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St. Claude Ave. showing promise for economic, community development

29th December 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Nayita Wilson
Contributing Writer

Creative enterprise along St. Claude Avenue in New Orleans’ St. Roch community is benefiting for-profit and nonprofit entities alike, while also creating economic opportunities for individuals who live in the area.

St. Claude Main Street, through a $10,000 grant from the Greater New Orleans Foundation and other resources, is rotating 10 “pop-up” retailers out of a local store front for six months. The initiative allows two retailers at a time to set-up shop inside the Bywater Art Gallery, 3700 St. Claude Ave., on weekends and also provides face for food vendors in the St. Claude Food Truck Park.

St. Claude Main Street is an economic development agency that prioritizes the development of St. Claude Avenue and bringing new businesses to that area. Participants of the pop-up retail program were selected through a blind competitive process. Unpredictably, the 10 businesses selected to participate were all women-owned ventures. Some of the entrepreneurs live in St. Roch, and three operate food trucks.

One pop-up food vendor, Koreole, was recently selected to serve as one of 15 vendors in the St. Roch Market, which is scheduled to reopen in early 2015. Koreole is owned and operated by Chef Kayti Chung Williams and prepares dishes that have both Korean and Creole flair.

Lovers Not Biters Dog Rescue / Adopt & Shop Store is another pop-up retailer that is benefitting from the initiative. Founded by Mary Simon, Lovers Not Biters is a nonprofit that rescues dogs from high kill shelters and abandonment. The organization operates in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Los Angeles and Orange County, Calif., and generates profits by selling canine attire, gifts and accessories.

Simon said the pop-up retail opportunity has given her the opportunity to raise awareness about pet overpopulation, while developing her as an entrepreneur. She hopes that a partner or investor will take notice of the organization.

“It is an amazing opportunity for small business owners to get the opportunity to actually have a store front site. It increases awareness of your business, allows you to increase your income as well as gives businesses a jumping off point on what they need to modify (or) change and how to grow moving forward,” Simon said.

Dawne Massey, executive director of St. Claude Main Street said the initiative gives business owners a “chance at no cost to try out their business idea and get a feel for what it takes to run a store.”

According to Massey, many of the pop-up retailers work full time, and this opportunity gives them the chance to decide whether or not they want to proceed with their ventures. And should they decide to move forward, St. Claude Main Street will work to connect them with realtors who have retail space along St. Claude Avenue.

“We’re just trying to remind people that this is a great area,” Massey said.

In another area of development along St. Claude Avenue, the St. Roch Community Development Corporation (CDC) will hold a grand opening for Restoration Thrift, 2025 St. Claude Ave., on Jan. 3. An initiative of the St. Roch CDC, Restoration Thrift is a nonprofit thrift store that focuses on creating employment opportunities in the community, while also recycling and reselling used goods.

Ben McLeish, executive director of the St. Roch CDC, said that the “resurgence” along New Orleans’ St. Claude Avenue corridor is evident through the limited space available to storefronts due to rapid occupancy, as well as the spike in property prices, which was a challenge for the CDC in identifying a location for Restoration Thrift.

“It’s coming back,” McLeish said of St. Claude Avenue.

McLeish added that the resurgence is promising and consistent with a general desire to “see the city get better.” However, he expressed concerns with the threat of gentrification serving as a means to push the less fortunate out of the area and into other pockets of the city.

“We want to see folks be able to remain, and not get pushed out,” McLeish said. “St. Claude is well on its way to being a destination in New Orleans.”

The St. Roch CDC’s mission seeks to empower individuals to escape poverty while also restoring the community. The agency achieves it goals through financial literacy, affordable housing, small business development and job training initiatives.

This article originally published in the December 29, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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