Christmas shopping was once an experience, not a click…
Downtown New Orleans was once a shopper’s dreamland! The most enormous department store in the South opened to the public on October 30, 1897, bringing in large crowds by foot and trolley car. Maison Blanche offered everything imaginable for all ages including clothing, toys, games, holiday goods, kitchen items, shoes, and hardware! Nothing was left to the imagination and everyone entered the grand front doors with a smile! The image of this beautiful building on the corner of Canal and Dauphine in downtown New Orleans will be forever imprinted in the minds of anyone who experienced shopping at Maison Blanche.
Gone were the days that families went from one small business to another to shop for their family needs! Maison Blanche, meaning “white house” in French, occupied the first five floors of the sprawling white building. This was the first landmark store, but other locations were built around the greater New Orleans area over the course of many years. Maison Blanche was founded by three men, including a banker, a German immigrant, and a local store owner named Simon Schwartz, who had expanded the store into a 12-story building shopping experience that had not existed before that time.
Maison Blanche provided a new culture of family shopping. Crowds were enticed by beautiful window displays for every season and a large snowman named “Mr. Bingle”, created by a store employee named Emile Alline in 1947 for the holiday season. Mr. Bingle was so enormous that he could even be seen from blocks away hanging on the front of the magnificently decorated building. With his own theme song and merchandise, Mr. Bingle became a downtown icon. And there was nothing quite like Santa’s toy store which was filled with games, dolls, and every toy a child could want for Christmas.
Maison Blanche was bought and sold many times by companies such as City Stores, Gadchaux’s, and Dillards. Most New Orleans natives knew a friend or family member who worked at Maison Blanche, which employed thousands of people and over 600 workers on opening day alone. The invention of cars meant that families gradually moved away from the downtown area and into the suburbs, leading to the opening of more Maison Blanche stores. Eventually competitors left Maison Blanche bankrupt. The building sustained extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and has since been restored and occupied by The Ritz-Carlton.
Maison Blanche marked the beginning of one-stop shopping that still exists today in retail stores such as Macy’s, Target, and Walmart. However, there is something about the ambiance and excitement of downtown shopping that will forever be missed. The marble floors, escalators, window displays, holiday jazz music, and cheerful employees made the experience memorable in every way. Maison Blanche shopping has been replicated by malls and other department stores, but it can never be replaced. Maison Blanche, along with Mr. Bingle, is still a major part of New Orleans history. If you listen closely, perhaps you can hear the trumpets playing Mr. Bingle’s theme song!
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The Maison Blanche To Be A Place. Which Will Be an Attraction to the City. (1897, September 1). Times-Picayune, p. 1.
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Image 1: Nolahistoryguy. “Mr. Bingle 1952- Maison Blanche Canal Street”. 2018. http://old-new-orleans.com/NO_Maison_Blanche.html.
Image 2: “Maison Blanche- Greatest Store South.” Old-New-Orleans.com http://old-new-orleans.com/NO_Maison_Blanche.html
Image 3: “Luxury Hotels & Resorts: The Ritz.” Carlton. Accessed November 6, 2019. https://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/new-orleans/hotel-overview/press-releases.