Makin’ Groceries in da 7th Ward

Decades ago, hundreds of grocery stores dotted the New Orleans cityscape on almost every corner. These family businesses not only supplied the basics, but they were also the place to catch up on all the neighborhood news.

Many of these stores have come to ruin, some have been turned into showplace residences or restaurants, and a few, such as Terranova’s, keep going strong. The Bayou St. John business holds a special place in my heart.  In the ’80s we lived one block from the store. My young daughter began her budding independence by walking alone to Terranova’s to buy her treats or pick up a quart of milk.

For many of us old timers Schwegmann’s was our neighborhood grocery. In 1869, the company began their business with a small store in the Bywater. Later, they brought the supermarket to New Orleans, enabling residents to buy bananas, bleach and bourbon, plus do their banking, all in one place.

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I now live in the 7th Ward, which is certainly the best neighborhood in the city. It provides plenty of second line parades, featuring the likes of the Mandingo Warriors and the Wild Magnolias almost every weekend, and offers spontaneous street rehearsals of St. Aug’s marching band.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Dollar General Market is the heart of this family-friendly neighborhood.

Dollar General dates back to 1956, when the J.L. Turner & Son dry goods wholesale business in Kentucky opened a retail outlet to dispose of a large quantity of lingerie. Dollar General  now operates more than 11,000 "small-box" outlets, mostly in small towns and rural areas, and has annual revenue of more than $21 billion. In 2003, the company also introduced Dollar General Markets, featuring shelves stocked with food including fresh produce and refrigerated and frozen items.

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Robin Perkins shops at our Dollar General Market three or four times a week. The store is within walking distance from her home and helps her feed her family of nine.

“You’re able to get food at reasonable prices and they have all kinds of household items,” she says.

Another local, Gwen Swan, comes to the store every single day.

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“You can get everything you need here,” she says. “And the specials are great. For example, today you can get a package of wieners for 50 cents.”

Swan loves the store so much she volunteers at it, helping the staff restock aisles.

“It’s how I get my exercise,” she says. “It helps with my arthritis and I beat the heat.”

There’s always something going on at this store; it’s so much more than just making groceries.  Here people greet one another with hugs and laughter, they gripe about the weather, share all the gossip and keep up with local politics.

My favorite story was when a 70-year-old woman shared with the whole store that the man in her life was sick and “acting like a baby.”

"He been given me orders all day long,” she said. “I ain't doing his orders. And when he gets better and want Ms. Kittie to come out and play she ain't gonna come out and play. And you know he don't like it when Ms. Kittie don't play."

Where else would you get to have honest conversations like this at the grocery store with your neighbors?


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