Walk into any longstanding New Orleans neighborhood and chances are, it’s only a matter a minutes before a person will come across a corner store, or at least its architectural legacy.
A hundred years ago, when New Orleans was decidedly more dense and pedestrian, the city was able to sustain hundreds of such mom and pop stores. With low start up costs and free labor supplied by family members, corner stores were often the domain of recently arrived immigrants from Italy, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Such corner groceries not only supplied basics but often became hubs of local gossip and news. Many contained a bar as well.
As today, corner stores were met with mixed reactions. Some saw them as friendly neighborhood anchors while others perceived them as encouraging drunkenness and violence.
And while it may seem as though New Orleans still contains a multitude of these icons embedded deep into the fabric of its neighborhoods, only a fraction of the city’s original corner stores survive. Some buildings have fallen prey to rot and storm; rising real estate prices have prompted others to be converted to private residences or decidedly more upscale eateries, such as La Petite Grocery (whose walls were once home to two groceries for nearly a century). With the rise of the automobile combined with the post-war boom, a new grocery model — the supermarket — emerged, leaving independent corner groceries to eek out a precarious existence.
Today slim profit margins mean that corner stores often struggle to survive. Gentrification also plays a part, notes documentary film maker Julia Elizabeth Evans. “Newer demographics may not appreciate the culture or this model.”
Evans’ 30 minute film Corner Stores unofficially debuts at Frady’s One-Stop Food Store Friday, November 24 at 6 p.m. Funded in part by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation and the Tricentennial Story Incubators, Corner Stores highlights the stories of four small groceries and pays tribute to what Evans sees as a cultural institution in danger. “The film is time sensitive,” says Evans. “We’re losing stores each year. More close than open.”
Despite the odds, Evans says, corner stores can thrive if they adapt to the needs of the surrounding neighborhood and inspire loyalty. “These are gathering places. People have to want to be there,” she explains. “And the food has to be good. Many of these places survive on hot plates and daily specials. You might expect the food to all be synonymous, like a chain. It’s not. Even in the most dingy stores, there’s solid recipes.”
Evans’ shoots for Corner Stores took her to over 50 corner stores; here are her picks, in no particular order, for some the best of the city’s corner eats.
Don’t see your favorite spot here? Leave a comment and spread the word.
Note: These corner stores are arranged geographically, not by ranking.Read More