Rapp’s Luggage still sells leather goods and luggage in Metairie
Rapp’s Trunk Store sign on the side of 604 Canal Street.
George Rapp came to New Orleans from Germany, just at the end of the Civil War. He got settled and entered the leather goods business. By 1865, he put together the means to purchase Mack’s Trunk Store, located on Common Street. Rapp changed the name of the business to his own, and moved it to Canal Street.
Rapp continued to refer to the business as a “Trunk Store” when he took over. That’s because “steam trunks” were a huge part of his sales. When folks from New Orleans went to Europe, they did so by taking a four to five week trip on a steamship. Since it took four weeks to get there, people didn’t just turn around and go home in a few days, or even a week. That meant they needed to bring enough clothing and accessories for a months-long adventure. So, Rapps sold those trunk. They also repaired steam trunks. Those things weren’t cheap! Customers wanted to extend their life as much as possible.
604 Canal Street, next to the JW Marriott Hotel, was the home of Rapp’s Luggage.
This building is 5 stories tall. The Merchants Mutual Insurance building at 624 Canal is four stories tall. So were the buildngs that were demolished to make room for the hotel in-between 604 and 624. So, with most of the block four stories tall, Rapp was able to paint a sign on the lake side of 604 Canal. While the building on the river side of his store was also five stories, the lake side was more important. People walked down Canal Street in the afternoon and evening, heading back to the ferry landing, or the L&N passenger termnal. The building is currently home to a store in The Athlete’s Foot chain.
Leaving Canal Street
Canal Street faced competition from suburban malls in the 1970s. Rapp’s recognized this shift. They left Canal Street, moving across Severn Avenue in Metairie. They also opened stores in The Plaza at Lake Forest, and the Uptown Square Mall. Later, the company expanded to Baton Rouge. They opened a store in the Bon Marche mall.
The faded sign remains on Canal Street!
Cash Boys moved the money before cash registers
D.H. Holmes used Cash Boys up to the 1920s. Here’s a group of them in 1910.
Cash Boys were employees of large dry goods and department stores. Before cash registers, these stores puzzled over how to control money on the sales floor. Cash drawers meant money spread out everywhere. Managers trusted their employees, but they didn’t trust customers. Shoplifting required security. Cash required even more security.
Stores centralized cash, usually at a “cashier” station. In some stores, a clerk sat in a booth like that of a bank teller. Sales people worked hard to please customers. Sending the shopper to a cash cage cut into customer satisfaction.
Enter the Cash Boy. The sales clerk wrote up the transaction. The customer paid. The Cash Boy ran the money from the sales counter to the cash desk. The cash clerk made change, stamped the receipt as paid. The Cash Boy ran those back to the customer.
Stores, from Fellman’s to MB, to Holmes, trusted Cash Boys. They were usually children of store employees. They knew that stealing would cost the parent their job. Besides, being a Cash Boy had interesting perks. At Krauss, a couple of cash boys grabbed a quick nap. They slept longer than planned, though. When they woke up, the store closed for the evening. To survive the night, they made their way to the candy counter and sugared up! They didn’t suffer dire consequences, though, since everyone was glad they were all right.
Mechanization of the transaction
Multiple cash drawers required multiple locks and keys. It’s easy to pop open a simple cash drawer. As recently as the 1980s, Radio Shack stores used simple cash drawers. The drawers unlocked by pulling two or three levers under the drawer with your fingers. Simple enough, but a strong pull on the drawer forced it open. When the chain added computers to the sales counter (ironic, given they sold computers for years), a more-secure drawer became part of the system.
Canal Street stores stuck with Cash Boys until well into the 20th Century. Concerns over child labor motivated changes. Some stores converted to cash registers. Krauss Department Store favored a centralized system. They installed a pneumatic tube system in the store at 1201 Canal. They ran tubes from sales counters throughout the store to the office. A five-foot-by-five-foot box fan provided the airflow in the tubes. When a clerk sold something, they wrote up the transaction and put the cash and sales slip into a pod. That pod went in the tube and flew up to the office. The cash clerk processed the sale and returned the slip and change via the tube. Cash boys went back to school.
Just Hotels – Where once retail ruled.
This photo from the 1950s sums up the “before” of Canal Street beautifully. The corner of Canal and Camp Streets was one of the first to be demolished, to make way for a hotel. While the old Godchaux Building gave way to the Marriott New Orleans on the French Quarter side of Canal, the Sheraton New Orleans went up on the CBD side.
Waterbury’s Drug Store
Waterbury’s was a drug store chain that had two locations on Canal Street. One store anchored Canal and S. Rampart, the other Canal at Camp. The chain competed for business with K&B and Walgreens for prescription and retail business. Families chose drugstores for a number of reasons. Proximity to the home was often the main factor. Chains that also had downtown locations boosted their popularity. K&B opened their first location Uptown. The Canal Street location gave customers the option of picking up prescriptions on the way home from work. S. J. Shwartz opened the “Maison Blanche Office Building” in 1908. Many doctors rented space on the floors above the retail space. Shwartz opened a “Maison Blanche Pharmacy” in the building. The tenant docs brought their patients’ prescriptions straight to the pharmacy. K&B feared losing business. Their Canal Street store was two blocks down. They thought folks would go for the closer location. They opened a location on the corner of Canal and Dauphine, across from the MB building
Waterbury’s adopted a similar strategy. They placed multiple locations on Canal Street. This caught the folks on multiple bus and streetcar lines.
Older New Orleanians fondly remember Waterbury’s for its soda fountains. They made nectar-flavored sodas. Folks passionately debated who had the best nectar ice cream soda.
I’m too young to have memories of Waterbury’s, but my dad said we went there occasionally in the 1960s. We’d take the Franklin bus downtown, from my grandmother’s house in Gentilly. Most of my soda fountain memories are of the K&B in Clearview Mall. The chain closed that location last. Because I worked at MB Clearview, I ate there a lot. Chocolate shake (with K&B vanilla ice cream, of course), please.
Unpacking the photo
Waterbury’s Drug Store occupied a two-story building at Canal and Camp Streets. The store placed a billboard on the roof. They painted a wall sign on the building next door. Businesses regularly took advantage of height mismatches such as this. The photo shows the two-track main line in the Canal Street neutral ground. The city ripped those tracks up when the line converted to buses in 1964. “Just Hotels” as a trend came along with the return of the Canal streetcar in 2004.
The big hotels
The Sheraton New Orleans and Marriott New Orleans, as seen from the French Quarter (courtesy Flickr user Dieter Kramer)
The Marriott and Sheraton demolished the old buildings on their property. Later hotels converted existing buildings, because the city didn’t want to lose the Canal Street facades. The Waterbury’s wall sign contrasts well with the modern skyscraper hotel. It may make it into the book.
Chartres Street was one block down from the Clay Monument
600 block of Canal at Chartres, 1890. (Mugnier photo)
From the book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line, this is a Mugnier photo of Chartres Street at Canal. The Custom house is barely visible in the background. The trees in the neutral ground masked the streetcar tracks and activity. Because this is a winter photo, they’re barren.
The shoe store at the left of the photo anchors the Touro Buildings in the 700 block. The 600 block lacks the Godchaux Building. That dates the photo prior to 1892. The electric pole means the photo dates no earlier than 1890. The bare trees indicates this is likely the winter of 1890-91.
Leon Godchaux, the sugar magnate, demolished the buildings on 600 Canal in 1891. In their place, he erected a six-story retail/office building. That building survived until 1969. It was demolished to make way for what is now the Marriott Hotel Canal Street.
Mule-drawn streetcars on electrified streets
The streetcar in the background is a Johnson “Bobtail” car. These mule-drawn cars operated on the Canal line until 1895. Street electrification started in the late 1880s. Electric lighting replaced gas lamps. So, as the street lighting changed, commercial buildings desired lighted signs. Interior electrification allowed retail stores and shops extended business hours.
When I wrote the Canal streetcar book in 2004, I didn’t give much thought to “fading signs.” Even later on, when I wrote the Maison Blanche book, I looked past most of them. The new book changed the way I look at some of these photos. Because I’ve examined most of the walls of Canal Street buildings, this ad at Chartres and Canal caught my eye. I didn’t remember it. That’s because it vanished a year after this photo! Godchaux’s building contained too many windows to make a solid canvas for an ad.
So, what did this sign sell? I see:
World is the
I can’t make sense of that. Anybody have an idea?
Mr. Bingle on the front of Maison Blanche Canal
Santa and Mr. Bingle on the front of MB Canal, 1952 (Franck Studios photo courtesy HNOC)
Maison Blanche regularly put up big displays on the front of the store. The second floor was mostly stockrooms and warehouse space. The view in windows on that floor left much to be desired. So, the store closed in the front of that floor. The display department placed large displays in that front space.
The first Mr. Bingle on the second floor appeared in the 1940s. By the 1950s, Santa joined the snow elf.
Second floor displays
Maison Blanche Canal second floor display, late 1960s (Tess Conrad photo)
The store set up other displays in the second floor space. Mr. Bingle stepped aside for different Christmas decorations. The store saluted teams playing in the Sugar Bowl. In 1976, Maison Blanche promoted Bicentennial celebrations (and sales) with red-white-and-blue on the second floor front. Mr. Bingle took a back seat to these varied displays in the 1960s through the 1980s.
Return of Mr. Bingle
Mr. Bingle on the front of Maison Blanche Canal, 1985. (Edward Branley photo)
While large Bingle displays vanished, he never really left Canal Street. He appeared in the front windows of the store. He was the main attraction of the store’s third floor Christmas section. Kids posed for pictures with Santa, but Mr. Bingle calmed them down.
The little guy re-appeared on the front of the store in a big way in the 1980s. So, the store commissioned a huge fiberglass Bingle. They put it out on the front of the store, along with a storyboard. The sign told the story of how Mr. Bingle came to be. Well, not how Emile Alline got the idea to hire Oscar Isentrout from a Bourbon Street strip club to work the Bingle puppet. This was the proper kids’ story!
Christmas Eve at MB
I worked at Maison Blanche at Clearview Mall when I was an undergrad at UNO. The Men’s Department assigned me to sportswear. Eventually, I moved to suits. I enjoyed working at MB, particularly since we were on commission! Christmas Eve was always a crazy day. So, there wasn’t much selling happening. We parked in front of the cash registers and rang stuff up. It made all the slow, boring nights in January welcome!
Happy Holidays, everyone!
Mr. Bingle 1952 – Jingle, Jangle Jingle
Maison Blanche Canal Street, December, 1952
Mr. Bingle 1952
In 1947, Emile Alline was the display-window manager for Maison Blanche. He took his family up to Chicago that fall, for a family trip. While up there, he applied a professional eye to Christmas displays along the “Miracle Mile.” Alline decided his store needed a Christmas character. He sketched a short snowman. Snowman? Not quite right. How about holly wings, and an inverted ice cream cone for a hat? Now Alline had a snow elf!
Mr. Alline brought the concept to MB management. The little guy captivated everyone. The store featured Mr. Bingle all over its print advertising for Christmas, 1958.
Mr. Bingle hooked New Orleans. While the other Canal Street stores did Christmas displays, they didn’t have a character. So, Maison Blanche presented Mr. Bingle. Kids loved him. By 1952, the store displayed Mr. Bingle right up front!
Maison Blanche grew from the single store on Canal Street in the post-war 1940s. They opened stores on S. Carrollton Avenue in Mid City and Frenchmen Street in Gentilly. Mr. Bingle flew out to those locations! So, when Alline commissioned the Mr. Bingle puppets, they visited all the stores.
Canal Street in 1952
Maison Blanche anchored the 900 block of Canal Street for almost a century. S. J. Shwartz built the “MB Building” in 1908. So, by 1952, it stood for over forty years. Shoppers entered on the corner of Canal and Dauphine Streets. The entrance on the left of the photo (behind the bus) led to the office building. The first five floors of the building were retail space. The next seven housed a number of businesses. Many doctors set up shop in the MB building.
Santa and Mr. Bingle look down here from the second floor. So, that area was stockrooms. Eventually, the store covered up the second floor windows with year-round displays.
Maison Blanche Department Stores
Maison Blanche Department Stores, by Edward J. Branley
Mr. Bingle tells his story in Chapter 3! Buy the book here!