Dozens of T-shirt shops said to be operating illegally

There are more than 60 T-shirt shops in the French Quarter and almost two-thirds are operating illegally, according to a recent survey by a residential organization.

The group, Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents & Associates Inc., is calling on the city to shut down noncompliant shops and issue citations to those with illegal displays.

According to VCPORA, 42 of the 66 T-shirt shops in the Quarter don’t have the proper permits to operate.

The organization’s executive director, Meg Lousteau, said Monday that in some cases, the shops have permits that allow retail sales, but not specifically the sale of souvenirs and T-shirts, as city law requires.

VCPORA volunteers compiled the list based on site visits and data from the city.

The violators operate along Bourbon, Royal, Canal and Decatur streets.

“It has become T-shirt alley,” Lousteau said of Decatur, which has 24 illegal shops, according to the survey. “The buildings and the architecture have been so obliterated by the displays that you could be anywhere. You don’t even know that you’re in the French Quarter.”

The proliferation of T-shirt shops has been a longtime concern in the historic neighborhood, where displays of shirts bearing vulgar messages often spill onto the sidewalk.

The City Council voted in 2010 to ban new T-shirt, novelty and souvenir shops throughout the Quarter and to impose stricter rules on those already in existence.

“It appears like it does not work,” Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said of the law at a council committee meeting Monday.

Palmer, whose district includes the Quarter and who authored the 2010 ordinance, said the problem is lack of enforcement.

At the meeting, VCPORA called for the immediate inspection of all of the allegedly noncompliant shops, immediate adjudication of those confirmed to be operating illegally and daily citations for shops that illegally display T-shirts on building facades and along the sidewalk.

Safety and Permits Department Director Jared Munster said his office has counted 57 T-shirt shops in the French Quarter and has identified 37 as having “questionable” permits.

At least 12 of those, he said, appear to be in violation of their permits, which do not allow the sale of T-shirts.

Munster said his office intends to inspect the shops and, where necessary, cite them and demand compliance.

The process will take at least three months, he said.

He said the shop operators must be given a written notice of violation and the opportunity to come into compliance.

If the city doesn’t hear from them or they refuse to comply, he said, the city then can shut off their electric service and force them to shut down.

Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said she wanted a more immediate response.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “If they said they were going to do resort wear and we gave them a permit to do resort wear and they come in and they don’t do resort wear and they open a T-shirt shop, why is it then that the city can’t say, ‘This is not what you got a permit to do; we will close you down until you become a resort wear shop?’ ”