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Ten years after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Burnell Cotlon runs the only grocery store servicing New Orleans’ hardest-hit neighborhood: the Lower Ninth Ward.
And while other parts of the city have bounced back, Cotlon, like many Lower Ninth Ward residents, say there still hasn’t been enough done to get their neighborhood back on its feet.
So Cotlon, 45, decided to take matters into his own hands, opening the "Lower 9th Ward Market."
"The only other full service grocery store we have is Walmart and it’s in the next city," he said. “You have to catch three city buses."
In a neighborhood where many say they remember Hurricane Katrina like it was yesterday, homes still sit empty, old businesses shuttered, and large swaths of land remain undeveloped.
"It breaks my heart," he said. "The solution was there’s no stores, you have to open one, so that’s what I did."
Residents see Cotlon as someone who’s filling a vital need.
"I have people come in this store and cry," he said. "I have total strangers that will say ‘you’re the grocery store guy' and they’ll hug me and high five."
And there’s another thing Cotlon is particularly proud about at his store: the prices.
"I only have a small markup on them, because I didn’t price gouge," he said. "That’s a problem New Orleans had after Katrina because they had nowhere else for people to shop."
The profit for Colton isn’t really the money coming in, but the evidence of his help to those who remain in the lower ninth ward.
"This was my entire life savings and I have no regrets," he said. "I would spend the whole thing again because the looks on these customers' faces is priceless."