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Best of Boutiques: The Standout Small Businesses of New Orleans

This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and New Orleans Tourism. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.

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The vibrant culture that shines in New Orleans needs little introduction. From the food, art, music, and architecture that makes New Orleans unique, less is known about the rich culture of independent businesses that flourish in the city. Sprinkled throughout the Big Easy from Magazine Street to the French Quarter to Mid-City, we look at five of the city's top independent boutiques and the story each tells about their place in the city.

Walking the streets in New Orleans, you'll find plenty of local businesses who draw on the city's French heritage for their names. One independent boutique in Mid-City however happened upon a name from a bit further north. SÖPÖ means "cute" in Finnish, but it also serves as an abbreviation for Southern Posh. Something founders Britta Barlogie and Robin Borne are proud to embody with their stylish gift and apparel outpost.

Robin Borne and Britta Barlogie, the co-owners of SÖPÖ

"We wanted to create a store in New Orleans where women could shop for unique brands," explained Borne. "We wanted to bring smaller, harder to find, independent designers from New York to New Orleans." For Borne and Barlogie though, their store is as much about what's around it as what's inside. After Hurricane Katrina, none of the boutiques in their Mid-City neighborhood reopened. "There was something missing," Borne said. "We quickly found that a lot of people were sharing our sentiment."

With a strong focus on unique and handmade goods, SÖPÖ boasts two full floors of retail space in a converted house. The environment is inviting and congenial with the first floor featuring a wide selection of unique gifts with clothing on the second floor. "We like to think of it as a clubhouse," Borne said.

Located on a streetcar line with myriad New Orleans dining institutions nearby, Borne and Barlogie throw several shopping events and parties at the store throughout the week. "We always schedule them mid-week," Borne added as the weekends can be busy. With great Mid-City restaurants — like the newly opened Brown Butter or Filipino favorite Milkfish — just a stone's throw away, SÖPÖ is the perfect starting point.

Combining old world craftsmanship with nouveau styling, Loomed is both a boutique and a brand specializing in handmade Turkish textiles. After spending a year in Istanbul, Paul and Molly Babineaux founded Loomed in 2012. Their New Orleans store is a Garden District oasis of clean, bright whites and natural materials that are soft to the touch.

Molly Babineaux, co-owner of Loomed and Alice

"We import textiles from Turkey, so everything we have is loomed on old style shuttle looms by hand," said co-founder Molly Babineaux. Offering an array of scarves, towels, blankets, and home accessories, every Loomed product is weaved by one of five families carrying on the traditional Turkish practice of loom weaving. Babineaux can often be found in the shop herself — along with her Direct of Operation for Global Initiatives, Etc. (aka DOGIE), Alice — to greet visitors.

Loomed is located in the Rink, a large open building with its own share of history. "It was originally built in the late 1800s for the World's Fair in New Orleans and it was actually built as a roller skating rink," Babineaux explained. The aged look and feel of the building lends to Loomed's overall luxurious but approachable aesthetic. According to Babineaux, visiting Loomed and the surrounding Garden District in mid-week is a great time to catch restaurant specials and see some of the astounding local architecture at a relaxing, strolling New Orleans pace.

Charlotte Cox, pictured behind the jewelry counter, is the store's General Manager.

Combining vintage materials with Southern-inspired design, Grandmother's Buttons is a St. Francisville, LA-based jewelry company that recently opened a store in New Orleans. Sold across the 50 states in some 500 boutiques, and several countries throughout world, the family-owned company's jewelry is made from vintage buttons. That means that every piece you buy is one of a kind. All of the jewelry is made in St. Francisville (about two hours northwest of New Orleans) and over the past 30 years the company has gained a loyal following. Their newly opened Magazine Street location is a long overdue and welcome addition to the New Orleans shopping scene.

"When you walk in, you're greeted by a bright white space with lots of color and texture," said co-owner Susan Davis, "there's a modern-vintage feel." The buttons used in the jewelry range in age but the average age of materials is between 100 and 130 years old.

Each piece has a unique story and is intrinsically linked to Louisiana. In addition to jewelry, the shop sells a range of gift and clothing items, but the shop's entire inventory is carefully selected with Southern inspiration at the heart of it all. "When we're choosing a product for the store, we want something that tells a story," said Art Director Kara McGuire.

gmothersbuttons
Anna Davis, left. Kara McGuire, right. Anna acts as the photographer and the operations manager for Grandmother's Buttons and Kara is the Art Director and Buyer.

A visit to Grandmother's Buttons isn't just a shopping experience, it's a cultural one. The store is home to revolving handmade installations that change with the season. And its location on Magazine Street is perfect for taking in the everyday cultural happenings that make New Orleans special. "They say a Tuesday in New Orleans is like a Saturday anywhere else," McGuire said, "we're a lot more than a party city, with all of the culture and architecture to take in."

New Orleans is a relatively flat city, making it the perfect place to explore by bike. Dashing Bicycles & Accessories offers a welcoming place to have your bike fixed, pick up unique bike-related gifts, accessories and clothing or get kitted out with a new bike. It's also an environment that aims to inform, educate and empower women and bicycle riding in New Orleans. Operating on the general store model, the shop also includes a coffee shop (Arrow Cafe) and a selection of vintage housewares from NOLA Drift.

Marin Tockman, owner of Dashing, left. Jane Srisarakorn, owner of the adjacent Arrow Cafe, right.

"I like to say that we're an unassuming but comfortable boutique where people walk in and say, 'Oh, a coffee shop — and — a bike shop!,'" said owner Marin Tockman. "It's an a-ha moment for a lot of people and it's a very fun, lively conversation place." Tockman has a background in bike advocacy, and making sure patrons feel comfortable to ask questions. "It's a place for regular people biking, riding around the city, not a total gear-head space," Tockman added.

The shop specializes in city or Dutch style bikes, optimal for leisurely cruising around the streets of New Orleans and sprawling, picturesque City Park. Tockman has drawn on the city's rich community of makers and artists to create special edition products for Dashing, including a handlebar bag with local brand Tchoup (pronounced "CHOP") Industries.

Tockman recommends checking out the bustling local music and food scene in the middle of the week. "There are free concerts in the fall and spring on Wednesdays and Thursdays," Tockman said, referencing the Wednesdays at the Square and Jazz in the Park free live music series. And of course, Tockman suggests the best way to see the city's architecture and connect with the community is by bike. (With over 100 miles of bike lanes in the city, this should be a no brainer.)

Hattie Moll, owner of Hattie Sparks.

The independent, creative spirit of New Orleans is embodied by the many artisans and artists who call the city home. When Hattie Sparks first opened its doors in February 2012, the goal was clear: bring the outstanding work of this community together in one permanent space.

"I was seeing all of these great local craftsmen and artisans, but they weren't sold in any stores," explained owner Hattie Moll, "they were only available sporadically at art markets." Previously, Moll had graduated during the recession, but after a few years working in larger scale retail, the idea for Hattie Sparks fully formed. It has since become the go-to source for locally produced goods, from gifts to accessories to homewares.

Housed in a 1930s era building, Moll recently undertook a major renovation on her space. Injecting a mix of mid-century modern styling and distinctly local flare, the shop evokes an upscale but artistic feel. Unfinished wood acts as a nod to connection to raw materials while brass and high gloss white finishes reveal an affinity for high design.

Hattie Sparks is a place of exploration and discovery as much as it is a marketplace. Creating an environment to get lost in design and feel connected to the local maker community was one of Moll's goals. "I want people to be as charmed by the space as they are by the products," Moll said, noting that often shoppers will often come in to hang out. "New Orleans has this soul that other cities just don't have — there's this welcome feeling — and there's always something to do." Hattie Sparks is opening a second location closer to downtown this June in the South Market District.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and New Orleans Tourism. Vox Media editorial staff was not involved in the creation or production of this content.


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