New Orleans Opening a new location of our social enterprise Fair Grinds Coffeehouse on St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans was a relief even if we’re still shaking out the kinks, installing the ice machine, this and that. How we get the word out for our soft opening and early weeks has been a constant conversation filled with many ideas. One will say how we need to update our social media on Facebook and our website. Ok, let’s do that. Another will say, let’s open up for events, a baby shower here, a violin recital there, and a local meeting here and there. Sounds good, Ok, let’s do that, too. But, you can’t take an organizer off the streets, so what I wanted was flyers and lots of them and bigger flyers that I could put up on telephone poles, bus stops, and wherever people might gather. Would it work? Who knows, but it’s what I know, and what I like, so….
A week of rain finally stopped and I had a commitment from my son, Chaco, to hit the streets with me, so he could take one side, and I could take the other. I wanted to hit the immediate neighborhood behind our offices and the coffeehouse that was still in the throes of change between a lower income – working African-American neighborhood and the first waves of urban pioneers and families grabbing something semi-affordable in one of our last slivers of a neighborhood in transition, but still close to the French Quarter and the red-hot Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. We had cloudy skies, bright pink flyers, and away we went.
Going block to block, door to door, and flyering is always an education, and it’s hard to get one better than street-side. You miss things from the windshield that are uncovered walking your dogs along the sidewalks and up and down the porches. The added benefit on a Saturday afternoon is that you also have some stoop sitters, mailbox checkers, and random walkers and workers on the street that can be engaged in conversation.
Until the rain drove us off the turf, Chaco and I managed to cover the grid for an hour. Almost half the houses are in transition, either “fixed and fine” or under construction in one way or another. I had not realized this corridor was going so fast.
On the street, neighbors were making the adjustment. An African-American couple sitting on their porch yelled out at a young 20’s something white couple with the young man uncomfortably wearing a tie, that they looked good dressed up, while the youngsters tried to laugh it off as they walked down the middle of the street.
We had conversations on both sides of the line. Old residents, some barbequing on their porches or sitting in the shade were uniformly friendly, usually asking if we served breakfast. They knew our location as next door to the beauty supply house. Newcomers knew us as next door to the hipster-punk bar, Sibera.
One bicycle rider reminded me that he was already a regular. Right on! A guy working on his house asked through the window if we were connected to ACORN and then said that he had been a midnight to 2 AM DJ with a woman named May in 2008 and 2009 at KABF in Little Rock, and I told him to get his act together to do the same thing on WAMF once we were on the air in New Orleans. A big guy bushwacking around the old, abandoned Annunciation church buildings told me it would be some years before they were returned into community service, but they were starting. He knew about the coffeehouse and returned the flyer so we would save money. The grandson of the Cuban tire dealer who sold us the building was on St. Rock behind the new food court that just opened, but said he would be by soon for a cup of coffee. Chaco found outstretched hands from all of the service workers behind the building who were desperate for a place to have a cup of coffee that was away from their workplace.
Raindrops as big a dimes started falling on us as we came back towards the coffeehouse where a baby shower was in progress behind the iron gates and pink ribbons were tied above the sign saying, “closed, open at 6 am.”
We had the flyers out and were really part of the neighborhood, both old and new, now.