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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Mardi Gras, many city officials agree, will be a benchmark of the recovery

"It's going to be the 150th anniversary of Mardi Gras and it will serve as a true symbol of the city's official reopening," Perry said, acknowledging that the normally 20-day carnival season may be pared to six days. Other events synonymous with New Orleans in the spring —Jazz Fest, the French Quarter Festival and the New Orleans/Tennessee Literary Festival — are on track.

Canceled conventions for the fourth quarter of this year and the first two quarters of 2006 are a $5 billion to $8 billion loss for the city's economy, Perry said. While small groups might still convene in the spring, the city won't host its first major convention until June — the 20,000-member American Library Association.

"That will be our official bell-ringing for the return of the convention business," Perry said. "And, in a very real sense, the 3.2-million-square-foot Convention Center will be the newest and freshest it's been since it opened."

And merchants like La Fleur, whose shop features a dozen merchandise categories ranging from ready-to-wear and accessories to lingerie, footwear and millinery, work the phones and persevere. She shipped 60 brides their gowns in time for their fall weddings.

Each time the phone rings, La Fleur answers with an upbeat greeting. "A friendly phone call can ring the register," she said, smiling. "It is going to take that kind of direct marketing to get through the year."
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