Maison Blanche Thanksgiving weekend was always hectic.
Maison Blanche Thanksgiving
Ad from Thanksgiving Weekend, 1978. MB ran this ad on Sunday, 26-November-1978, after the madness of Friday and Saturday were over. Holiday season 1978 was my first at MB Clearview. I spent that weekend glued to one of those old electro-mechanical cash registers the store used at the time.
The Post-Thanksgiving sales in the Maison Blanche Men’s Department included mostly grab-and-go items. Casual shirts, slacks, some jackets and coats. Mom would hit the stores while dad slept in or went fishing. So, Mom picked up stuff for dad that didn’t require his presence. That gave her time to explore the various ladies departments. From the employee perspective, it was easy. The lines stached up a bit, so shoppers didn’t come up for conversation.
Selling in 1978
While individual/personal calculators grew in popularity, retail transactions in 1978 had not changed for forty years. Stores shifted from mechanical to electro-mechanical cash register. Credit card transactions remained the same. At MB, store charges (using one’s New Orleans Shoppers’ credit card) rung up on the regular sales ticket. Slide the ticket under the printer in the register. Push the old-style keys for department and item number. Cash, credit, or bank card. The sale rung up, then you’d make an imprint of the card, in the body of the sales ticket. Both store and bank cards required a phone call to verify the credit line, if the purchase was over a set amount. The approval process hadn’t changed much since the 1950s. Credit staff at the Canal Street store answered phones from downstairs and the suburban stores. Those phones had super-long cords (yes, folks, we’re talking about phones with cords). The salesperson at the register gave the card information. The credit staffers looked up the account numbers, calculated the customer’s limit, then approved or declined the purchase.
Suit separates for men
The big ad for Sunday, 26-Nov-1978 for MB presented men’s suit separates from Haggar. “Choose them by the piece: a sport coat, a vest, the slack,, or choose them all for a 3 piece vested look for under 100.00.” These pieces sold well with men whose measurements crossed over suit sizes. The price was right for younger men, as well. These items appear in the Sunday paper. While most people bought the Haggar stuff and brought it home to dad, some folks came in for alterations. We didn’t do alterations over the weekend, but Monday evening after was just fine.
Live-action! Oscar’s puppets were more than just the Bingles!
“Oscar” Isentrout, puppet master and voice of Mister Bingle, entertaining a group of shoppers at a show promoting “Import Week” in August 1969. The photo appeared in “Shop Talk,” the store’s employee newsletter.
When Emile Alline created Mr. Bingle, he naturally visualized dolls of the character for window displays. Someone mentioned that there was a puppeteer working on Bourbon Street. He did vaudeville-style shows in between the dancers. Oscar had two puppets of Alline’s Bingle doll made.
Mr. Alline knew he had something special in the combination of Bingle and Isentrout. Oscar threw his personality, creativity, and spirit into his Bingle live shows. While Bingle began as a seasonal gig for Oscar, Alline ended up hiring him full-time. So, Oscar’s Bingle incarnation became too important.
As a full-time employee, Alline and MB discovered they had real talent in Oscar. Bingle now was a year-round project. Additionally, Oscar became part of promotions away from Christmas. “Import Week” in August ran for a number of years. Oscar had female puppets that could do costume changes. From French to Japanese, Oscar’s ladies attracted shoppers to live shows. He did shows not only on Canal Street, but the suburban stores as well. This photo is a show at Airline Village, in Metairie.
Shop Talk came out every two weeks. The store’s advertising department originated the publication. Employees contributed new items, gossip, even short poems and stories. There was a sports page, reporting on news from the various sports teams the store sponsored. Some of these played in the Commercial League. Other projects included teams for the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD). While the NORD and school sponsorships made for good community relations, inter-store employee leagues ranked highly among newsletter interests.
The newsletters were invaluable to me when I wrote the book.They’re up on the fourth floor of the New Orleans Public Library (NOPL) on Loyola Avenue.
Maison Blanche advertising in the 1905 Jambalaya,
Maison Blanche Advertising
Ad for Maison Blanche in the 1905 edition of Jambalaya, Tulane University’s yearbook. Maison Blanche opened in the Mercier Building, at the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets, in 1897. Simon J. Shwartz, Isidore Newman’s son-in-law, created the Maison Blanche concept. He convinced his father-in-law to invest in the store. While there were other businesses besides Shwartz’s dry goods store in the Mercier Building, he managed to acquire the entire building. The illustration in this ad first appeared in The Daily Picayune on the store’s opening day in 1897.
The Newmans and Maison Blanche
The Mercier Building, late 1890s
S. J. Shwartz was the youngest son of merchant Abraham Shwartz. A. Shwartz and Son started as a wholesale company on Chartres Street. When Abraham got the opportunity to open a retail store on Canal Street, he jumped on it. Unfortunately, the store, located in the 700 block, burned out in 1892. Simon moved A. Shwartz and Son to the Mercier building. The family split with Simon, however. They moved the store back to the 700 block. Simon changed the name of his store to S. J. Shwartz and Company. Simon had married into the Newman family. So, when he planned to convert his store into the “department store” concept he’d seen in Cincinnati and New York, Simon turned to Newman. Isidore invested in Simon. You can just hear the conversation: “I’ll invest in your idea, if you hire my son and brother-in-law.”
Simon did just that, The original management team of MB was Shwartz, Hartwig (Hart) Newman, and Gus Schulhoefer. Schulhoefer left MB early on, for health reasons. Hart Newman was a banker/investor, like his father. He preferred finance to retail. So, Newman desired an exit from MB as well. Shwartz then reached out to Marks Isaacs, a well-known local retailer. He brought Isaacs in as a partner. MB’s holding company became Shwartz and Isaacs Company, Limited.
Advertising for Maison Blanche World War I focused on readiness.
Maison Blanche World War I
Two ads in the Times-Picayune, 24-August-1917, illustrate the targeting of Maison Blanche World War I. The smaller ad ran on page two, whereas the large ad ran on the back page of the fourteen-page edition. The smaller ad suggests buying your man a sweater, as he packs to leave for boot camp at Leon Springs in Texas. The larger ad offers the shopper discounts on a wide spectrum of items, from note paper to women’s shoes to various men’s items.
Entering the War
By the time of Maison Blanche World War I, Europe entered its third year of total war. The United States joined the war, on the side of France and the United Kingdom, on April 6, 1917. Money, goods,, and supplies traveled across the Atlantic almost immediately. American troops arrived in Europe in the summer of 1918. The summer of 1917 was that wartime period where excited young men joined up to defend their families. They went off to boot camp, returning home on leave in spiffy uniforms. Anxiety over trench warfare and the horrid conditions on the Western Front were distant.
Wives and mothers prepared for war with two approaches. First, they purchased clothing and supplies for the menfolk. While the Army provided the basics, there were always things soldiers needed and wanted. Second, the women prepared for rationing and other belt-tightening moves. Maison Blanche World War I recognized this. Instead of tantalizing the shopper with a new dress, fancy shoes, or furniture upgrades, we see a lot of practical items on sale.The department stores focused on page one and page two of the newspaper. With only fourteen pages in the edition, there was no full-page ad for MB in one section, Holmes in the next. Readers caught the latest news, turned the page, then spotted store ads. More extravagant sales and shopping came to New Orleans in the aftermath of the war.
Unpacking 1200 Canal, including neon, radio, and streetcars.
Unpacking 1200 Canal Street
Franck Studios photo, shot from Canal and Basin Streets, looking towards the river. HNOC dates this at approximately 1932. The fleur-de-lis lampposts and relatively-new improvements to Canal Street support this. Those were part of the 1930 “beautification” program for Canal. The city approved the road work and new lights after the disastrous transit strike in 1929. Ridership remained incredibly low in the wake of the strike. The city hoped that road work would both improve Canal Street and discourage individuals from driving automobiles downtown. Transit ridership never recovered its pre-strike numbers.
View from 1200 Canal Street
The photographer, who is not identified beyond working for Franck Studios, stands in front of Terminal Station, at Canal and Basin Streets. Krauss Department Store is behind him to the left. The Saenger Theater stands to the left, the Loews to the right. Neon signs and street-level advertising bombard pedestrians and streetcar riders alike, as they approach the main retail area of the city. The Maison Blanche building sports two large antennae on the roof. These are the transmission towers for WSMB Radio. The call letters “WSMB” stood for “Saenger-Maison Blanche.” The department store and theater partnered in radio. The theater promoted movies and shows, the store sold the hardware. Eventually, WWL radio bought WSMB, to get access to the Rush Limbaugh Show. Now, the station’s call letters are WWWL.
NOPSI 429, operating on the West End line
NOPSI 429 runs outbound, up Canal Street, on the West End line. West End stopped at all stops until Claiborne Avenue. The streetcars ran up Canal to City Park Avenue without stopping. They then turned left-and-right to head up West End Boulevard to the lake.
Perley A. Thomas designed the 400-series arch roofs while working for Southern Car Company. New Orleans Railway and Light liked the design. They bought a number of them for the St. Charles/Tulane Belts, as well as West End. The Canal line continued to use the Palace streetcars from American Car Company, until 1935.
The Mercier Building at Canal and Dauphine Streets was the first Maison Blanche.
Mercier Building 1885
Photo of the construction of the Mercier Building in 1884. Photographer is unidentified. Source is the Louisiana Photographs Collection, Earl K. Long Library, UNO. The third incarnation of Christ Episcopal Church stood at the corner of Canal and Dauphine until the 1880s. The chapter put the property up at auction in 1884. The Mercier family demolished the church. They built this commercial structure. Christ Episcopal moved uptown. They built a new church, uptown at St. Charles Avenue and Sixth Street. In 1897, Simon J. Shwartz acquired the Mercier Building, opening the Maison Blanche Department Store there.
Church to Store
Episcopalians in New Orleans founded Christ Church in 1803. The chapter held services in various locations at the start. In 1816, they built a church on the corner of Bourbon and Canal (river side). The congregation outgrew that building by the 1830s. In 1837, Christ Church dedicated a new church on the corner. This second church was in the style of a Greek temple. Businessman Judah Touro made the chapter an offer they couldn’t refuse for the building, in 1845. He loaned the church to a Jewish congregation, but then demolished the block, to build the “Touro Buildings.” Christ Episcopal moved from Canal and Bourbon to Canal and Dauphine Streets. Rather than accept a private offer for the now-valuable property, the chapter sold it at auction.
The Merciers built their building as separate locations with shared walls. Multiple retailers leased the space. Leon Fellman split from his brother, Bernard. Leon opened a store in the Mercier Buildings, while his brother continued the original store in the Touro Buildings. When the Touro Buildings caught fire in 1892, S. J. Shwartz moved his family’s store, A. Schwartz and Son, to the Mercier Buildings. Shwartz bought the building in 1897. He terminated the leases of Fellman and other tenants. Shwartz then re-modeled the interior of the building, turning it into a single store, Maison Blanche.
Construction, not demolition
UNO captioned this as “Mercier Building being dismantled, Canal Street, New Orleans,” but the photo actually documents the construction. This photo was taken in 1885, not 1906.