I’m not in the habit of promoting big chain retailers when I so firmly believe in shopping local, but I just checked out the new and seriously improved Riverwalk and loved it. With 75 retail and food offerings, Riverwalk is the first outlet mall in the U.S. established in a city setting. But because the city is New Orleans, the mall has beautiful views of the mighty Mississippi and cruises can dock at it’s door. They even offer tax free shopping for international shoppers. What was once basically an air conditioned way to get from Canal Street to the Convention Center could now become a “destination shopping” venue.
The Riverwalk was originally used for the 1984 World’s Fair. It was conceived by James Rouse, whose company was the first to coin the term, “mall.” He’s the same man who created many malls and “festival marketplaces” like Baltimore’s Harbour Place as well as the first planned city in America – Columbia, Maryland (where his grandson, actor Edward Norton, grew up – and where I went to high school).
Many people know Riverwalk as the mall that was hit by a barge in 1996 bringing millions in damages and an odd tourist attraction until 1997. After Katrina, the mall closed for repairs until December 2005. At the risk of offending the former tenants, Riverwalk eventually devolved into an enclosed strip mall of fleur-de-lis-festooned tchotchkes and t-shirts – like Bourbon Street without the booze and music.
The good news is that in the rebuilding, the baby was certainly not thrown out with the bathwater – many of the old favorite retailers are back and better than ever. The Fudgery was surrounded by a big crowd watching “the show” as a perky, chatty woman spread warm fudge with a wooden paddle – just like back in the day. Café Du Monde had a huge line. In fact, the whole mall was pretty packed, despite it being summer (the off-season) on a weekend with no holidays or festivals to speak of. There did seem to be a convention in town as we saw several people wearing Cosplay costumes in the food court.
I enjoyed outlet-mall-favorites like Neiman Marcus Last Call, Tommy Bahama Outlet, Lucky Brand and Kenneth Cole. My favorite new find was a colorfully decadent and nostalgic candy store enthusiastically called It’Sugar! Before I even got in the door, I was transported to my childhood when I spotted the wax bottles of sugar water (if you don’t know, ask someone over 40). Many of the candy boxes were cereal-box-sized. There were gummy bears the size of infants, jawbreakers bigger than my fist and 5 lb Hershey bars. The overall effect was that I felt like a small “kid in a candy store” – for real. I was tempted by a box of Lucky Charms-like marshmallows without all that pesky cereal in it, but I ended up buying my favorite adult chocolates across the hall at Lindt Lindor.
A happy side-effect of the new mall is the over 1,000 jobs it created. Over 4,000 people showed up for the job fair – and compared to national numbers, that’s pretty great odds. Also, the beautiful fountain in Spanish Plaza was finally running again. There was even a trampoline jumping rig in the plaza offering kids and some adults the opportunity to jump high and even flip while safely harnessed. I would have tried it except I JUST DID a few days before when I went to the movies in a nearby mall. I’ve attached a few photos and a video of me jumping and flipping. It’s a nice break from watching horrible news about politics, etc.
Riverwalk and Spanish Plaza are also hosting fun events including the upcoming Bastille Day Fête on July 12th. The free event will feature local French food, live music (of course) and lots of activities for children. I’m certain the highlight will be the “French Dog Contest.”