A conversation overheard once between two women in Chicago went a little something like this...
"I want to go to New Orleans!" the first woman said with a dreamy gaze and eyes as big as saucers as her lips curved into a soft smile.
"Have you ever been there before?" the second woman asked.
"No, but I've always wanted to. Have you?"
"Yes. It's a different kind of place. There's definitely a spooky vibe there."
But 'spooky' didn't deter the woman who dreamed of foggy mornings upon the Mississippi River and dusk in the French Quarter as the gas lamps began to cast a golden eminence beneath the ironwork of the balconies. To a great many of us 'spooky' is intriguing and yes, New Orleans - particularity the Quarter - has got that essence but it's reveled in rather than shunned or feared. Ghosts, cemetery, and voodoo tours - New Orleans has an abundance of things that go bump in the night - and both tourists and many natives alike wouldn't have it any other way.
And let us not forget our beloved vampires! The mysterious and alluring - sometimes sexy, sometimes sinister - beings which haunt the nights in search of their lifeline, which happens to be blood. "Come to New Orleans then," persuaded Lestat in the screen adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, "The Paris Opera's in town. We can try some French cuisine," he said to fellow vampire, Louis, and not at all referring to what humans would consider food.
New Orleans has become somewhat of the adopted home base of vampires everywhere and with good reason. Just take a stroll through the French Quarter and see if you don't feel transported romantically into the past. What better place for someone who's a few hundred years old, or more?
New Orleans offers an annual vampire ball, vampire tours, the New Orleans Vampire Association who helps feed the homeless, and has sparked the creativity of writers everywhere inspiring a slew of vampire books that take place in this colorful setting. So with that kind of local fascination with vampires and the plethora of voodoo shops in the French Quarter one might naturally assume there would be multiple vampire-themed stores there as well but there are not - which makes Boutique du Vampyre all that much more special, and important.
"I have always like the supernatural, witches, vampires, ghosts - but a vampire shop in the Quarter just seemed a natural to me," explains Marita Jaeger, co-owner of Boutique du Vampyre, "With all the vampire history here, even stories from the 1800's, I knew it would go over well. The shop is not designed to attract the Gothic crowd, rather it's a shop that lets everyone step outside of reality for just a moment as they wonder if we're serious or not. I like to think of the shop as 'the place where vampires shop,' and now we've opened it up to the public. So we feature beautiful things that creatures who have lived for centuries would admire. Our rose scented perfume is made by the oldest perfumer in New Orleans, Hove'. It comes with a scroll that explains vampire's attraction to roses. We also carry perfume pendants so that you may wear our perfume around your neck. Everything has a fun little twist that creates a magical experience for our customers. We spend a bit of time with each customer explaining some items when they come in and really try to build customers for life."
Originally from Munich, Germany, Jaeger worked in the corporate marketing world in Los Angeles for a few years before finding her way to New Orleans...
"I was head of Marketing for Coldwell Banker Los Angeles for five years, President of Marketing for Home Savings of America for three years, and Director of Marketing for a conglomeration of corporations based out of Mission Viejo California for four years. I loved each job very much, but had to grow for myself. I feel that when I stop learning in an experience it's time for me to move on. I love California and the last year I lived there was so wonderful. While I owned a house in Burbank, California, I mostly lived on a sailboat docked in Marina Del Rey as it was closer to my office. It is a wonderful lifestyle - living on a boat. I would like to get one for weekend get a-ways. I miss Malibu sometimes. I love the serenity of Malibu and my novel The Gift, a vampire story I've put aside for awhile, starts in Malibu. The first third of the book is available on my website. I've just been too busy to finish it right now."
"But New Orleans is a wonderful, wonderful place to live," she goes on, "There is the saying that came from a song 'Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?' Well, I knew what it meant my first trip here. I came on business for Home Savings of America and couldn't believe this town existed. Then I forced business trips to the city every chance I got. Finally in 2001, on one such a trip, I decided to get a small $500 apartment on Royal, just so that I wouldn't feel so sad every time I left the Quarter. I felt that if I had a better tie here it wouldn't bother me as much. Well, I found out quickly I was wrong. I came back a month later for Halloween, to promote Vampire Wine at the Endless Night Vampire Ball, and I fell even deeper in love with the city. I finally sold my home over the phone, got my two dogs [and] two cars and moved to New Orleans permanently."
What does this amazing city mean to Jaeger personally?
"New Orleans is not a place, its a way of life. There are so many elements that make this city so special it's hard to know how to describe it. I definitely know what it means! From the wonderful original blues and jazz playing on every corner, to the courtyard crawfish boils, the amazing artwork in the galleries and on Jackson Square fences, the architecture and lush greenery that beautify our city, the culinary excellence, the extremely warm hearted people, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, and every other fest! Our beautiful state parks with walking trails only moments from the city that would have you thinking you are lost in the swampy wilderness of time past. Our history of pirates, and brothels, and Storyville's Speakeasy's. I feel that when you walk into the Quarter a feeling comes over you that fills you with the town's history and vibe. It's nothing like I've ever experienced anywhere else. Probably because it is so concentrated in this little town, and it's so wonderful, even the dead want to stay - maybe that's why we're so haunted."
Boutique du Vampyre features many local artists - stained glass items, art work, even oils and soaps - one of those artists is Jaeger herself.
"I've always been a writer and artist. Before moving to New Orleans, I had a column called 'Work Out Watcher,' in Health and Fitness Magazine. That was a lot of fun. I have always been a fitness freak, and my challenge was to review unusual workouts around the Los Angeles area. It was an easy assignment as Los Angeles folks are all for fitness - so from Salsa dancing classes, to horseback riding in the Malibu Hills, to adventure fitness training, to extreme yoga - it was always fun."
Jaeger adds: "My original oil paintings are now available in an art gallery at 616 Royal Street [named] Touche' Par L'Art. I'm very proud of this accomplishment. I love painting New Orleans scenes, the Cathedral, swamp scenes, and my boyfriend loves my bleeding roses. I just recently started painting toilet seats which I find fun and very New Orleans."
For those intrigued by the proverbial 'Children of the Night' enough to want to live like one - at least for a few days - Jaeger's vampire-get-away in New Orleans might be the perfect vacation.
"I love the Ultimate Vampire Weekend. I find so many people returning to New Orleans, and after having done all the Vampire Tours and other Haunted tours, sometimes they want more. I thought the Vampire Weekend would give people an immersion into a magical wonderland, to let them escape reality and live the adventure. I came up with the idea about two years ago, and it was fun putting it together. Last year my first couple took the trip and you can read their review of it on Trip Advisor. Each trip is completely custom tailored to the customers. I have listed it as all inclusive on my website so the price is high - $3,000 per couple, which includes everything but their travel to and from the city. However, I can mix and match elements of the weekend to anyone, and fit the price to their capabilities."
Are there any plans to expand to cater to the ghost or voodoo enthusiasts out there?
"No, I work with all the voodoo shops and the witch shops and we send each other customers. I know very little about voodoo and want to leave that to the pros. We do have vampire voodoo dolls that are spectacular - but that's as far as I want to go with that. There is plenty of room for all of us, and focusing on vampires is what I'm happiest with."
Jaeger has definitely taken the road less traveled - how does she feel about her life now as she is living it in contrast to her past in Los Angeles or Germany?
"I really pinch myself every day that I walk to my shop, which is only one block from my house. I love walking everywhere, and living in this crazy magical place. I loved my life in Los Angeles as well, and I have always been adventurous. I don't think if I looked back I would be surprised, just proud of myself that I did it, and happy for myself."
Are there any types of items that Jaeger would like to carry in Boutique du Vampyre that she has yet to run across?
"Yes, I have a wishlist of items I want to add to our mix. I add new things constantly but some of the things I would like to carry have hurdles to cross. I would love to have quality umbrellas with red rain drops all over them and our logo on the handle. But, my cost to do this is quite high so its on the back burner. Also, I want to have our own national line of 'DayWalker' sun glasses - that would retail for about $200. We own the rights to the name DayWalker, but as you can imagine, it's quite a project - even finding the right look is taking me some time."
I'm sure running a vampire-themed establishment in the French Quarter of New Orleans is never boring. Are there any particular experiences that really stand out that Jaeger has encountered?
"I truly had one very strange experience - and every single word of this is true - this happened in my first shop nine years ago. I was making candles in the kitchen and my beautiful German Shepherd, Elke, was sitting by my desk. She was older then and was pretty mellow but she would usually sit up if a customer walked in to alert me, because I couldn't see them from my vantage point. Well, I saw her sit up and I heard her start to growl which was not at all in her nature. Then I heard foot steps that were clearly for someone who walked with a cane. She let out two barks, and I was just finishing putting the wax down to hurry into the main room."
"When I got there a tall, very thin man had his back to me. He had dark, wavy but short hair. He was all dressed in black and relied on his cane to guide him around the room. I started giving him my usual welcome-speech and he completely ignored me. I saw as he turned around finally that he had a dark complexion and looked Italian, Greek, or yes, even Romanian, and was only in his later 30's or early 40's. I couldn't believe it when he spoke with an accent 'Do you have the history of the vampire?' he asked me. Again, the accent could have been Italian, or Romanian, but it was real, not a tour guide accent. He made me extremely nervous at this point for some reason, so I explained that I did not, but that I thought it was a good idea. Because I was nervous I couldn't stop talking, so I started to tell him about more of my products. 'I know people, who would be very interested in this store,' he said very slowly, and then he just turned and walked out."
"My dog never sat down while he was in the shop. As he walked out, I was standing next to her by my chair and as I sat down, she sat down and I rubbed her head and whispered to her, 'That was weird.' Simultaneously, my six-foot-six boyfriend, Steve, walked by our two large windows that looked out to Orleans Street. I only saw him with my peripheral view because I was still looking straight ahead after the tall, thin man. But I knew it was my boyfriend because of his height and because he walks with purpose."
"To enter our shop you first had to walk down a large, long carriage way that lead to our front entrance. As the man walked out, my boyfriend would have been entering the carriageway. So when Steve walked into the shop, I said, 'Boy that was weird.' He asked me what was weird. I said, 'That man, that man who just walked out of here who looked a little weird anyway with his cane at such a young age.' My boyfriend told me there had been no man leaving the shop. I literally ran out the door to see as it had only been seconds. I looked both ways and there was no sign of him. It would have been impossible for him to not have crossed paths with my boyfriend in the carriageway. Steve didn't think it was strange at all and went on about what happened to him when he was parking the car, or something like that. But it was impossible, and has continued to bother me to this day. Still, I have never heard from, or seen him again."
Although the idea of owning and running a vampire shop sounds like fun, is there any down side?
"The down side is our volatile economic environment. Not just with the tourist industry and our slow summers but also with all the catastrophies we've been through here. From Katrina, to Gustav, to Isaac, to the oil spill, it seems its always something."
Is there a particular item that Boutique du Vampyre sells that Jaeger is particularly fond of?
"I love our candles. We make them ourselves and we put beautiful pewter charms in them. We have hundreds of combinations so that when a customer would like a candle we ask them a few questions about whoever it is they are buying the candle for and then we select the right one for them. It is a magical experience for them and we get many thank you letters once they have received their charms from the melted wax."
Marita Jaeger is a woman who wears many hats - are there any other goals that she'd like to pursue - professionally or personally?
"Right now I am focusing on few projects. I own a dog rescue organization New OrleansFairy-Tails. I rescue all these dogs myself, last year - 55, the year before - 78. I've been doing this for five years and I want to make a bigger impact. Our endless amount of dogs that are put down every year and are tormented and neglected in shelters is not a dog problem, it is a people problem. I hope this year to get to Ellen DeGeneres to help spread the word."
Jaeger adds: "I am also focusing on my paintings and am working on a book that is almost completed about my other life in New Orleans. The book is called 'Drinking Mistakes,' and is about the bar where I worked since I moved here. I worked at Johnny White's Sports Bar (the only bar on Bourbon Street that never closed) for 11 years and I have an endless amount of wonderful stories I would love to share. I hope to finish it in the next couple of months."