The Fellmans and Marks Isaacs contributed to the formation of Maison Blanche Origins.
The Pickwick Hotel, 800 Canal Street, 1895. Two years later, Leon Fellman moved his store to this location.
Maison Blanche Origins
The “Greatest Store South,” Maison Blanche Department Store, opened in 1897. These three ads, from The Daily Picayune on 16-February-1890, present a segment of the New Orleans retail scene at the time. L. Fellman & Co., operated in the 901 block of Canal Street. Leon’s brother, Bernard, continued solo in the 701 block. The Kaufmans and Marks Isaacs dominated the Dryades Street corridor. These men shaped the decisions made by S. J. Shwartz as he planned the Maison Blanche.
L. Fellman & Co.
“Dry Goods and Fancy Goods!” Leon Fellman immigrated to New Orleans in the 1870s, following his older brother, Bernard. He adopted Bernard’s anglicized surname, going from Feibelman to Fellman. After working for other established retailers, the brothers opened a store of their own in the 701 block.
In 1884, the chapter of Christ Episcopal sold their church at the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets. The The Mercier family constructed what became known as the Mercier Building. They sectioned into separate retail spaces. That’s why L. Fellman & Co. lists 173, 175, and 177 Canal Street as addresses.
Leon Fellman operated a “Dry Goods” store that sold “Fancy Goods” as well. He sold fabrics and accessories for women and men. The concept of a “department store” selling ready-to-wear clothing was not yet a thing in the South. So, Leon’s advertising focused on the tried and true:
The many friends, patrons, and strangers would do well to pay a visit to our Grand Emporium before going elsewhere. Having the advantage of procuring all of our merchandise from the “Fountain Head” — the Center of Manufactory — be they Foreign or Domestic — we can with pride declare that our assortment CANNOT BE EXCELLED, OUR PRICES NOT LOWERED, this side of Mason and Dixon’s Line. We shall mention only a few prices. EVERYTHING WILL BE REDUCED!
Competition with Shwartz
Fellman occupied the lake-side of the Mercier Building, “Next to the Grand Opera House.” After the devastating fire in the Touro Buildings in February, 1892, Simon Shwartz moved his family’s business, A. Shwartz and Son, to the other half of the building. Shwartz, backed by his father-in-law, Isidore Newman, acquired the entire Mercier Building. Leon moved out in the Spring of 1897. Shwartz opened the Maison Blanche that October..
Leon moved his store across the street, to the Pickwick Hotel at 800 Canal Street. His store evolved into a department store in the style of Maison Blanche.
While Leon’s involvement with Shwartz and MB was as a competitor, his investments sparked other Canal Street retail. Fellman bought the buildings in the 1201 block of Canal in 1899. He demolished those buildings. In their place, a new, two-story store rose, in 1903. Since Fellman’s store at 800 Canal (corner Carondelet) was well-established and successful, he invited the Krauss Brothers to lease 1201 Canal. Thus began the 94-year run of Krauss Department Store.
Leon’s older brother preferred to stay in the Touro Buildings (701 block of Canal Street). Maybe it was his age, perhaps his health, but the brothers parted. Bernard operated his dry good store, declaring it, “The Pioneer Of Low Prices.” So, Bernard competed not only with his brother, but with Abraham Shwartz. A. Shwartz and Son stood at the lake-side corner of the 701 block, Canal and Bourbon Streets. This ad lists an extensive inventory of dry goods. He also advertises “over 2000 Jackets, Cloaks and Wraps, from the lowest ordinary to the best.” A half-off sale always garners attention!
Charles Kaufman’s first store opened on Poydras Street in 1877. Charles partnered with his older brother Simon in the venture. In 1889, Charles joined with Marks Isaacs in a partnership. They opened Kaufman and Isaacs. The partners encouraged shoppers to “Join the Procession of Wise and Discerning People” to their store, on Dryades, Euterpe, and Polymnia Streets. They leveraged their proximity to the Dryades Public Market.
In 1901, Marks Isaacs left the partnership. He joined S.J. Shwartz at Maison Blanche. Charles Kaufman passed in 1917. The family continued operation of the store until 1961. They closed the store and sold the building, in the midst of a great deal of strife related to the Civil Rights Movement. The Kaufman’s building is now the Ashe Cultural Arts Center. Dryades Street now bears the name of Civil Rights pioneer Oretha Castle Haley.
So many connections among the Jewish retailers of New Orleans! You’ll find more history on MB and Krauss in my books:
Maison Blanche Department Stores
Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store
Additionally, lots of photos of Canal Street in my history of the most important streetcar line in New Orleans:
New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line
In 1966, newspapers offered Maison Blanche Advertising a solid platform.
Maison Blanche Advertising
The Sunday edition of the Times-Picayune for February 13, 1966 offered a target-rich environment for the department stores. The store placed numerous full-page ads, like this one for “GEORGIA GRIFFIN’S ‘TOWN and TRAVEL’ COLLECTION OF DACRON/COTTONS” – “leaves pressing business behind.” Additionally, they ran an ad for Maison Blanche auto centers,
The dresses featured three neck styles, Italian collar, Double-collar, and Cardigan neck. So, this collection sold at Misses’ and Women’s Dresses, Second Floor of MB Canal. Additionally, they went out to the “suburban” stores. Gentilly Woods, which later migrated to The Plaza at Lake Forest. Airline, which moved to Clearview Shopping Center, and Westside Shopping Center.
MB never sleeps…
With a full final shopping day on Monday, February 14, MB presented Rudy Grenreich’s “Exquisite Form “L’Intrigue” Sleepwear Collection. “(Surprise surprise! … no gossamer peakboo here. All is demure, or is it?)”
Styles from “THE LOCKE SHOE TRUNK SHOWING” by Mr. George D. Williams, stood next to the sleepwear. The “Carol,” “Cameo,” and “Pinafore” enticed women out for the showing. Shoppers ventured only to the downtown Shoe Salon for the Locke shoe. While the outlying stores attracted regular shoppers, the “get dressed and go downtown” view held.
“High-stepping, uninhibited as the season … four great fashion looks from Carmelettes take lower heels, joyous colorings, or the sparkling polish of black.” While the Shoe Department offered several styles and colors only at Canal Street, others appeared at the other stores.
“Carnival arrives at first blush of spring as Samuel Winston, not a moment too soon, proposes you wear his pink frosting spectator’s costume as a foil to the first azaleas and a compliment to a king.” The Designers’ Shop on the Second Floor offered lovely suits perfect for grandstand viewing of parades.
Pfaff’s “DIAL-A-STITCH AUTOMATIC SEWING MACHINE,” priced in the ballpark of the designer suits, contained numerous automatic features. Families with a skilled seamstress at home created their own women’s suits with sewing machines. MB sold them on the Fourth Floor. The 1966 Dial-A-Stitch sold at Canal Street only.
More MB 1966 to come! Be sure to pick up the book, Maison Blanche Department Stores.
A sample of women’s fashion 1914 via ads in the paper.
Women’s fashion 1914
Three snippets from The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, on 4-February-1914. The paper did a daily feature then, “The Picayune’s Daily Fashion Hint.” This day, the hint was on the Fichu. The fichu, a small triangular shawl, was a popular fashion accessory. Two of the big department stores in town, Maison Blanche and D. H. Holmes, placed ads on the same page as the fashion hint. The paper was smaller at the time (16-20 pages). So, it was logical for the stores to advertise near the “hint.”
The text of the “fashion hint” for this day explained the shawl:
THE FICHU STILL HIGH IN FAVOR
That there is no diminution in the popularity of the charmingly feminine fichu is proven by this house frock, included among the fetching wearables brought back from Paris by Mrs. Ogden Goellet. The fichu, of sheer white mull, is attached to a square collar of hand-embroidered handkerchif (sic) linen and the squared lower corners of the fichu are embroidered to match. A soft frill of lace finishes the edge. This dainty fichu is draped over a simple gown of bluet sicilliennc.
The “hint” does not state that the image of the model is the aforementioned Mrs. Odgen Goellet.
The ad for Maison Blanche on the page with the fichu feature is a disconnect. It promotes the store’s Optical Department. “We Test Your Eyes FREE OF CHARGE” is a legit way to get folks into a store, to this day. The Optical Section was on the main floor of Maison Blanche’s Canal Street location. The rule of thumb in department store retail is, if you want to attract men to a department, keep it on the ground floor. Women were much more likely to take the elevator up.
Women’s Evening Slippers
“In the Most Fashionable Models Are Here” – D.H. Holmes presented an ad more in tune with the “fashion hint” on this day. “Tango Slippers” and “Satin Slippers,” along with silver, gold, and beaded slippers. Holmes, in the 800 block of Canal Street, sold these shoes for $2.50 – $8.50. “Never has our assortment been more beautiful than this year.”
Big changes in Canal Street Retail 1897 shook up shopping.
The Mercier Buildings, combined as Maison Blanche, 1898.
Canal Street Retail 1897
Front-page ad for S. J. Shwartz & Co, 3-January-1897
When 1897 opened, changes to the landscape of Canal Street retail were already shaping up. The year-end clearance ads published on January 3rd looked as one would expect. The ads in the first three pages of that day’s edition of The Daily Picayune tell a fascinating tale.
Simon J. Shwartz, youngest son of Abraham Shwartz, set plans in motion that brought the first true department store to town. Shwartz’s store, S.J. Shwartz & Sons, operated from the Mercier Buildings. Simon had the section of the building on the corner of Canal and Dauphine. In 1892, his family’s store, A. Shwartz and Sons, burned, along with most of the businesses in the Touro Buildings. This was the 701 block of Canal Street. The Shwartz family believed the fire was what brought on the heart attack that took Abraham, the patriarch.
Ad for D. Mercier’s Sons, 3-January-1897
While the Jewish families dominated Canal Street, the Merciers operated two blocks down Dauphine Street. “D Mercier’s Sons – The Renowned Clothiers and Hatters” purchased the property in the 901 block of Canal in 1884. They won it at auction, when the chapter of Christ Episcopal decided to move uptown. The church sold off their magnificent church in that year. The Merciers demolished it, constructing a four-story retail building.
701 to 901 to 701
Ad for A. Shwartz & Sons, Canal and Bourbon Streets, 3-January-1897
After the fire, Simon moved quickly, re-opening A. Shwartz and Sons at 901 Canal. He disagreed with his brothers on the direction of the business. So, the family moved back to the Touro Buildings. They secured the four-story building on the corner of Canal and Bourbon. This offered A. Shwartz and Sons a better location. So, back to the 701 block they went. Simon remained at 901 Canal. He gave the 901 store his name.
The Fellman Brothers
Ad for L. Fellman & Co., 3-January-1897
Bernard and Leon Fellman operated Fellman Brothers from a storefront in the Touro Buildings. When the Merciers opened their building at 901, Leon wanted to move down the street. Bernard disagreed. The Fellmans split. Leon moved, opening L. Fellman & Company. His store stood on the lake side of the Mercier Building, next to the Grand Opera House (now the S. H. Kress Building). The store in the 701 block became B. Fellman’s.
By February of 1897, S. J. Shwartz secured purchase of the entire Mercier Building. He served Leon Fellman with a notice of eviction. Fellman had to hustle to re-locate his store. Leon convinced the owners of the Pickwick Hotel (named so because the Pickwick Club met there) to close. He leased that building, across the street, at 800 Canal (corner Carondelet). Fellman converted the hotel into a dry goods store, Leon Fellman’s. So, 1897 saw major expansion, where both Shwartz and Fellman greatly expanded their stores. Meanwhile, the others kept on going in the 701 block.
Shwartz renovated the Mercier Buildings in 1897. He converted the property into a single store floor plan. S. J. Shwartz and Company became Maison Blanche in October of that year.
Ad for D. H. Holmes, 3-January-1897
Between Shwartz and Fellman stores stood D. H. Holmes, in the 801 block. Daniel Henry Holmes opened his store on Canal Street in 1842. He died in 1898. The store continued on until 1989, when Dillard’s acquired the chain. Holmes advertised a wide range of reductions on 3-January-1897. Silks to Brocaded Satin, to Opera Glasses, all on sale.
Ad for Kaufman and Isaacs on Dryades Street, 3-January-1897
Merchants on Dryades Street (now Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.) presented the biggest competition to the Canal Street stores. Kaufman & Isaacs announced “Sacrifice week” on January 3rd:
The coming week will be specially devoted to clearing up old lines of merchandise which were overlooked in the Christmas crush. Every price is special–every value is noteworthy. This is, indeed, the store of the people–the store of economy.
Marks Isaacs split with the Kaufmans in 1905. At the same time, the members of the Newman family who opened Maison Blanche with S. J. Shwartz left the company. Isaacs joined Maison Blanche. He later left MB, opening his own store in the 701 block.
While the players remained, the landscape shifted significantly in 1897.
More on Canal Street
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
To learn more about Canal Street Retail 1897, check out my books, Maison Blanche Department Stores and Krauss: The New Orleans Value Store.
Patreon Note: Usually a blog post such as this would be behind the Patreon wall. I couldn’t figure out how to publish a suitable 100-word introduction to the tale, though. I’ll make it up to my Patrons. We really appreciate you and your support.
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.