Food-Shopping a Challenge in New Orleans
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
And one more from New Orleans. Just eight large supermarkets have reopened in the city since Hurricane Katrina. So in big parts of the New Orleans there's no easy access to groceries. Reporter Eve Troeh found some local people looking for solutions and groceries.
EVE TROEH: Six days a week, Arthur Robinson gets in his pickup truck, grabs his bull horn and goes to work selling fruit and vegetables door-to-door.
Mr. ARTHUR ROBINSON (Vendor): I have oranges and bananas. I have eating pears and apples.
TROEH: He winds up and down the shady streets of an old neighborhood called Bywater. He's making a little more money than before Hurricane Katrina. That's in part because there's no major grocery store for three miles. The closest thing is the Zone - that's the Mardi Gras Zone.
Mr. PAUL EDMONDS(ph): My name is Paul Edmonds and we're at Mardi Gras Zone here in the Bywater.
TROEH: Mardi Gras Zone is a wholesale Mardi Gras bead warehouse/24-hour food store. Edmonds was there buying cat food and laundry detergent. He says it doesn't have everything, but it's certainly unique.
Mr. EDMONDS: Behind here over there, they've got an entire floor of Mardi Gras costumes and beads and things like that, a bunch of New Orleans staples like shrimp po' boys and muffalettas. You know, he's just trying to keep in what people want.
TROEH: The owner of Mardi Gras Zone is Benny Nagi(ph). He's from Iran. He came to New Orleans 26 years ago and he started a Mardi Gras import/export company. Last year, he pushed aside racks of feather boas and beads to make room for a few shelves with necessities like milk and bread. He had no idea he'd still be selling those items, and much more.
Mr. BENNY NAGI (Owner, Mardi Gras Zone): It actually started in about 600 square feet, and grew to about 6,000.
Ms. JOHANNA GILLIGAN(ph) (New Orleans Food and Farm Network): I think with food, as in so many other aspects of redevelopment in this city, it's really about individuals modifying to serve the needs of the people. I think Mardi Gras Zone is a great example of that.
TROEH: Johanna Gilligan works for New Orleans Food and Farm Network. She's been making detailed online maps that show where people can get food. When she enters a search for large grocery stores, just a handful show up.
Ms. GILLIGAN: Most of the large grocery stores are located in, you know, the sliver by the river, the one part of the city that didn't flood.
TROEH: About a quarter of New Orleanians don't have cars. And with public transportation still spotty, a trip to that sliver by the river can take all day. In one partly flooded area, a big, boxy Save-A-Center store is a major landmark. Customers fixing up their homes nearby, like Melanie Gladdis(ph), called it a respite.
Ms. MELANIE GLADDIS (Resident, New Orleans): I just like the atmosphere. I love it in here.
TROEH: But Save-A-Center vice president Glen Dixon says it's a financial burden just to keep the store stocked, since many local distributors are still closed.
Mr. GLEN DIXON (Vice President, Save-A-Center): So where we had a warehouse locally here, that's a seven hour run, one way, to get products here.
TROEH: He says most local stores and regional chains can't afford that extra expense. And, he says, A&P can't afford the risk of opening a store in the most damaged neighborhoods. Johanna Gilligan of New Orleans Food and Farm Network says there may not be enough people in those areas to support a big store. But that's where individual entrepreneurs can find a niche.
Ms. GILLIGAN: There's a lot of money to be made in food in the city right now because every neighborhood we travel to, people talk to us about how they don't have the food access that they need. So it can really be profitable.
TROEH: Her group is focused on community-based solutions, like starting urban farms on lots left vacant after the storm. She sees fresh food access as a one small way to narrow the gap between neighborhoods that are up and running and those that are lagging behind.
For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh in New Orleans.