As New Orleans continues to grapple with the destruction and loss of residents in the wake of the storms, floods, and ensuing turmoil, the owners of Akwaaba by the Bayou and Miss Celie’s Spa count themselves fortunate. They left town when the storm came and returned to establishments with minimal property damage. But now their job is to find customers as the city struggles to reestablish basic services to support the entrepreneurial market that kept New Orleans alive and flourishing.
“Everyone is making the best of a bad situation, says Monique Greenwood, coowner with her husband, Glenn Pogue, of four bed and breakfast inns, including Akwaaba by the Bayou in the Bywater neighborhood, just blocks from the Mississippi River. “I am convinced that if there is a Mardi Gras, they will come. I still have people booked. They want to support New Orleans,” she says.
Still, there are uncertainties surrounding Mardi Gras in February and the Essence Music Festival in July, as well as other large tourist events that helped buoy businesses during their leaner periods. Tourism is no guarantee as the city slowly recovers.
Open less than four weeks before the Aug. 28 hurricane hit, Greenwood worried that the place had been robbed or looted in the chaos following the storm. In one update, she learned that a few locals who rode out the storm in town were making use of the B&B’s the pool and grill, but otherwise seemed respectful of the property.
On a recent visit to Akwaaba, Greenwood, the former editor in chief of Essence magazine, found the bed and breakfast surprisingly intact. “Our location is 10 feet above sea level, so we only had a few broken window, nothing drastic,” Greenwood says.
Similarly, for weeks, Keith and Andre West-Harrison remained hopeful about the fate of their business, Miss Celie’s Spa, named for a Creole woman who straightened hair in her kitchen. An example of the rich history of entrepreneurship in the French Quarter, the business was located in a house built by a free man of color in 1889. The duo, staying with relatives in Indiana, increased their endeavors as spa consultants and sold Miss Celie’s Spa products online in an effort to keep their brand alive while they pondered the fate of their business.
When they were finally able to go back to New Orleans, they were gratified to find that the huge Chinese tallow tree they affectionately called “King” was still standing along with their business facilities. Despite a few stolen items and a slept-in bed, the spa/bed and breakfast was untouched.
Almost immediately upon their return, they booked their first spa appointment. “She’ll be fine,” Keith says. “We are just learning ways to make adjustments.”
Despite the damaged New Orleans economy, these entrepreneurs remain upbeat. “I think everything is going to be okay,” said Greenwood.
And just as King, the tallow tree, still stands, the survival of these businesses offer a beacon of hope for owners and tourists alike who look for the city to rise again.
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