Address: 1522 St. Bernard Ave.
Owner: Dwayne Boudreaux (Circle Food Store, Inc.)
OPBOA Assessed Property Value: $136,470
Unoccupied Since: 2005
Damage Assessment: Unknown
Status: Planning Stages of Redevelopment
The building that now houses the Circle Food Store was first built some time between 1841 and 1860. At the time, it was called the St. Bernard Market, and was part of New Orleans’ extensive network of public markets (there were 36 in total). As the market system declined during the 1930s and 40s, the market, like so many others, was sold to private owners.
The earliest record for the property in the city’s Real Estate Records Office is an act of sale from 1941. The sale was to Jacob Steinman, who bought half the property, and his five siblings, who each bought the remaining five tenths of the property. In addition to the Market, the Steinman’s also bought a number of adjacent properties, all of which are not either storage or parking. The property was again sold in 1949 to George Wainer, who, along with his wife, son and sister, sold it in 1954 to the 3rd District Homestead Association, a now defunct or renamed local bank. That same day, it was sold to Herbert J Gabriel and Mike Gabriel. Considering the bank sold it at a $20,000 loss, it is possible they acquired it through foreclosure. In 1964, the building was sold by the Gabriels to Circle Food Realty, Inc., in exchange for the controlling share of stock in the company. At some point over this period, the old St. Bernard Market was dubbed the Circle Food Store.
In 1995, Herbert Gabriel stepped down as the owner of Circle Food Inc., giving the Circle Food Store to the head manager and current owner, Dwayne Boudreaux. As Mr. Boudreaux testified to the New Orleans City Council in February of 2010 (which I encourage you to watch, here), in its heyday, the Circle Food Store was a crucial component of life in the 7th Ward. According to Mr. Boudreaux and in true New Orleans fashion, it boasted the largest Easter display in the city, moved the highest volume of bell peppers or any store, and had a doctor, a dentist and even a chiropractor.
In 2005, however, the failure of the federal levee system brought on by Hurricane Katrina forced the Circle Food Store to close its doors. Since then, Mr. Boudreaux and a coalition of 7th Ward residence, have been working doggedly to reopen the store. Since Mr. Boudreaux has been able to gut the building and remove the storm damaged equipment, preparing the building for renovation. Twice, he has teamed up with The Campaign to Reopen Circle Food, an awareness campaign run out of Neighborhood Housing Service’s 7th Ward neighborhood center, to hold events to gauge public support. The first a parking lot sale in 2007, was a tripartite effort with Ed Blakely and was, according to Mr. Boudreaux, a huge success. The second, a parking lot sale and broader, block party style event, was held in 2009, and drew an even larger crowd. To follow up on these successes, the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center has begun running a more robust awareness campaign, including selling Circle Food merchandise, a blog, and numerous other pending plans.
Despite the strong support, a much harder issue has been that of financing, especially public financing. As early as 2007, Mr. Boudreaux reports being contacted by Ed Blakely at the Office of Recovery Management about the possibility of a grant to reopen the store, to the tune of $3-4 Million. According to Mr. Boudreaux, this was the first time he had considered public funding, so he decided to wait and see what would happen before pursuing private financing. “I wanted to see just to what extent the city was able to help me,” he told the blight blog, “but I waited and waited, dealing with different people, different aspects of the city, and it never materialized.” Mr. Boudreaux reports having been told that it would take up to 6 to 8 months when he first met with Blakely, but that when Blakely was replaced, he had to start over. “The next guy came in, and he said 6 to 8 months, then the guy after that said the same thing,” he says.
Just before Mr. Boudreax testified before the City Council, he got good news. Though a far cry from Blakely’s $4 Million, through an economic development grant, the city had awarded him about $100,000 to reopen the store. Though he hasn’t yet drawn on the money, he has begun working with Tulane’s School of Architecture and School of Business on blueprints and a business plan. Yet, Mr. Boudreaux admits that he is still not sure how he will raise the remaining funds. This was the purpose of his visit to City Hall, to ask the Council for guidance in finding funding. And, while the Council responded enthusiastically to his testimony, the only support they were able to offer was verbal.