Do We Want to Need More Tourists?

It’s really discouraging to hear that the police busted OffBeat contributor Cree McCree and her Mardi Gras flea market Saturday at the Blue Nile. According to the Blue Nile’s Jesse Paige, who was also arrested:

After 2 to 3 hours in City Hall, we found out these events are probably a thing of the past. In order to do this properly you need a Special Event Promoter Form. Promoters Fees include Occupational License $250.00 Mayoralty Permit: $500.00. Police Retirement $.25 for a total of $750.25. But wait there is more! An Approved Revenue Form from Safety and Permits is required; $190. SO THE GRAND TOTAL of permits and processing to do a simple community event if you are selling any arts and crafts or clothing is $940.25.

And there is more…A $10,000 Performance Bond is required if 3 or more vendors are participating.

Put aside that I hate to see friends rousted by the cops, this is really worrying because it’s further evidence to suggest that this city administration really doesn’t understand what makes New Orleans tick any more than the Nagin Administration did. New Orleans’ great traditions are neighborhood and community-based, and flea markets fall in that category.

If the bar-based flea markets were weekly or even monthly, perhaps I’d understand seeing them as a threat to existing businesses, but not a once or twice-a-year event. But instead of letting crafters and designers sell their wares and perhaps develop followings that allow them to take their businesses from the underground to conventional retail models, they’re marginalized and discouraged. This is of a piece with the clampdown on street music and stricter enforcement of zoning regulations where live music is concerned, putting monied interests ahead of the creative spirit that defines New Orleans.

Like those activities, this bust is an attack on a lifestyle, not just a commercial activity. The club-based flea market is a way to combine the business and social spheres in the informal atmosphere of a bar, but this decision effectively keeps them separated because what Paige discovered isn’t limited to the Blue Nile. Other neighborhood bars that do the same thing need the same paperwork and the same money or they face the same penalties.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu was elected with strong credibility in the arts arena because of his support and belief in the “cultural economy” during his time as lieutenant governor. Although I believe his personal support is genuine, I’m having a hard time seeing evidence in policy or practice of continued sympathy for creativity and a willingness to make it an economic driver in a city that desperately needs one. I fear that investing in “cultural economy” means giving money to big businesses and letting their needs determine how and how much of it makes its way to the actual creative class—which sounds a lot like trickle-down economics.

If retail outlets feel threatened by club-based, seasonal flea markets, they should re-examine their own businesses. If the city’s simply cracking down in a poindexterly fashion on scofflaws at their most unknowing and benign, it should be ashamed. This is the lowest of low-hanging fruit—lawbreakers that advertise what they’re about to do and enjoy a Bloody Mary while showing their wares. Discouraging entry-level entrepreneurship in this case is one way to slow the development of a fashion industry in New Orleans and remain reliant on tourists to keep our economy afloat.

  • Do they want to know about economic impact? Ask the artists who regularly participate in this event each year about all the money they lost. Ask the Frenchmen St. businesses that regularly benefit from this event how this specious police action affected their revenue. These city officials are erroneously holding a one-day cultural event to the same standards as Jazzfest and French Quarter Fest. And, after talking to some of the vendors immediately after the shutdown happened, it seems apparent that this little display of testosterone was well-planned.

  • NOLADevil

    Alex hit the nail on the head with his observation that “this bust is an attack on a lifestyle, not just a commercial activity.” The Blue Nile, like the Mother-In-Law when Antoinette was at the helm, and other neighborhood bars around New Orleans, serves as a community center as well as a club/bar. I think that the police shutdown of the Mardi Gras Flea Market was also bad for tourism. There’s a large and growing segment of repeat visitors to New Orleans who have long ago eschewed Bourbon Street in favor of the truly local charms of Frenchmen.

  • Cynthia Scott

    Alex made the all-important connection for artists and artisans: How do you get “there” from “here?” Unfortunately, there are baby steps involved between making some items in your front room and somehow developing enough of a following and income to open your own storefront. Shutting these people out means the only “entrepreneurs” we encourage will be the wealthy wives of film producers who move here from New York and get all the press for opening chi chi boutiques on Magazine.

  • Nhemeter

    Insane. We need to support our culture, our music and the citizens in our community. Shop local, spend your money here in New Orleans not in the burbs and be proud of our city.

  • Foodapprecianado

    I may for now be a tourist, but the spirit of the City is what draws me back year after year. How can those of us who love to visit the city perhaps make a concerted effort to stop this smothering before it gets out of hand? The laws need to be changed to recognize perhaps a bi-annual effort as benign, rather than lump everyone together when it comes to licensing and other restrictions. If our dollars are what they are after, perhaps our voices added to those of the locals would be a plus.

  • Foodapprecianado

    Exactly my point. Well put.