Minnesota Retailer Re-Opens in New Orleans

A Simpler Time, a unique nostalgic art, gift and home d├ęcor company based in Minnesota that was forced out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, recently re-opened in the Crescent City.

Cary, NC, November 22, 2008 --(PR.com)-- A Simpler Time, a unique nostalgic art, gift and home décor company based in Minnesota that was forced out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, recently re-opened in the Crescent City.

The store, which sells vintage-look products, including replica antique airplane propellers, metal pedal cars and personalized wood signs, had a successful five-year pre-Katrina run in the Riverwalk Marketplace, located on the Mississippi River near the Convention Center. With nostalgic gifts themed in over 400 different professions, the proximity of the center was a key to its success in New Orleans.

A Simper Time’s New Orleans location suffered minimal physical damage from Katrina, but with the loss of key employees who re-located and the cancellation of many conventions, a decision was made to close the store soon after the storm.

After discussions with Riverwalk officials for the last few years, owner Jeff King, a Minnesota native who recently moved from Woodbury, Minnesota to Cary, North Carolina, decided early this year to re-open his New Orleans store when offered a prime 6,500 square foot location at the entrance to the center.

“I was concerned that our old location in the middle of the mall—which runs along the river—might not attract as much traffic if the first store in the mall—one with windows wrapping around three sides—was vacant,” said King. “So by taking a prime location with lots of outside window visibility to hotels and the casino, I felt we were helping both the mall and, hopefully, ourselves.”

With a much larger footprint than in their 1,100 square foot Mall of America store, A Simpler Time is able to display a larger selection of gifts, with each area themed. In one section, large bronze sculptures of children playing are displayed with eye-catching paintings of children making soapbox cars or making elaborate wood airplanes out of barrels and antique fans. Other sections feature nautical, aviation, various professions and vintage movie stars.

Like most of New Orleans, the Riverwalk was hit hard by Katrina, and vacancy rates in what was once among the elite shopping areas in the Gulf South were as high as 50%. As the conventions have slowly come back, so have the stores. While some national chains such as Banana Republic and Victoria’s Secret have not yet returned, many locations have been filled by local entrepreneurs, giving the Riverwalk less of a regional mall feel than before the storm.

A Simpler Time re-opened in June of this year, despite the fact that summer in New Orleans is usually short on conventions during the best of times. His first two hires were former employees who had helped open the original New Orleans store location and had kept in touch.

“Riverwalk made an attractive offer,” explained King, “and I’ve been looking for an excuse to re-open for awhile. My wife is from the area, and I lived there while managing a store for Wild Wings (another Minnesota company now owned by Cabela’s) in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.”

“We love to visit there anyway,” he continued, “and both the town and the center bring back lots of fond memories. Plus the convention traffic, which we rely on heavily, is starting to pick up. Then you throw in the fact that we already had trained, loyal employees who were also friends, and the opportunity was too good to pass up.”

According to King, sales were stronger than expected (although not at pre-Katrina levels), but the Hurricane Gustav scare that basically closed the city down for a week reminded him of what makes doing business in the Crescent City interesting.

Started in 1997 and still based in the nation’s largest mall—the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota—A Simpler Time also opens temporary locations in many of the nation’s busiest tourist areas, including Las Vegas. In addition to its two stores, the company operates four websites and manufactures some of its own products for wholesale sales. Web operations, once a tiny portion of sales when started in 2002, exceeded sales in the Mall of America store for the first time in 2007.

A Simpler Time
Jeff King