Lower 9th Ward resident leads effort to open a grocery store

Published: Sep. 26, 2013 at 1:37 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 8, 2014 at 9:27 PM CDT
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Courtesy of Burnell Cotlon
Courtesy of Burnell Cotlon

NEW ORLEANS - It's been eight years since Katrina, and there is still no grocery store in the Lower 9th Ward.

Now, one lifelong resident has taken it upon himself to build one on the corner of Caffin Avenue and Galvez Street.

Burnell Cotlon hears the complaints of his neighbors, and he shares their frustration.

"I like fresh vegetables, and you can't get that back here," said Henrietta Manuel, a Lower 9th Ward resident.

"I know many many people that don't have transportation, and they have to catch three buses just to get to Walmart in Chalmette, and that's not right. Not right at all," said Cotlon.

It's why he has dedicated two years of work and nearly all of his money to turn an abandoned and fire-ravaged building into a hub for what his community needs. He has divided the building into three businesses: The first third is a barber shop that already employs four people. In the middle section there is a sweets shop, and it is scheduled to open soon.

However, in the back is the most anticipated section. He's building a grocery store. And he does most of the work on his own.

He was a military police officer in the U.S. Army, and he says serving his community like this is part of serving his country.

Along with searching out the materials from abandoned homes nearby and receiving them through donations, Cotlon has put $80,000 - his entire life savings - into the building.

He has worked through plenty of sweat and tears, but he's had no luck finding the rest of the funding needed to open the store.

However, the mayor's office says help may be on the way.

"There is some interest from grocery stories, some familiar names," said Aimee Quirk, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's Economic Development Advisor.

Quirk says along with Cotlon's strong ambition, the same Fresh Food Retailer Initiative that is helping to open Whole Foods on Broad Street and Circle Food Store on Claiborne by the end of this year is encouraging other stores to consider the Lower 9th Ward.

"I'm hopeful that some of those will come across the finish line," said Quirk. "We're pushing as much as we can in hopes that a deal will be able to work out."

They're working with Cotlon and his neighbors who are tired of traveling up to an hour for milk and bread.

"In Katrina they were calling us refugees, but I mean, now you really got to fight to go and get something to eat when it should really be out your front door," said resident Claudnisha Washington.

To learn more about Colton's efforts or to donate, click here.