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H&M opens doors, wallets, and retail changes

By Emily Siegel

2013-11-15 21.45.30We can all calm down; it’s finally here. H&M is officially in New Orleans, and all of city's fashionable people can stop browsing its website and contemplating the five-hour drive to Houston to get a $10 pair of purple jeans.

I was fortunate (and pushy) enough to attend the grand opening party this weekend, hosted by New York-based marketing firm BMF Media Group. Upon arrival I noticed something very un-New Orleanian about the scene. There was actually a red carpet -- something I’ve never seen rolled out in this city -- as well as a couple of celebrities browsing the store's contents (I spied Emma Roberts picking up a gray sweater with pink hearts) and a queue trickling all the way down South Peters Street, toward the Bywater. I can't remember the last time in this city I've  stood in a line with a wait of more than 10 or 15 minutes.

My group moved to the back of the snaking line and immediately realized we might perish in the process of waiting. It looked like we’d be stuck in the slightly chilly and slightly rainy weather for at least an hour. Apparently, the trick here was to nonchalantly creep to the front of the line and subtly glob onto a group of VIP people. In the process of doing this, we were able to see Blake Lively’s entrance, which was as fabulous as you’d expect. But I digress.

Let me tell you, H&M throws a good party. Hors d’oeuvre-bearing waiters; two open bars with plentiful columns of wine, champagne, and Pimm's Cups; and an extra 25 percent discount taken at the register kept bellies full and pockets empty. The store was crowded, but not to the point that shoppers were forced to move about like livestock.

The new H&M offers homewares

The new H&M offers homewares

The store is made up of two floors of clothing for men, women, and children, as well as a home goods section, which is exclusive to the New Orleans branch. The home goods section lived up to my expectations. Pillow cases adorned with rhinestone skulls, Christmas placemats, and plates with moustaches on them -- the perfect mix of trendiness and functionality. Everything in home goods, like the store’s apparel, was priced inexpensively.

H&M should contribute much-needed variety to New Orleans' fashion and decor markets. The store will help fill the city's demand for garments and home-wares that are inexpensive, yet well constructed.

Still, the arrival of H&M in New Orleans -- where we cherish our boutiques and mom and pop businesses -- begs the question: What does the growing influx of chain retailers mean for New Orleans? Are we the kind of city that wants red-carpet exclusive events? Are we willing to erect national logos on our store fronts? Is the convenience and  reliability of nationally sourced merchandise worth the possibility of franchises leading local business in NOLA?

I’ve always loved how eclectic New Orleans is in all respects -- in its people, its places, and its products. Moreover, I love that New Orleans prioritizes its hyper-locality. It seems reasonable, then, to assume that bringing in large chains like H&M might de-center our New Orleanian-ness.

On one hand, I want New Orleans to not only continue expanding, but also to receive the national  recognition it deserves as an up-and-coming American city. Commercialization is probably necessary, to an extent, in order to achieve this. On the other hand, I'm weary of our city transforming into a generic space as national retailers move in.

I certainly don't have answers about the changes that will ensue as more chains pop up in the Big Easy. However, I am hopeful that our city's sense of home runs deep -- deep enough to support all kinds of businesses and wares.