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Circle Food Store finally reopens its doors

21st January 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

For nearly 10 years, residents of New Orleans have awaited the return of the Circle Food Store in the city’s 7th Ward and on Jan. 17, dozens of shoppers celebrated the return of the iconic grocery store alongside store owner Dwayne Boudreaux, who took over operations in the early 1990s. “We’re glad to be back and we’re here to save the community money. That’s our mission,” Boudreaux said, in the midst of handling opening day festivities at the corner of St. Bernard and Claiborne avenues.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Circle Food Store, which has been a center of commerce in the heart of Black New Orleans for more than six decades, flooded and operations were shuttered until about a year ago when the city announced a cooperative deal between local authorities and state and federal officials to pump $8 million in financing into bringing the store back online. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has hailed the store’s reopening as an ongoing symbol of recovery.

The reopening of the Circle Food Store is part of the New Orleans Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, designed to bring fresh produce and affordable shopping options to underserved neighborhoods. In the absence of the Circle, as the store was once often called, the St. Roch neighborhood had few options for readily available produce, something that had been part of the store’s reputation.

In the early days after Hurricane Katrina, Boudreaux estimated the cost of reopening the store at $4 million, but those projections quickly ballooned as damage assessments revealed the scope of the store’s flooding. But the store’s location in what experts have dubbed as a food dessert worked to the community’s advantage in securing the necessary funds to bring the location back into commerce.

The fresh food initiative has also been brought to bear in other parts of the city, including a multi-million dollar redevelopment of the former Schwegmann’s supermarket on Broad Avenue into a multiuse facility with Whole Foods Market as the anchor tenant, which is also located in an area, after Hurricane Katrina, with limited options for affordable food.

Boudreaux’s store, once known for selling five bell peppers for just one dollar, will not only usher in the return of fresh produce to the St. Roch community, but is a part of the steady post-Katrina recovery of the neighborhood, along with the resurrection of the once-bustling St. Roch Market. Boudreaux reportedly toyed with the idea of selling the store or leasing it to other retailers, but, in the end, the man who started his career at the Circle Food Store as an employee, decided to hold on to the property in the hopes of bringing his business enterprise and the area back to life.

This article originally published in the January 20, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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