In the Wake of Katrina: Big Easy's Big Struggle To Get Back to Business

The obstacles are formidable for New Orleans merchants that were spared major water and wind damage and are trying to get back to work.

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While some small specialty retailers are climbing back into business mode, the city's shopping centers have a long road to travel because of extensive wind and rain damage, including the 115,000-square-foot Saks Fifth Avenue, the anchor of Canal Place, a 230,000-square-foot luxury shopping center. While some of Canal Place's 40 tenants may open in the spring, Saks is undergoing a $20 million reconstruction and will be the centerpiece of the center's reopening in the fall, said co-owner Darryl Berger.

When the restoration of Saks is complete, Berger expects the rest of the stores — including Brooks Bros., Ann Taylor, BCBG and Betsey Johnson — to reopen, too.

In addition, he said, other high-end fashion retailers are being signed — a strategy that will enhance Canal Place's focus as a regional fashion destination, Berger said, declining to elaborate on specifics.

Unlike Canal Place, the 550,000-square-foot New Orleans Centre, also in the Central Business District and owned and operated by the Hertz Investment Group, has no timetable to resume operations because it was so badly damaged, said Gary Horwitz, chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

Sandwiched between two devastated properties — the Hyatt Hotel and the Superdome — New Orleans Centre's anchor was Macy's and tenants included Ann Taylor, Limited and Express.

In similar limbo is General Growth Properties' Oakwood Mall in the city's West Bank. But GCP's Riverwalk, a former Rouse Marketplace straddling the Mississippi River near the New Orleans Convention Center, opened on Monday with 25 percent of the stores operating. Riverwalk's sales no doubt will be affected by the lack of tourist and convention traffic, while Oakwood Mall was said to have suffered considerable losses from fire and looting. Mervyn's, Dillard's, J.C. Penney and Sears were anchors, along with tenants such as Victoria's Secret, Limited and Express.

In the relatively unscathed suburbs on the west and southwest fringes of New Orleans, Wal-Mart stores and shopping centers did not incur as much damage. Of Wal-Mart's 14 stores (including Sam's, Supercenters and general merchandise stores) in the greater New Orleans area, only six are still closed, company officials said. Both Target stores, including one that anchors Clearview Mall in Metairie, are open.
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