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For a person who doesn't cook, Laura Drumm surely knows a lot about what a well-stocked kitchen needs. She and her husband, Hughes, have operated Tabasco Country Store and Butterfields, both in Riverwalk Marketplace (1 Poydras St., 523-1711), since April.

Both stores spotlight the cooking, serving and enjoyment of food, with the Tabasco shop featuring lots of cookbooks, Tabasco sauces and logos on everything from aprons to ties. Downstairs, Butterfields stocks high-quality cookware such as Viking and Emerilware, artistic plates by Peggy Karr, and is the only retailer in Louisiana that sells Hadley Pottery. The store also has a wall filled with cooking gadgets, wine accoutrements, elegant serving dishes, tableware and more.

"It's funny how things turn out sometimes," Drumm says. "I don't cook; I can't even boil water, but I'm surrounded by all this cooking and food stuff." She's used her rich background in retail sales and management, however, to deliver what people who can cook want: top-quality merchandise they can't find elsewhere.

"I have to work hard to be special," Drumm says of selecting the items she'll sell in her stores. "I demand the same of my vendors. Ninety-five percent of my customers are tourists. They'll say, 'I don't want to buy it if I'm going to find it discounted in a chain store somewhere.' Once a vendor sells (the merchandise I have) to a big store, I don't carry it anymore."

The Drumms, who operate the Riverwalk stores under the Drumm Enterprises LLC umbrella, also own a Tabasco Country Store in San Antonio, Texas. All three businesses rely heavily on tourists for their success and all have been affected markedly by the drop-off in tourism since the Sept. 11 attacks on America complicated travel, heightened fears and made people hesitant to spend money.

"It was a cash-flow nightmare for a couple of weeks," says Drumm, "but you can't panic; you just have to buy smart. Things still have not recovered." She says tourist traffic at the riverfront shopping center is still off by about 30 percent.

Retailers all over the Riverwalk, Central Business District and in the French Quarter are still feeling the squeeze, Drumm says, and she's been disappointed that the city has not undertaken an advertising campaign to promote locals visiting these areas as it has with restaurants.

"We were doing well until Sept. 11," Drumm says. "Retailers are really hurting here now. I'm just watching to see who can hang on." As a business owner, her response is to try to attract New Orleanians to the shopping center and, ultimately, her store.

"We don't get the locals," she says. "They just don't want to come here (to the Riverwalk and riverfront). A lot of them complain about parking, but there really is plenty." The large ground lot between the Hilton Hotel and the Convention Center is rarely full and offers four hours of parking for $2 when you get your ticket validated by a Riverwalk merchant. "It's also a mind set. Sure there are the Gaps and other mall stores, but there are also fun specialty shops and individually owned stores."

The Riverwalk also warms up customers for a fun experience the moment they enter the outside walkway with piped-in jazz and New Orleans music ushering shoppers into the stylishly designed complex of 140 merchants. Art and design inside the Riverwalk are exciting and evocative of Mardi Gras, the city's jazz culture and its environment and history. There are lots of eating establishments and beverage vendors as well as areas where shoppers can walk (or sit) along the scenic Mississippi River port area.

"Where else can you go to a shopping mall, buy a cocktail and sit outside to drink it while you watch ships go by on the river?" Drumm says. It seems tailor made for New Orleanians, who are noted for their love of food, music, drink and gaiety.

"We haven't given up on the local market," she says. "We want to hammer home that this is a good, fun place to go and to shop. Yes, you can get Tabasco products at your grocery store, but you can't get the range of items all in one place (like at the Tabasco Country Store), plus we carry things that the grocery store might not always have. We're the only place to get the new smoky chipoltle pepper Tabasco sauce." Her store also will create customized gift baskets for individuals and corporate clients for only the cost of the items and the basket.

It's not all about hot sauces at the Tabasco store. Drumm also offers hanging sculptures of mosquitoes carrying small bottles of Tabasco, hand-painted chili-themed specialty tableware, fun novelty items, framed prints and more. "When people come to the Riverwalk they are in vacation mode," she says. "They are happy and look at shopping as part of their entertainment. You want to have things at your store that excite them and draw them in."

That's one reason Drumm says she believes showrooms will always remain a vital part of retail. "I think e-commerce is viable," Drumm says, "but as a supplement to a standing business. It will never replace the standing store, where customers can come in and see things, feel them, handle them. You can't do that with a picture on the Internet."

Retailer Laura Drumm offers everything McIlhenny and more at her Tabasco Country Store at the Riverwalk. She also offers a range of uncommon cooking and serving accoutrements at her other store, Butterfields, downstairs from Tabasco.
  • Retailer Laura Drumm offers everything McIlhenny and more at her Tabasco Country Store at the Riverwalk. She also offers a range of uncommon cooking and serving accoutrements at her other store, Butterfields, downstairs from Tabasco.

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