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Hart is where the home is

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Always a pillar of the community, Aucoin Hart strives to help the city rebuild

04-9.jpgFor the last 80 years, Aucoin Hart has been one of the most respected businesses in New Orleans. Customers know they can count on Tommy Aucoin Jr. and his family for the best prices, selection, quality and service every time they shop—and it’s been that way since 1927. As they say, “There’s a great work of art in every box from Aucoin Hart.”

What many people are unaware of is the work Tommy Aucoin Jr. and his family are doing through the Aucoin Foundation.

The idea for the foundation came just before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Aucoin wanted it to address the needs of New Orleans and be a separate entity from the store. “I wanted it just for New Orleans and its people,” he says. Aucoin’s original plan was to help with the city’s educational needs, but that was before the storm.

While he was displaced from the city after Hurricane Katrina, a few of his suppliers and vendors began getting into touch with him asking how they could help. Aucoin saw this as an amazing opportunity.

“They wanted to make it clear to me that they were there for support,” he says. “And then one by one, almost all of my suppliers and vendors called and told us the same thing. The jewelry business is small, and it’s a lot of family business,” Aucoin says. “That’s where it starts is with the family.” He insists that this is why he received the kind of support he did, because everyone in the jewelry business is close-knit and a lot like a family. When he started receiving those calls, he knew that the foundation would be used for the purpose of rebuilding New Orleans and getting people back to the city.

So it was from that point on that he and his staff started thinking about what they could do to help New Orleans. After they got back in business and the city started to pick up, Aucoin began to focus on the immediate needs of the city. Then it hit him: housing. Housing was the most immediate need.

He got in touch with Habitat for Humanity of New Orleans and the rest, he says, is history. “We fell in love with Habitat because they give ownership to the family getting this home,” Aucoin says. “And we want our foundation to be built for future generations to see what we’ve accomplished, and that’s what Habitat was giving us.” Aucoin thought this was the perfect vehicle for his industry, the jewelry business, to make a direct impact. “The industry gives plenty of money, but this local representation is the way to get them directly involved,” he says.

One of the first people to jump on board with the Aucoin Foundation was jewelry designer Penny Preville, whose line is featured at Aucoin Hart. She immediately wanted to know how she could get involved. Aucoin’s first Habitat for Humanity weekend for the foundation was on March 23 through 25.

That Friday, customers and members of the media were invited to a private shopping party featuring Preville as a special guest. The proceeds from that evening’s event went to Habitat for Humanity. By the end of the night, the foundation had raised more than $10,000.

That Sunday, about 50 staff members gathered with spouses and family, along with Preville and Aucoin, to deliver the check to Habitat for Humanity to help build a house for a deserving family. Aucoin said that when he dropped off Preville at the airport, she started crying and said that knowing she was making an impact was “one of the most self-satisfying, best feelings in the world.” “We just felt so good after it was done; it made us believe in the cause,” Aucoin says.

He hopes that other businesses will follow in their footsteps by getting involved in the community and the rebuilding process. He and his staff are looking forward to their next project, this time with Baume & Mercier, a Swiss watchmaker whose line

Aucoin Hart carries. He has several other suppliers, vendors and companies ready to get involved as well.

“I think for the next one or two years, we’ll focus on housing because people owning these homes is exciting to us,” he says. “But we hope to eventually go back to our original goal to help with education.”

No matter where this foundation leads them, Aucoin knows that his company will always focus on the great city of New Orleans.

“The people that are here love this city,” he says. “That helps us push forward with our business and our foundation.”