sit down and really listen to the bar owners. “We’re working for the landlords” is the common theme. Every year rents go up, often by thousands. About six years ago, I heard from a reliable source that one of the biggest businesses in the Quarter was forking out over $45,000 per month for their very large footprint. It’s well over $50,000 by now, probably. The vast majority of commercial properties are owned by a small number of families (er, I mean “Property Management Companies”).
They bought up the Quarter decades ago when it was seen as a gritty worn down section of town. Families and businesses were moving out to the vast expanse of the suburbs. The French Quarter was investment property purchased by revenue from other lucrative endeavors. All of the deeds have been paid off long before most of us were even born. Even those who own the property face enormous tax bills annually.
Look up property tax in the Quarter if you want to pick your jaw up off of the ground. Details of leases are dumbfounding.
Often, the renter is responsible for paying for repairs and up keep. Imagine as a residential renter, your water heater goes and it’s up to you to pay for its replacement. Now imagine holding a lease on a 250-year-old commercial property. Every year facing a leaking roof, a rotting dormer, deteriorating brickwork and all of the upkeep to a building that you don’t even own. Not to mention the appliances such as coolers, freezers, stoves and the like. Money goes out the door as fast as it comes in.
This shut down is draining bank accounts faster than a homeless guy drains a pint of Heavens Hill. Expect to see some of our favorites never to reopen.
All of those dollars made over Mardi Gras were earmarked to cover expenses this summer. So if they don’t reopen, who will fill those vacancies? I doubt if you will have many entrepreneurs thinking “I have a million to invest in a business, let me buy a Bourbon Street bar that just went under from a pandemic shut down that may happen again next year.”
A few owners may just say “Fuck it. Let me cut my losses while I still have a little money to retire on.”
If you were a huge, multinational corporation with lots of capital for expansion and could weather long term storms, you might see this as an excellent opportunity. A chance to get a piece of that lucrative $9 billion dollar pie. That’s how they function and succeed. With the capital to take a loss over a few years they can drive out competition that can’t. The smoke clears and a handful are left holding it all.
How do I see the French Quarter in a couple of years? A gentrified, family-friendly atmosphere of corporate names that occupy every American strip mall. Starbucks and T.G.I. Fridays on Bourbon Street, Outback Steakhouse and Baskin Robbins on Decatur Street. Mr Binky’s sex shop replaced by a Disney outlet store, Big Daddy’s Love Acts becomes a Hooters and Johnny’s Poor Boys turns into a Panera Bread.
They go nicely with Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s vision: “This is the city’s time to re-imagine just how we live, how we move about, how we enjoy, and how we get to know and learn the fabric of our city.”
A kinder, gentler French Quarter. Environmentally friendly hipsters on bikes cruise car free streets dotted with outdoor diners enjoying genuine New Orleans cuisine shipped in frozen from a factory in Michigan.
Licensed Disney costume characters posing for pictures with tourists instead of Uncle Louie. Unless he can come up with a $500 annual street performer permit, that will surely be part of the new and improved vision.
Do you think that all this sounds hyperbolic and unfathomable? Compare Times Square of today to that of a few decades ago. Disney cruise ships are just the landing craft for an invasion force.