Our second installment of NOLA History Guy December features Maison Blanche.
Maison Blanche Department Stores – NOLA History Guy December
Simon J. Shwartz was an experienced realtor. He grew up in the family business, A. Shwartz and Son. Simon was the third son of Abraham Shwartz. With two older brothers working with their dad to run the shop in the Touro Buildings, S.J. went up to New York City. He became the store’s buyer. He came home to work in the store in the late 1880s, and married the daughter of Isidore Newman, a successful banker.
After the devastating fire in the Touro Buildings (the 701 block of Canal Street) on February 14, 1892, S.J. moved the family business up the street to the Mercier Building at 901 Canal Street (corner Dauphine). The family then re-built the 701-block store. S.J. was at a crossroads.
Creating Maison Blanche
Shwartz restored the success of A. Shwartz and Son after the fire, but his brother wanted to bring the store back down the street. So, S.J. pitched an idea to his father-in-law. He wanted to open the first true “department store” in New Orleans. Up until this point, “dry goods” stores like his family’s, the Fellman’s, and Daniel Henry Holmes’ store, serviced the city. They were joined by boutiques, like the Krausz Brothers shop at 811 Canal Street. Shwartz wanted to acquire the entire Mercier building, and he needed an investor.
Newman liked S.J.’s concept and backed it. Shwartz purchased the building, evicting Leon Fellman (who moved his store to the Pickwick Hotel Building at 800 Canal). Shwartz remodeled his building’s interior. By the Fall of 1897, he was ready to open.
The “Brain Trust”
Newman’s investment had strings attached. He had Shwartz hire Gus Gus Schullhoefer, Newmman’s brother-in-law, and Hartwig D. Newman, his son. They were smart guys, and gave Newman some eyes loyal to him inside the business. When Maison Blanche opened on October 31, 1897, the Daily Picayune gave over most of their front page to the store’s opening. In addition to details on the store, they profiled the three top executives. Here’s the caption for the image in the paper from the book:
The Maison Blanche Brain Trust. Isidore Newman’s son-in-law, S.J. Shwartz, his brother-in-law, Gus Schulhoefer, and his son, Hartwig Newman, were the first management team of Maison Blanche, from a profile piece in the New Orleans Picayune in 1897.
Into the 20th century
The was a success from the start. While it would be another fifty years until their precious Christmas Mascot, Mister Bingle, made his debut, Maison Blanche quickly earned their tagline, “Greatest Store South.”
Maison Blanche Department Stores
From the back cover:
On October 31, 1897, S.J. Shwartz, Gus Schullhoefer, and Hartwig D. Newman–with financial backing from banker Isidore Newman–opened the Maison Blanche at the corner of Canal Street and Rue Dauphine in New Orleans. Converting Shwartz’s dry goods store into the city’s first department store, the trio created a retail brand whose name lasted over a century. In 1908, Shwartz tore his store down and built what was the city’s largest building–13 stories, with his Maison Blanche occupying the first five floors. The MB Building became, and still is, a New Orleans icon, and Maison Blanche was a retail leader in the city, attracting some of the best and brightest people in the business. One of those employees, display manager Emile Alline, created the store’s second icon, the Christmas character “Mr. Bingle,” in 1947. Mr. Bingle continues to spark the imagination of New Orleans children of all ages. Even though Maison Blanche has become part of New Orleans’s past, the landmark Canal Street store lives on as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
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