First Lower 9th Ward grocery store opens since Katrina

First Lower 9th Ward grocery store opens since Katrina

Projects marched on in the Lower Ninth Ward, even after the $100 lot program failed to get enough votes in November.

Starting Friday, the neighborhood had a grocery store for the first time since Katrina.

"I'm blown away. I'm blown away," Burnell Cotlon said.

With a nervous laugh and a heart of gold, the U.S. Army veteran and lifelong Lower Ninth Ward resident Burnell Cotlon poured his entire life savings into building the grocery store.

"This was a four-and-a-half year dream of mine, and it finally came to fruition," Cotlon said.

Rows of salad dressings and pancake mixes now stand in what once was a fire-ravaged restaurant.

"This wall, if you look closely, see this spot right here? Is that wall right there," Cotlon pointed.

It's the kind of revitalization Rep. Wesley Bishop had hoped to see more of along with the $100 lot program. However, voters across the state chose not to support it.

"I was disappointed. I was disappointed because I know that it's the kind of thing that folks in the Lower Ninth Ward really needed," said Bishop.

However, they expect that not all of the lots will stay empty forever. Cotlon is just one indication of how hard Lower Ninth Ward residents are willing to keep fighting, and Bishop said with just a few months left before the legislative session begins, they're already working on new legislation.

"We got this initial idea from Harlem, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, Detroit, Michigan, so we're looking nationwide to figure out the best type of ideas to try to solve the problems here in the Lower Ninth Ward. The "mow to own" idea has been brought to me, other ideas have been brought to me, so we're looking at all of them," said Bishop.

As the November vote showed, residents can't wait and hope for bills to pass when they want their community to grow, but need things like groceries now.

"If you need bread you can come here and get it, if you need greens or something like that you can come here and get it, and that means a lot," said customer Henrietta Manuel.

"The closest store unfortunately is Walmart - and that's in the next city. That's in Chalmette. And it's three busses to get to Chalmette," Cotlon said.

From bus trips away, to a few blocks away, Cotlon is proud to help his neighborhood - as long as he can keep the shelves stocked.

"Right here we had milk, eggs and cheese, but this is all we have left because they've been wiping us out," Cotlon said.

"Not only are we giving people a place to shop, but it can also offer some jobs," Cotlon said.

As of Friday, he was ready to hire four workers for the Lower Ninth Ward Market on the corner of Galvez and Caffin.

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