I have a soft spot for businesses with outdoor neon signs that still depict their phone numbers using old verbal telephone exchanges rather than the uglier numerical names. The only lasting example of such that I know of is the neon script over Scheinuk the Florist. It announces that the number is TW (as in Twinbrook) 5- 3944, thereby relegating the more modern 89 prefix to the number pile.
That alone would give the florist a charmed spot in New Orleans lore, but I like the place for one other contribution to the local landscape. It happens each year at Easter time.
For a city that puts a local spin on most every holiday, New Orleanians celebrate Easter pretty much the same way people do elsewhere. Save for the local Merlin company’s chocolate rabbit, with the assurance that it was made in New Orleans stamped on the package, there is no indigenous contribution to Easter. But there is one curiosity. For the last two decades or so, a bunny village appears during Easter week in front of Scheinuk’s in the 2600 block of St. Charles Avenue. The fenced-in community consists of a Bunny City Hall, church, school (where presumably they can attend math class to learn how to multiply like rabbits) and other buildings populated by about two dozen cuddly young ones.
Scheinuk’s is in its third generation, as is the Bunny Village. The shop is headed by Ronald Scheinuk, whose grandfather, Max, started the village and whose father, Arthur, who died last year, continued the tradition. The village, Scheinuk sources assure, meets humanitarian guidelines, providing ample food, water and space. The bunnies are, in effect, rented from a farm to which they are returned after their visit to the big city.
Each year the experience reminds me of a quip in an ancient Readers’ Digest: A man in Iowa had written that his young son began to bawl when he overheard him tell his wife he was going to Cedar Rapids. When asked why he was crying, the boy sniffed that he wanted to see the rabbits too.
There is something compelling about seeing rabbits, though the rabbits seem hardly charmed by the visit. They do not make the eye contact that a panting dog will, nor do they have the intense interest of a cat, coiled but coolly watching all that is happening. Bunnies just go about the business of being bunnies, little fur balls of black, brown and white hopping through the village or cuddling against each other for a nap. What they lack in personality, however, they make up in cuteness as they twitch a nose and wiggle a big ear while contemplating life’s next move.
Seeing the rabbits has become an Uptown pastime at Easter. People drop by to stare and gush throughout the day. I worry, though, that one day the opportunity for staring will be no more, that the last Scheinuk will have potted the last plant. And the shop will fall into the hands of some multinational floral conglomerate for which a clerk will compute that bunny displays at Easter do not compute, and by the way: What does that TW in the phone number mean?
But maybe that’s just a bad dream triggered by memories of the fallen K&B, D.H. Holmes and others. Bunnies have become a symbol of Easter by representing rebirth and renewal. Perhaps in their cuddly innocence they can remind us to renew our appreciation for the things endearing about urban life. At least while we still have them.