Raindrops filled a few puddles inside the shell of Circle Food Store, the iconic domed Treme grocery store and community space, which has stood empty since the 2005 floods when 5 feet of water filled the landmark. It first opened in 1939 as the first African-American-owned grocery store in New Orleans. Today, city officials and owner Dwayne Boudreaux held a ceremonial groundbreaking and announced the store's reopening in summer 2013.
"This was an iconic place for so many of us. It was the hub of the 7th Ward," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. "There are very few symbols of what New Orleans was and what it could be than Circle Food Store."
Last summer, Landrieu's office announced a $1 million loan from the Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which launched in March 2011 to offer low-cost, flexible financing to retailers looking to expand affordable fresh food options in under-served neighborhoods. FFRI is financed by $7 million in Disaster Community Development Block Grant funds, matched by the Hope Enterprise Corporation (totaling $14 million in FFRI funds).
Boudreaux told Gambit construction will likely begin next week and he anticipates the store reopening in July. Landrieu's economic development advisor Aimee Quirk said the store will employ 75 full- and part-time jobs.
Photos taken from Interstate 10 above the store came to define the flood's impact in the wake of the 2005 floods. "I read somewhere that, 'Circle Food Store has drowned,'" Boudreaux said. "It's like we drowned, but we still had a heartbeat."
"That was the lowest point for me," said a teary-eyed New Orleans District D councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. "It dawned on me that we were under water. ... When Circle Food Store is back, I'm going to know New Orleans is really back."
District C councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer said fresh food access is one of the council's priorities — she noted the lack of grocery stores in her district, from Algiers to St. Claude and Claiborne avenues. "That's inexcusable," she said.
Landrieu said the store "will once again be the anchor of this community and spur economic development."