The French Market in New Orleans has some claim on being the oldest flea market in America. “There has been trading going on here for about 300 years. It is a historically, culturally, and economically significant spot,” says Frank Pizzolato, the new executive director of French Market Corp.
Although he has had just three full days on the job, Pizzolato clearly has an intense appreciation for that very long tradition of mercantile business — in part, because he lives nearby. “I live ten blocks away, so this is essentially my neighborhood,” he says. And of course he has shopped there himself.
The French Market lies on four skinny blocks along a river, and although it has been struck by storm and flood many times over the years, a real effort has been made to keep true to the site’s architectural history. For Pizzolato, the market’s history is a key part of New Orlean’s heritage, especially in light of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. “I’m passionate about New Orleans and the effort to rebuild it,” he says. “There is no more iconic image for the city of New Orleans than the French Market. To make it successful over the long haul is extremely important to the whole city.”
The previous executive director resigned after questions were raised about several thousand dollars in possibly improper credit card charges. However, has been no finding of any mismanagement, and Pizzolato says he intends no major changes. “There was no indication that there was any problem with how he ran the market,” Pizzolato reports about his predecessor.
He does have two goals toward which he hopes to move the French Market. First, he wants to encourage local people to attend the flea market. “It is a hugely vibrant and active retail space,” Pizzolato says, especially on the weekends. However, the customer mix is skewed towards tourists. “The locals perceive it to all be a tourist trap,” he explains. “We have a huge tourist trade, and we have to find a mix that will appeal to the locals as well as to the tourists.” He seeks to use parking, advertising, and other incentives to attract New Orleans natives. “I want to lure back the local buying public.”
His other main goal is to again serve as a revenue source for the city. Before Katrina, the market delivered about $1 million in annual revenues to city coffers, from all sources, including the flea market, a farmers market, and retail shops. After the disaster, with reduced rents to help rebuild, that ended. Now rents are back to pre-hurricane levels, and Pizzolato wants to give back to the city. “The best way for the public to benefit is to contribute to the revenue of the city,” he says. “Personally, I would regard it as a success if we could get back to writing a check to the city at the end of the year and saying, ‘Here is what you made off of your investment.’ ”
The flea market itself is an open air market under a roofed pavilion. It attracts as many as 250 vendors on peak selling days. Space rentals range from $4 per day to $41 per day, depending on location and day of the week. For more information, contact Antoinette Simeon at the Flea Market Office at (504) 596-3420, or visit the market between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., seven days a week.