Cheryl Corley, NPR
Business thrives at Café du Monde. The French Quarter was quickly rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, and tourists are returning -- but not as fast as the business owners would like.
Cheryl Corley, NPR
Chris Arnold, NPR
This house, located in the lower 9th Ward, is part of a residential area not yet recovered from the hurricane.
Chris Arnold, NPR
Much of New Orleans is still a heart-wrenching mess. The lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East remains largely a ghost town of mold-filled, ruined houses. As I reported for Morning Edition, thousands of kids across the city, many living in still-damaged homes, are spending a hot summer without the city pools, summer camps and recreational centers that helped keep them cool and out of trouble in past years.
But I came to New Orleans expecting to see things like that. So, actually what I'm most struck by is how recovered parts of the city are.
A Quicker Physical Recovery
Compared to the residential areas of the lower 9th Ward and New Orleans East, there was little storm damage in much of the French Quarter, the Garden District, and parts of Uptown.
In the Quarter, a few bars and restaurants never closed, and many that did are now back open. Music spills out onto the streets and drunken 20-somethings are wandering around, drinking beer out of preposterously large plastic cups.
A little farther down-river in a hipper part of town called the Marigny, one of my favorite places to eat, the Praline Connection Soul Food Restaurant, is open again with waiters in starched white shirts and black fedora hats serving up some seriously good New Orleans Cajun-Creole cooking.
Long-time bands like the Jazz Vipers play at a cool little bar called the Spotted Cat. Local horn players drop by to sit in for a few songs and the place is packed with locals.
Many other parts of New Orleans are filling up with locals again. Along Magazine Street (where NPR's New Orleans bureau is located), through the Irish Channel, Garden District and Uptown some businesses actually have never had it so good. Some received little damage and were able to re-open pretty quickly.
Twice the Business, Twice the Pay
One health club along Magazine Street is doing twice its pre-storm business because so many locals are moving back and other health clubs are still shut down. A Middle Eastern restaurant owner says he's making more money than before the storm -- even though he has to pay kitchen workers twice as much because good workers are still hard to find.
The Balcony Bar is once again full with its unusual mix of dominoes-playing locals, yuppies, college kids, and the heavily inked tattoo crowd. A giant Whole Foods market further down Magazine is open and packed with shoppers.
While businesses that cater to locals are doing really well, the bars, shops and restaurants in the French Quarter that rely heavily on tourists are in trouble.
Shop owners there say they appreciate the volunteers who are coming down to work on gutting and rebuilding houses in the flooded areas. But they say those people don't tend to spend much money. So restaurateurs and shop owners desperately want more tourists to come back to New Orleans.
If you're not the type to quit your job for three months and swing a hammer with Habitat for Humanity, they say you can still do a lot for New Orleans by just coming down here to eat, drink, gamble and buy preserved alligators or crazy masks.
Some people I've talked to in other parts of the country seem to think New Orleans is still too much of a mess to visit as a tourist. Or others say they'd feel guilty coming to New Orleans to party, given all the misery and destruction around here. But the word on the street in New Orleans is don't feel guilty about it. Yes, what happened with Katrina is terrible and it's still going on. But people all over the city want you to come back to New Orleans and have a good time.