Land Use

Crackdown on Quarter T-shirt shops yields some compliance, some delays

A city-enforcement effort against T-shirt shops operating illegally in the French Quarter resulted in 17 shops being cited for non-compliance in recent months and being hauled before an administrative hearing officer this week.

The stores were cited for violating a portion of the city’s zoning ordinance that limits the kinds of clothing they can sell and whether they can display merchandise outside.

But even before the Wednesday hearings got underway, eight were put off until next month at the request of their attorneys. And an attorney for seven others arrived to say he had filed an appeal on their behalf with the Board of Zoning Adjustments just the day before.

Two came into compliance shortly after being cited.

Attorney Justin Schmidt represents the seven stores that moved their cases to the Board of Zoning Appeals, a tactic that shifts the matter from a city hearing officer to that public body. It also delays any action because they have to be added to that board’s docket.

He said the shops should be considered legal as a “nonconforming use” because they were doing business this way for decades before laws were established that restrict how they operate.

“They have been selling T-shirts for 30 years,” he told city officials at the hearing.

Each of the stores, he said, will be able to prove to the Board of Zoning Appeals that they should be grandfathered in and the citations tossed out.

He also said the “undue haste” in scheduling the hearings didn’t give his clients time to prepare. The shop owners were given just 15 days notice of the hearings, he said.

A key French Quarter advocate said if the shops are allowed to continue, the city has only itself to blame for ignoring the problems so long that they became acceptable.

“If, as Mr. Schmidt contends, these shops are grandfathered in, it’s only because of lax enforcement” said Meg Lousteau, executive director of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents & Associates, Inc.

Still, she was thankful for the recent effort, which resulted in 53 different properties being inspected.

“We’re grateful to the administration for holding these hearings, and holding people accountable to the rules and regulations that have been put in place to protect the Quarter and all neighborhoods,” she said.

Other shops changed the way they do business, rather than facing further hearings and possible fines.

For instance, John Dunn owner of Road Kill, at 903 Decatur St., provided photos to show how his shop us now in compliance after removing the unpermitted merchandise. His shop was permitted as a clothing store, but he was cited for selling souvenir shirts.

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • If these T-Shirt shops say they should be grandfathered in because they have been doing this for so many years, why shouldn’t a nuisance business or nuisance bar be grandfathered in? Couldn’t they also say they have been doing it, i.e. breaking the law, for so many years, hence, they should have the right to continue being a nuisance to the neighborhood?

  • For those who are aware that Jeff Parish has more than twice the sales tax revenue than Orleans, this T-Shirt shop in the French Quarter is a good example. ref

    People say T-shirts have a lot of profit. But if that is so, why is Orleans so poor? Jefferson Parish doesn’t have T-Shirt shops like the French Quarter so, it probably not as much as one thinks as the French GUTTER attracts a type of crowd that perhaps might to want to buy that one time T-shirt, but nothing DECENT or HIGH END like you see at like Canal Place or Lakeside.

    Likewise, if these T-shirt were so lucrative why do they look like DUMPS? Reminds of all the BIG TALK about alcohol and bars, yet if there is all this money why are their dive bars and why do bartenders and wait staff seem so poor compared to like Starbucks’ baristas who also get health care from the company?

    By the way, if after five years the Costco brings in $2.2M in sales tax revenue to Orleans Parish, it would take 75 more Costcos within Orleans Parish just to get close to Jefferson Parish in sales tax revenue per year.

    Just wanted to put the difference in sales taxes in perspective and let you know how much the French Gutter contributes to Orleans Parish sales taxes.