BLEU, a Blowdry Bar
701 Metairie Road, Suite 112-2A, Metairie
Spring is usually New Orleans’ busiest season, as festivals, graduations and holidays keep area businesses humming with both locals and visitors. But with the arrival of COVID-19 to the metro area, the 2020 spring season came to an abrupt halt before ever having a chance to get started.
At the heart of Old Metairie, Metairie Road has always been an active, heavily trafficked corridor, thanks to its retail shops, restaurants, gyms, offices and salons – places that make up the community’s center. Like much of Greater New Orleans, Metairie Road became eerily quiet when the stay-at-home orders were issued. But with the arrival of summer, businesses are making a comeback and breathing life back into Old Metairie’s main vein. During the stay-at-home orders and subsequent Phase 1 reopening, area businesses were forced to get creative, many having to find new ways to serve their customers.
Deemed an essential service, banking continued at Metairie Road’s Fidelity Bank, which has been in operation since 2006; the location’s opening was delayed from the city’s last significant disaster: Hurricane Katrina. With over 100 years of history, though, Fidelity has survived the Depression, floods, wars and hurricanes, and its motto, “Here for Good,” continues to resonate.
“Fidelity has one of the strongest capital positions of any of the banks in our marketplace, so we feel prepared to weather any downturn in the local economy,” says Tammy O’Shea, Chief Marketing Officer.
According to O’Shea, Fidelity waived late fees and offered deferrals to help meet the needs of clients experiencing distress during the pandemic. While other businesses were closed, the bank continued drive-up service, and clients were permitted to schedule appointments online for branch access. Fidelity saw an uptick in use of its mobile and online banking services, which were already popular with clients. According to O’Shea, as an SBA Preferred Lender, the bank has been busy processing PPP loans.
“We are proud to say we funded over $160 million, potentially saving over 22,000 jobs in our community,” says O’Shea. “We’re very proud of our bankers who are working 24/7 to process and fund as many applications as possible.”
Another business to remain open along Metairie Road was Langenstein’s, a fifth-generation family-owned and -operated grocery with roots dating back to 1922. As the stay-at-home orders were announced, shoppers flocked to grocery stores to stock up on goods. The large crowds and new guidelines from government authorities prompted many stores to make changes, but Langenstein’s was able to maintain its regular business hours while adding “senior-only” hours on Sunday and Wednesday mornings.
“It was an early decision we made, and our customers greatly appreciated that we did,” says Trey Lanaux, Owner/Operator. “Customers overwhelmingly prefer to shop for groceries in the store, especially at Langenstein’s, but we’ve seen extreme growth and interest in our grocery pick-up and delivery services,” he says. Lanaux expects those services to remain popular as people become accustomed to the convenience.
Langenstein’s opened along Metairie Road in 1994 as the Old Metairie community was blossoming. Lanaux feels honored that the store is a staple of the community and is especially grateful for its dedicated crew.
“Our staff have been instrumental in feeding the New Orleans area while also helping to flatten the curve during the initial phases of the pandemic,” he says. “They are heroes to me and our customers.”
Retail stores normally comprise much of the business along Metairie Road, making it a shopping mecca that rivals Uptown’s Magazine Street or the French Quarter. The area thrives from its loyal local shoppers, and business owners hope that as the ability to shop returns, the customers do, too. Popular stores and boutiques like Relish, Elizabeth’s and Boudreaux’s Jewelers all closed for a few weeks, all deeming it “the right thing to do” to protect customers, employees and the community at large.
At Relish, a home gifts and clothing boutique, Owner Beth Harris regularly imports items from Europe – as the virus was first being detected in the United States, Harris was hearing stories from Italian suppliers who recommended acting quickly to slow the spread. She closed Relish in early March but found creative ways to continue doing business. Harris set up her boutique at home and used Instagram and her store’s website to reach customers and continue selling merchandise.
“My customers of 20 years knew what was happening, and ones that could support me reached out to make orders and were really supportive,” says Harris. “I was just working out of my house and delivering everything myself.” Harris began putting items back into the store in early May as Phase 1 began. By the end of that month, customers were increasingly trickling back in and one of her employees had returned to work. While the uncertainty of the future is unsettling, she hopes that since many residents won’t be traveling in summer that they’ll support local businesses.
At women’s clothing boutique Elizabeth’s, Owner/Buyer Sal Trentacoste echoes that sentiment.
“We’re fortunate to have loyal customers,” says Trentacoste, who aims to please returning customers with a summer sale on social occasion dresses, evening wear and spring collections while the boutique stocks up on its popular casuals and breathable transition wear for late summer and fall.
Elizabeth’s reopened in May with hours of 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays. For those who prefer a one-on-one shopping experience, private appointments can be made before or after hours.
“We hope to have more normalcy by late summer and moving into fall,” he says. “If we support local business here, there will always be guaranteed good shopping – shopping with what the department stores don’t offer: real customer service.”
Like many retailers, Boudreaux’s Jewelers shut its doors for six weeks but reopened in May having retained all of its employees.
“Since reopening with sanitizing and social distancing protocols in place, I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” says Brandon Boudreaux, Lead Designer. “Couples are still getting engaged and married, children are still being born and anniversaries don’t stop, so we’re lucky and honored that the people of New Orleans still think of us to help celebrate their special occasions.”
The jewelry store found ways to continue serving its customers while the showrooms were closed, which included virtual shopping and doing curbside service. According to Boudreaux, being in the heart of Old Metairie and so close to customers has been a great asset.
“We’re lucky that although jewelry may not seem like the most essential thing, it holds a special place in people’s hearts,” he says, “and when couples or families go through things such as this crisis, they often look to items like jewelry that are long lasting and can be a pleasant reminder of challenges overcome in their lives.”
Newcomers to the Old Metairie corridor, New Orleans brunch staple Ruby Slipper Café opened its Metairie Road location in the beginning of 2019. At the beginning of the pandemic shutdowns, Ruby Slipper Café closed its dine-in services and offered takeout and delivery only for two months. The restaurant reopened in May, adhering strictly to the guidelines for keeping customers and employees safe.
Restaurants have been particularly hard hit by the stay-at-home orders, as many were largely reliant on dine-in service.
“We had to become creative in our dish offerings and the way they were packaged for off-site dining,” says Jennifer Weishaupt, CEO and Founder. “Take-out and third-party delivery were a very small portion, less than 1 percent, before Coronavirus,” she says. According to Weishaupt, the Ruby Slipper team worked quickly to create a to-go friendly menu, which featured new offerings such as breakfast tacos and biscuit sliders.
Of the seven Greater New Orleans locations, the Metairie Road location was the first to be permitted to seat guests outside, which allowed the company to increase sales and get some of its “Krewe” back to work. Weishaupt says the Metairie reopening helped provide good training and best practices for other locations on safely operating a restaurant during the COVID-19 restrictions.
Though also a food and beverage establishment, nearby Loft18 faced a different challenge than most restaurants, and decided to close its doors and halt all services during the stay-at-home order.
“Our business relies on people engaging in our environment,” says Co-Founder Greg Whitman. “We created a beautiful space for people to gather and have fun, so without that we’re nothing.” Offering a unique combination of golf simulation, food and drinks, Loft18 was founded in 2015 and was, at that time, “a pathway for a new wave of hybrid entertainment,” according to Whitman.
Whitman knew when the pandemic hit that Loft18 would need to close its doors to protect the public. As a group-focused establishment that hosts events, parties and sports watching, the business suffered through the shutdowns and is gradually regaining its footing as customers return.
Local businesses bolstered by entertainment and events have arguably been hit the hardest.
“We are one of the lucky ones to say we are still here,” he says. Despite the hit, Whitman and his business partners say the excitement they felt creating the Loft18 concept and opening its doors to the community still resonates today.
“Metairie Road and the surrounding area is our home; we live here, and we grew up here. So we know the people, the places and the relationships are everything. It is the glue that keeps the engine going,” he says.
Another hard-hit sector has been the salon and spa industry, and Metairie Road is home to a number of health and beauty businesses that were excited to get back to work in May. At BLEU, a Blowdry Bar, Proprietor Emily Laborde heeded the governor’s mandate and temporarily ceased BLEU’s in-person hair and make-up services, though BLEU was able to offer curbside pickup and local delivery for product orders. Laborde says it was an uncertain time for staff, who stayed in touch via social media and weekly Zoom calls for encouragement.
“Clients were disappointed we had to close but were happy once we were able to reopen on May 18,” says Laborde. “We reopened to an overwhelmingly supportive response.” She attributes the positive response to clients’ desires to feel a bit of normalcy return to their lives and to the loyalty that is inherent in the Metairie Road clientele. As to summer expectations, Laborde says these months are usually the slowest, and she doubts this year will be different.
“I don’t believe the industry will be affected long term, just a little slower as we all get used to the ‘new normal,’” she says.
As the center of all business in Old Metairie, Metairie Road is of course home to a number of offices and clinics, which were also affected by the shutdowns. For seven years, The Skin Surgery Centre has operated along Metairie Road, offering treatment in the removal and cure of skin cancers in cosmetically sensitive areas and specializing in Mohs micrographic surgery and reconstruction.
In mid-March, the practice decided it should halt surgeries and do its part to help flatten the curve while limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus among its patient population, many of whom are over 65 and considered a high-risk group. Just like other types of businesses, healthcare practices like The Skin Surgery Centre were forced to pivot and find new ways to provide safe services.
“We implemented telehealth to streamline the number of patients that had to return for wound checks and follow-up visits whenever possible,” says Dr. Keith LeBlanc, Jr. “When a patient absolutely needed to be seen in person during this time we cut down on office staff present, screened for COVID-19 symptoms, required patients to wear a mask and wore the protective equipment available to us,” he says.
Upon reopening for surgeries in May, the practice took a number of steps to help patients feel safe regarding limiting possible exposure to COVID-19. Moving forward into late summer, Drs. LeBlanc and Bucher expect to see a steady flow of patients in need of Mohs surgery now that limbs are exposed and people are getting back to their dermatologists for spot checks.
In retrospect, while it may seem like it was a quiet spring in Old Metairie, business owners were clearly staying busy, tirelessly finding new and safe ways to meet the needs of the community. Getting back to business has brought optimism to the area and a few more cars back to Metairie Road. Consider contributing to the local business recovery this summer and take advantage of that elusive easy parking while it lasts.
701 Metairie Road, Metairie
204 Metairie Road, Metairie
1811 Metairie Ave., Metairie
800 Metairie Road, Metairie
3128 Metairie Road, Metairie
600 Metairie Road, Suite B, Metairie
Ruby Slipper Café
2700 Metairie Road, Metairie
The Skin Surgery Centre
1615 Metairie Road, Suite 101, Metairie