John Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Gentrification’s sure sign lay passed out against doorway

The gentrification that began in our section of Uptown New Orleans before Katrina resumed soon afterwards, fueled by the higher elevation made so apparent by the lack of flooding in the area that became known as the sliver along the river.

A lamentable casualty was the St. Vincent de Paul store where for $2 you could purchase from their large clothing selection freshly-laundered, previously worn tee shirts. In one of those tee-shirts the wearer might become if only for a moment a member of the prestigious Southern Yacht Club, for instance, or a graduate of Sheriff Harry Lee’s DARE program.

The stucco and Spanish tile building on Magazine Street was sold and remodeled, which brought out its fine architectural lines. Then it was subdivided into rental places for upscale boutique shops where $2 doesn’t have the same purchasing power as before.

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There are antique shops, oriental rug shops, upscale and pedestrian eateries. Lately a gourmet vinegar vendor opened a store near Nashville and Magazine. Really. And when you pass a ladies shop with items on hangars spaced so far apart on the display rack that you can see a couple of inches of daylight between each item you can safely assume that they don’t have to sell many of those during a day’s business to pay the overhead.

The latest indicator of creeping gentrification came early one morning when near neighbor Ann spotted a drunk who had passed out lying against the doorway of Tanya, who lives across from the street from Ann.

“Don’t open your door,” Ann warned her, “or he’ll fall backwards inside.”

The police were called. They arrived and went through the old “You-can-go-sleep-at-home-tonight -if-you-can-get-up-and-walk- away” routine. Which he did.

He was a college student who had stayed too long in Grit’s Bar before he decided to leave and then he’d only walked about a block until he had passed out against the doorway. As he talked with the policeman he began to remember the events from the night before, including the $200 cash he had been carrying in his pocket the night before. It was still there.

Which is a sure sign of gentrification creeping around Laurel Street between Magazine and Tchoupitoulas where the hyperbole often gets mixed with insanity but is seldom mistaken for a death threat.