Kaufman's Department Store

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In 1879, Charles A. Kaufman, a native of Landau, Germany opened a dry goods store with Mark Issacs at 1700 Dryades (now Oretha Castle Haley). By 1901, Issacs left the partnership and the store was branded Kaufman’s “The Big Store.” A large annex was erected to the right of the original store, and Kaufman’s expanded into one of the biggest department stores in New Orleans and became the chief anchor for the thriving Central City Dryades shopping district. A second, smaller anchor was added in 1923 when Charles Handelman, another merchant of German ancestry, opened Handelman’s Department Store at 1824-32 Dryades. Both stores opened suburban branches, and Handelman’s closed its Dryades store in the late 1950s followed by Kaufman’s, then called Levine’s, in the late 1960s. Both chains are now defunct, and with changing shopping patterns, the Dryades shopping district is merely a memory. The site of Kaufman’s original store is a parking lot, while the main building has been adapted into the Ashe Cultural Center. [1]

German Businesses in New Orleans

The Germans coming to New Orleans immediately took an active part in the business and professional life of the city. This was particularly true of the great number of professionally trained men who came in the wake of the European revolutions in the 19th century. Among them were doctors, lawyers, journalists, actors, musicians, dentists, engineers, and architects. [2]

Dryades Street

By the 1930s Dryades Street was an entertainment and shopping alternative to Canal Street. Residents attest that merchants on the strip did not harbor the hostile racial attitudes of some of the Canal Street businesses that forbade Blacks from trying on clothes and other indignities. Additionally, while Canal Street merchants were virtually all-White, Dryades Street merchants were diverse. Jews, Blacks, Italians, and Germans operated side-by-side. Many of the Jews who operated on Dryades Street came from Eastern Europe and opened supermarkets, furniture stores, and clothing stores for the growing population of Central City.

Jewish Influence

According to Irwin Lachoff, an archivist at Xavier University, Dryades Street represented a haven of opportunity for Eastern European Jewish immigrants. He recently gathered remembrances of Jewish proprietors and residents as they reflected on their Dryades Street presence and experiences. Maurice Handelman (Handelman’s Furniture Store) recalled the 1920s and 1930s when he estimated that Jews were about 25 percent of the neighborhood. The street was so busy back on Saturday nights, he recalled, one had to move off the sidewalk and into the street to get somewhere in a hurry. Then, streetcars moved on tracks down the center of the street. Jackie Gothard (wife of Judge Sol Gothard) remembered there being no closing hours – shopkeepers would stay open as long as there were customers, sometimes until nine or ten o’clock at night. [3]

Business on Dryades

By 1938, Dryades Street showcased a wide range of businesses. The Dryades Street Market continued to flourish with meat, fish, and fruit stalls at 1500 Dryades. The Isis Motion Picture Theater stood across the street while the JoAnn Shop and the Maxine Shop offered women’s clothing. The 1600 block hosted a McCrory’s and F. W. Woolworth five and dime along with a radio repair shop, shoe stores, a barber and beauty shop, and a second-hand furniture store. Kaufman’s department store anchored the 1700 block of Dryades in the building that now houses the Ashe Cultural Center. Central City resident Barbara Lacen, chairperson of the Central City Partnership and Director of the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchant Association, still treasures a picture of herself in the communion dress she remembers getting from Kaufmann’s. [4]

Works Cited

  • Magill, John and Hammer, Daniel. “The Germans: From Downtown to Central City.” The Historic New Orleans Collection. 20 February 2009. #1979.325.1671 and 1979.325.5216
  • Louisiana Staats-Zeitung. September 25, 1855.
  • Medley, Keith Weldon. “Dryades Street/Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Remembrance and Reclamation.” New Orleans Tribune. (April 2001).
  • Medley, Keith Weldon. “Dryades Street/Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Remembrance and Reclamation.” New Orleans Tribune. (April 2001).

This page was last modified on 27 April 2012, at 11:19

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Kaufman's Department Store

1700 Oretha C Haley Blvd, New Orleans, LA 70113, USA