Maureen Woodgate and Nord Sovik opened the two-story flagship gallery on Magazine Street in September 1998, offering a variety of items imported directly from manufacturers in Indonesia at a substantial savings. The success of that business spurred the partners to open a second, much smaller storefront in the French Quarter three months ago.
"We've had surprising success for such a young company," says store manager Cary Robertson. "Everything in the store [that's made of wood] is solid wood. A lot of it is hand-carved; the craftsmanship is very good."
The symbiosis of quality, beauty and value is at the heart of Woodgate's vision for Prince & Pauper. The mastermind and buyer of the store, she spends most of the year in Indonesia, forging relationships with those who make the products, shopping around for prices, and seeking out items not available in other stores in New Orleans. She's now teaching her daughter, Jessie Woodgate, the ropes.
"Maureen has a 30-year relationship with the antiques business and furniture design," Robertson says. "She can at once buy really quality antiques (because of her contacts and experience in antiques trading) as well as reproductions that are really high-quality. She's trying to combine the two so anyone would be comfortable shopping in the store."
Whether a shopper is looking for a gift or an exquisite piece of antique furniture, they are sure to find something they love that they can afford. Prices at Prince & Pauper range from $5 to $5,000.
"[Woodgate] wants to have the largest selection, almost like one-stop shopping for furniture, accessories and gifts," Robertson says. "We want to do the volume of Pottery Barn with the quality and variety of ABC Carpet & Home," a New York store that served as the inspiration for Prince & Pauper.
The Magazine Street store is a huge space with myriad connecting rooms brimming with all types of mostly interior decor on the street level. Upstairs, the exhibit spaces are stacked almost to the ceilings with hand-carved dining sets, chairs, chests and more. Throughout the store are oddities such as brightly painted marionettes, an Indian totem pole, tall carved cats, beautiful baskets and decorative boxes, Tiffany reproduction lamps, swirling blue Egyptian glass vases, elaborate bird cages, artworks and more.
"We target the whole population instead of trying to hit just one segment," Robertson says. "We don't have a lot of really 'trendy' stuff in the store. The classic designs sell the best. Some stores fail because they try to cater to such a small niche. Maureen will never fail because she's got her fingers in so many parts of the industry."
Although she's out of the country most of the time, Woodgate keeps a finger on the pulse of her New Orleans customers through staff members who listen to what they like in the store as well as what they want and cannot find. "Comments from our customers are very important and we always pass them along to Maureen. We have to give her feedback; she requires it."
The range of merchandise available at the Magazine Street store often surprises first-timers and return customers alike. The new French Quarter store was added to make it convenient for residents to shop in the store without making the trek Uptown and as a sampler showcase for tourists unfamiliar with the store.
"It's really a miniature version of the Magazine Street Prince & Pauper," Robertson says of the Royal Street store. "It's been great. It gives the locals a chance to come see us without coming all the way down here, and it gives people an idea of what we have. It's been great advertising for this store." Robertson says the French Quarter shop piques the interest of many shoppers, especially tourists, who want something unique to take home with them but have been confounded by the prices.
"Some people think our prices are so low because the merchandise is made cheaply or that there's a gimmick," the manager says. "But that's not true. The prices are low because we import directly from the manufacturer to get the best quality of stock at the best possible prices." Another key to success is the store's "fusion of ethnic style and the antique world," she says, giving customers alternatives that generally are difficult to find.
"What I keep hearing about the store is that it's the best-kept secret in town. I think they're impressed by the prices, the quality and the sheer abundance."