An open-air mall in New Orleans sounds like a recipe for disaster.

open-air mall

Lakeside as open-air mall

From 1962, this Franck Studios photo of Lakeside Shopping Center. Here’s the THNOC caption: “View of an open air interior walkway lined with stores, with Holmes at the end. Visible in the foreground are Hausmann’s Jewelers, The Turntable, Jean’s Hosiery and Paris Hats. Commissioned by Latter and Blum.”

Lakeside Shopping Center began life as an open-air mall.   I remember going to the Vision Plaza at Lakeside in 1964 with my mom for my first pair of glasses. D. H. Holmes opened as the first anchor, on the North, “lake” side. Godchaux’s followed on the South, “Veterans” side. The configuration was linear at first. As Lakeside grew in popularity, branches developed off the main axis.

Shopping without a roof

Local shoppers look at photos of an open-air mall, thinking, no way I’m shopping there. It’s important to remember, the individual stores had a/c. So, folks wandered around three floors of D. H. Holmes in comfort. Those struggling with getting from Holmes to Godchaux’s stopped in at one of the smaller stores, like Hausmann’s Jewelers along the way. The experience was little different from shopping along Royal or Magazine Street.

So, no a/c between stores wasn’t that big a deal. The open configuration presented a different problem: rain. While the walkways down either side of the mall were covered, rain still blew onto the paths. Shoppers regularly pass on Magazine Street if it means opening an umbrella between stores. Running into one of the anchors on a rainy day meant minimal wet impact on the shopper. It meant a lot to the jewelry or shoe stores, though. You can almost hear the discussion between say, a chain store regional manager and the property owner, discussing rent adjustments, if not the store moving outright to another location.

Lakeside had to adapt. Just like malls in northern cities closed in because of snow, New Orleans needed enclosed shopping. Closing the mall involved the additional cost of air-conditioning. Property owners dislike expenses, even if they mean attracting increased business.

Of course, enclosing Lakeside morphed the mall into the most-popular shopping destination in metro New Orleans. While modern malls pass on to new, hybrid concepts, Lakeside chugs along.

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