There is an inimitable buzz surrounding Freret Street these days, not because of what could happen on this once-forgotten corridor but because of what is happening – and rapidly. The stretch between Jefferson and Napoleon avenues is changing, with new businesses popping up seemingly on a daily basis. It is a fun time for this commercial space, with such variety as a gourmet hot dog stand and two yoga studios popping up.
“Freret Street is all about bridging the gap between old and new and building community. It is putting a face and a smile to a business,” says Adam Biderman, chef and owner of the restaurant Company Burger (which plans to be open the “end of the second week of this month”). Biderman wears a crisp blue collared shirt with the title “Meathead” embroidered above the left breast pocket. “There is a lot of ‘no’ in neighborhoods but there’s a refreshingly different mentality of ‘yes and please’ in this part of town,” he explains. “Everyone is craving change here.” Biderman was drawn to Freret Street by the diversity of businesses opening shop and the personal touch of knowing your neighbors. “There seems to be a reversion to the 1920s and ’30s, where each business here focused on doing one thing well. Freret (Street) is such a blank canvas. It’s really an organic process.”
Jolie Benson, half of the design team of the fashion label Jolie & Elizabeth, opened an Anytime Fitness with her father as her business partner and celebrated their grand opening mid-June. Freret Street was an obvious choice because it’s easily accessible and centrally located. While some areas are deemed “too high or low,” Freret rides the line between edgy and uppity. On any given night patrons of Cure might notice a Lamborghini parked in front while college-age students whiz past on bicycles to scope out the entertainment at Friday Night Fights, put on by the Freret Street Boxing Gym just a few blocks away.
Jean-Paul Villere of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery also sees the power in community here. Having worked in coffee houses for years he recognizes the draw of a good café as a community gathering place. Village Coffee serves such a purpose and provides a place where people can feel connected, regardless of their age, a way that a bar can’t provide. In this sense his art gallery, which he co-owns with his wife, serves as a community meeting place as well. Swing by the renovated shotgun on opening night and you’ll run into a handful of neighbors and friends, and get a chance to meet the artists themselves, who often live right around the corner. Villere admits that he half expected to close his art gallery the first year it opened, but Du Mois is here to stay, as is made evident by the recent inaugural Freret Street Art Crawl, which is hosted by Du Mois Gallery as well as Brottworks Glass and the Nelson and Little Jewelry Studio. The real start of community involvement was the Freret Market in 2006.
Villere recalls thinking that “If this takes off we could really see something,” and take off it did. The market plays host to a wide variety of vendors, from food peddlers to jewelry designers to soap makers to crafters of handmade dog beds. In December there are even two markets back-to-back for holiday shoppers, which really helps encourage shoppers to spend their money locally.
One of the people spearheading development is Freret Street resident and advocate Kelli Grengs, founder of The New Freret, a business-and-property-owner association that was started with the purpose of attracting businesses to invest in this area. In 2010 the association was awarded The Markham Vineyards Mark of Distinction Grant, which gave $25,000 to help revitalize the area. This money has helped install new, more attractive street signs, a successful marketing campaign and a special wine (celebrating The New Freret) that will be released in April 2012. In addition to Greng’s efforts the city is starting a $500,000 streetscape project, which will include better sidewalks, more lighting and improved wheelchair accessibility. However, the upgrades haven’t been entirely met with resounding fanfare. Bump outs, similar to what were recently completed on Oak Street, will take away valuable parking, which is a strong draw for customers. Construction will take as long as six months, which can be detrimental to these growing businesses. But that isn’t stopping a sushi restaurant from opening in the former Friar Tuck’s location or a live music venue from sharing space with Neighborhood Housing Services. In fact, Villere claims that he receives at least one call per week at Villere Realty from entrepreneurs seeking opportunities here.
With the variety of new commercial tenants and property owners popping up, there’s one common thread that spans each block – everyone has a strong commitment and passion for helping this area grow. It isn’t just about one business succeeding; rather, the focus is on bringing up the entire area and the community surrounding it. This year’s Freret Festival alone drew in an estimated 12,000-15,000 attendees – a sure sign of the level of interest in the neighborhood. Jolie Benson has a picture of her strip mall-style building on her computer in her office. It is a fairly ordinary photo of a freshly planted tree in front of Anytime Fitness. She plans on taking a picture of the tree regularly so that as commerce in the corridor grows, she’ll have a reminder of where everything started and what it will become.
Christy Lorio is a freelance writer and founder of SlowSouthernStyle.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Freret Street is named after William Freret (1799-1864), the 10th mayor of New Orleans, who presided over the city from 1840-1842 and was re-elected in 1844 after a defeat in 1842. Along with his brother James, William ran a cotton press that ran along St. Charles Avenue between Poydras and Gravier streets. He was considered one of the most efficient mayors New Orleans ever had.
The Freret Street commercial corridor rests in an area that was formerly the site of two plantations. In the 1920s and 1930s a variety of merchants lined the Freret corridor, often doing business and living in the same area. A streetcar ran up and down Freret Street at one point, and there was even a Freret Parade founded in the 1950s that would march down this thoroughfare.
News and resources:
Freret Neighborhood Center
Fun On Freret Street:
Freret Street Market (monthly from September to June)
Freret Festival (annually in March)
Du Mois Gallery
Crescent City Comics
La Nuit Comedy Theater
Anytime Fitness (4600 Freret St., 899-2111)
Freret Yoga Studio (4608 Freret St., 899-1142, FreretStreetYoga.com)
Freret Street Boxing Gym (4510 Freret St., 895-1859)
The Yoga Room (4905 Freret St., 813-3738, AshtangaYogaRoom.com)
Bright Eyes Optique (5300 Freret St., 891-1553)
Sip & Sup:
Sarita’s (4520 Freret St., 324-3562)
Beaucoup Juice (4719 Freret St., 430-5508, BeaucoupJuice.com)
Freret Po’Boy & Donut (4701 Freret St., 872-9676)
Dat Dog (5031 Freret St., 899-6883, DatDogNola.com)
Village Coffee (5335 Freret St., 861-1909)
Ancora (4508 Freret St., 324-1636)
High Hat Café (4500 Freret St., 754-1366, HighHatCafe.com)
Company Burger (4600 Freret St., 410-7811, TheCompanyBurger.com)
Cure (4905 Freret St., 302-2357, CureNola.com)
Shopping & Services:
The Bike Shop (4711 Freret St., 317-4103, TheBikeShopNola.blogspot.com)
Zeus’ Place (4601 Freret St., 304-4718, ZeusPlace.com)
Bloomin’Deals Thrift Store (4645 Freret St., 891-1289, jlno.org)
Brottworks Glass (5110 Freret Street, 504-239-3030, brottworks.com)
Nelson and Little Jewelry Studio (5100 Freret St.)
Ollie On Freret (5035 Freret St., 267-3589)
Bean’s Formal Wear (4900 Freret St., 891-4675)
Freret Garden Center and Landscaping (5007 Freret St., 895-3022)