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Shop of a Lifetime 

Twenty-two years ago, when Ballin's Ltd. (721 Dante St., 866-4367, 806 E. Boston St., 985 892-0025, www.ballinsltd.com) opened its doors in a small, Victorian cottage on Dante Street, the idea was to clothe mothers and children (infants through preteens) with a one-stop shopping trip. The store soon narrowed its focus to women's clothing for teenagers and older, but the goal of cultivating lifetime customers remained the same.

Over the years, the Dante Street store has expanded and Ballin's Ltd. now includes stores in Covington, Baton Rouge and Lafayette. "Our philosophy has been to ... start with the young people and clothe them for the rest of their lives," says founder Wendy LeGardeur. "Our customer is anywhere from 15 to 90-plus. We have a huge amount of return clients."

One of the keys to the store's strong following is that the merchandise is both specialized and diverse. Ballin's Ltd. customers uniformly appreciate quality, but their range of ages calls for variety in the mix, both in terms of styles and sizes. "We have a lot of the latest kinds of looks, but we also have more classic looks," says LeGardeur. "We go from casual to career to contemporary to designer. We've been very successful finding new, young designers before they've been discovered."

To stay ahead of the trends, every other month buyers go to at least one of four major markets: New York, California, Dallas and France. Current lines include Seven jeans and Rayure blouses, fashion-forward separates from Canadian designer Ron Leal, and artsy offerings from Harari of California. There also are more than a dozen trunk shows a year that provide opportunities for customers to view entire lines and special-order pieces they might not otherwise be able to purchase.

Ballin's also maintains a return clientele by catering to the special occasions in their customers' lives. Events such as Mardi Gras balls, weddings, proms, homecomings and debuts account for about 40 percent of the New Orleans store's sale. "I think the store has become known around the city as a place for great party dresses, beautiful ball gowns, mother of the bride, guest of the wedding and bridesmaids," LeGardeur says. "In Louisiana, there's always an occasion."

Sales associates are trained to help customers pull together everything they need for a head-to-toe look. The stores' computers keep track of each sale so the staff can help shoppers with future needs and to prevent gaffes like selling the same dress to two women attending the same event.

Ballin's even carries gifts for the home, a feature that's especially handy this time of year. Another holiday convenience is extended hours: The Dante Street store will open on from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on three Sundays, Dec. 8, 15, and 22, and Covington will open for the same hours every Sunday this month. Ballin's Ltd. Covington will have a showing of furs by Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills on Dec. 13, followed by a similar event in New Orleans Dec. 14.


Big Improvements

The 20-year-old Sheraton New Orleans Hotel (500 Canal St., 525-2500) will unveil a massive new facility space this month, part of a $23 million renovation to upgrade guest rooms and meeting/banquet facilities.

Renovations have been completed on the 1,110 guest rooms, which have been redesigned for comfort and upgraded with amenities such as a bed that features a Sealy Posturepedic Plush-top mattress, down pillows and plush duvet as well as a mahogany desk and more.

The hotel this month also will finish it's new Napoleon Exposition Hall and Ballroom, a 28,700-square-foot multipurpose space that can accommodate a banquet of 2,500 guests or 120 exhibits that are 8-by-10 feet. The room also can be divided into as many as 12 individual spaces. The hotel claims the new Napoleon Exposition Hall and Ballroom is the largest hotel meeting room in the city. --Kandace Power Graves


Travelers' Choice

Windsor Court Hotel and the city of New Orleans have been chosen among the best places to be in North America by discerning readers of Conde Nast Traveler.

In it's annual Readers' Choice Awards, Conde Nast Traveler readers for the 10th consecutive year chose Windsor Court (300 Gravier St., 523-6000) the best in its category based on quality of rooms, service, restaurants and location. -- Graves


Good As Gold
The unique interior decor of Hotel Monaco (333 St. Charles Ave., 561-0010) won a design award from the International Motel/Motel & Restaurant Show in New York recently.

Cheryl Rowley Design of Beverly Hills, Calif., won a Gold Key Award for excellence in hospitality design during the 22nd annual show. The 250-room, 19-story hotel is located in the former Masonic Temple, which was built about 1926, and features decor that illustrates the diversity of Creole and Cajun cultures, African influences in the city and more than a touch of the exotic. The lobby/ reception area that won the design award features a steamer trunk-inspired reception counter, upholstered lounging furniture, animal prints, ethnic artwork and a striking shell-encrusted fireplace. -- Graves

click to enlarge There's always someone ready to help you at Ballin's Ltd.: (L-R top) Joy Cronvich, Margie Case, Marjorie Perard, (L-R bottom) Kasey Trinca, Marlena McGuinness, Wendy LeGardeur and Renate Coleman.
  • There's always someone ready to help you at Ballin's Ltd.: (L-R top) Joy Cronvich, Margie Case, Marjorie Perard, (L-R bottom) Kasey Trinca, Marlena McGuinness, Wendy LeGardeur and Renate Coleman.
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