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New Orleans restaurants and leaders eager for Essence Festival's return

With an estimated $200 million economic impact, it’s a big deal for the whole city.

NEW ORLEANS — The country’s biggest celebration of Black culture is back.

After a two-year hiatus, the Essence Festival of Culture is bringing an estimated 500,000 people back to New Orleans.

At Li’l Dizzy’s Café, owner Arkesha Smith-Bacquet is keeping her shop open for extra hours on Sunday and Monday to take on the wave of customers.

“Since Essence hasn’t been here since 2019 my expectations are very high! I am expecting large, large crowds,” she said.

She’s not the only one putting in extra hours.

Police, EMS and firefighters are all stepping up their presence downtown, including 50 Louisiana State Troopers who will be on the streets this weekend.

“As the mayor has said, if you see something, say something,” NOPD Chief Shaun Ferguson said. “Please do not hesitate to call us.”

And if you want to see Kevin Hart, Nicki Minaj or Janet Jackson, you’re going to need more than just a ticket.

Essence Fest now requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all events – and a negative test won’t cut it. Neither will religious or medical exemptions.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she backs the requirement 100%.

“Vaccine requirements, they work very well. The City of New Orleans has demonstrated that,” Cantrell said. “That’s why we’re able to welcome not only Essence, but many festivals since the start of the year to our city.”

It’s a welcome return after a quiet two years for New Orleans businesses, who could use another boost before the usually slow summer starts.

“Not only does Dizzy need the business, the city needs it,” Bacquet said. “People have been cooped up and they’re ready to be excited, having fun. So, it’s a big deal for us.”

And with an estimated $200 million economic impact, it’s a big deal for the whole city.

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