Small retail shops suffer from change around them

Chimes Street in the Northtown area near the LSU campus.
Chimes Street in the Northtown area near the LSU campus.

By Caroline Gerdes | LSU Student

Chimes Street staple Storyville is transforming from a store with regular business hours to a pop-up shop opening sporadically throughout the fall.

The custom t-shirt chain's first location on the North Gate of Louisiana State University's campus — it opened June 2007 — is the only one of the four locations "treading water," according to owner Josh Harvey.

He said the traffic patterns on the North Gate have changed over the past couple of years thanks to State Street development. He noted the North Gate business enclave is now primarily restaurants — not retail.

Highland Coffees owner and North Gate Merchants Association officer Clarke Cadzow said restaurants commonly are more successful than retail outlets near college campuses. He said students don't have the disposable income to shop for non-essential items.

"Nationally, in little shopping areas near campuses, there is a strong emphasis on dining."

Cadzow said North Gate storeowners also have unique obstacles.

"In this particular area, we're isolated," he said, noting the lack of residential support. Cadzow added that the closest neighborhood to the North Gate is Old South Baton Rouge, which is "largely abandoned and very poor."

North Gate merchants also are linked to the LSU calendar. When school is out, business lags, said Cadzow. LSU's on-campus businesses also are competition for North Gate stores. Chimes Street faces campus, which creates the most difficult problem: lack of visibility.

The North Gate has these challenges plus a lack of available parking, Cadzow said.

"We have all of these things working against us ... It's a miracle anything survives."

But the bottom line, according to Harvey, is Storyville's Chimes location just doesn't see the same number of people as the Mall of Louisiana shop or the other New Orleans and Austin locations.

Thus, the shop will only open when there is a potential for foot traffic — and some of this depends on what kind of season the Tigers have, Harvey said.

Storyville opened as a pop-up shop the weekend of Death Valley's first home game on Sept. 10.

He said the pop-up shop did well, grossing about $1,000 in two days. He noted that if football continues to drive fans to campus, he would open as a pop-up shop throughout the season.

"We're just trying to do some different things with [the Chimes location] … [There's] excitement of one day you're there, the next day you're gone."

Harvey said this retail experiment will factor into his decision when the location's lease ends at the close of the year.

"It was our first shop … where it all began," he said with a hint of nostalgia, noting the Chimes location is where he met his wife, Natalie.