NEW ORLEANS -- Tall grass, blighted properties, and a lack of grocery stores. They are all problems that continue to plague the Lower 9th Ward, but one business owner's push for a sweet shop has steadily overcome hurdles to change that.
When we first met Burnell Cotlon last summer he was in the beginning stages of a huge undertaking, turning a blighted property on the corner of Caffin Avenue and Galvez Street into a barber shop, sweet shop and grocery store.
"It is a daily fight to get this building up and running because when I first bought this building it was a two-story, damaged building, and I had to do all the work myself to get at the phase where it's at today," said Cotlon.
Now after months of work, the progress can finally be seen. The barber shop is now open and the sweet shop is well on its way.
"This is a food desert, there is nothing like this here," said Cotlon. "So this is imperative that we get a sweet shop, a barber shop and a grocery store here in the Lower 9th Ward."
In order to get to the closest supermarket over three miles away in Chalmette, many folks rely on the bus to get them there.
"It's hard when you have to take the bus or you have to pay somebody to take you and money is very scarce right now," said Celestine Anderson who has been living in the Lower 9th Ward for 36 years.
City and state leaders say they hear the concerns residents like Anderson have and say they are working hard to bring more retail development to the area.
"I am working from a list of 30 different restaurants, both nation chains as well as local, that people would like to see in the Lower 9th Ward or New Orleans East," said State Rep. Wesley Bishop who represents District 99. "I have reached out to them individually."
Yet, for local business and property owners like Cotlon, it has been an uphill battle to be apart of the solution.
While Cotlon slowly worked to repair the building he owns, code enforcement charged him thousands of dollars in blight property fines. But now, thanks to the city, Cotlon is one step closer to finishing the grocery store and completing the project.
"The mayor said he would make sure that the fines would be waived because it is not a blighted building anymore," said Cotlon. "It's up and running, it's a functional building."
Although good news, Bishop says the city is far from fixing the problem of how to attract more businesses to the area.
"It is almost which comes first, the chicken or the egg," said Bishop. "If you put the amenities there the people will come, well we can't put the amenities there because there's not enough people."
Already Cotlon's project is generating more jobs for the community. He says he is in the process of hiring six new employees for his barber shop and says he will soon be hiring over a dozen employees to run the sweet shop and grocery store.