St. Roch Market.
When I photographed it, it was not my intent to use it as a symbol of how far New Orleans has come in recovery. Or, how far we have to go. After thinking about it, it really is the perfect jumping off point for that discussion.
First, a bit of history.
St. Roch is a neighborhood in The Bywater. It is named after a church and cemetery of the same name. You pronounce it, “St. Rock.” The market first opened in 1875, as one of the first open air markets in the city that wasn’t located in the French Quarter. It is, however, in walking distance. By the time of the Great Depression, it was falling apart. The city was ready to condemn and demolish it. The neighborhood protested. It was renovated in 1932 by Sam Stone and Company. It was renovated again in 1937 by the WPA as what became part of the city markets. There are two others remaining today. One in Central City. And, the other is the famous French Market located in the Quarter. Eventually, the city turned the St. Roch Market over to private management. Although it looked like it was falling apart, it was doing okay financially. Mostly seafood was sold there.
Then, came that fateful year, 2005. Hurricane Katrina blew in, flooded the neighborhood and the market lay abandoned until it was finally restored by a group of business people who call themselves the St. Roch Community Partners Inc. They opened the market to vendors who sell what I call the usual hipster foods with a very small area that features locally grown vegetables.
It cost $3.7 million dollars to renovate. Mostly out of the city’s pocket. It opened on April 10, 2015, after almost ten years of being closed. It was vandalized on May 1, 2015.
I don’t know what it cost to repair after having had some of its windows broken, and to scrub off the pink spray paint. But, the newly opened St. Roch Market kept going. It was open even during the repair and cleaning work. From video captured by the security cameras, the vandals look young and probably didn’t live anywhere nearby. Even though they wrote negative things about “yuppies,” they probably had no dog in any hunt. They were just mean.
That said, this is the perfect place to discuss recovery reality.
Let me say that I had a very enjoyable experience when I visited. The people who own each booth are friendly. They aim to please. The food — I had a Croque Madam — was okay. A little too much bread and not enough seasoning. It’ll get better. Look at the owner of Shank — the cafe — in the top picture. She is all smiles. Her two employees were friendly. They worked fast and efficiently. I waited less than ten minutes for my meal. The price was fine. More importantly for me, in this day of general photographer distrust, as I wandered around taking pictures nobody cared. In fact, everybody seemed to welcome it. Visually, what more could I want? A bright and airy place to make pictures of happy people. And, food.
But. You knew this was coming.
See that woman looking into the paper bag? She’s counting my red potatoes. The little vegetable stand had the best prices in the city. The key word is “little.” Even though the owners promised fresh, locally grown produce, this counter is tiny. There is a very small selection. Yes. It is located right in front when you walk in the door. That’s just about positioning. Making a point… by stretching the truth.
The rest of the place is filled with small plate trendy foods. There is a wine store in the back and a lot of dessert vendors. Nothing wrong with that.
But, the neighborhood needs a grocery store. A real one. A modern one. There is a regional grocery store — new and modern, but tiny — in the French Quarter. That’s it, until you get to the CBD a mile or so away upriver. Downriver? Good try. There is nothing but corner “food stores” from the Quarter until you reach pretty deeply into St. Bernard Parish about five miles away. This area includes the Upper and Lower 9th Wards. It is a food desert. The good folks at Make-It-Right, who built so many houses in the Lower 9th Ward, are aware of it and are trying to figure out what to do.
When the vandals first struck, many people though it was an act of protest. But, as I wrote, it wasn’t neighborhood people who did it. But, neighborhood people want, need and were hoping for a modern grocery story. They aren’t rich. Many ride bicycles because they don’t own cars. Yes, it is true that St. Roch Market employs local people. That helps. Some. They’d hoped for more raw food and not so much trendy cooked food. One costs more than the other. A lot more. Unfortunately, the owners still haven’t really addressed the issue. I doubt that they will. Not as long as the current iteration of the market is successful.
And, there you have it.
Two sides to every coin. I think this example is far more powerful than my ranting about the city not really having recovered from the storm. You’ve had enough of that. Besides, after reading today’s news, I think the New York Times and The Washington Post got it. They are doing less celebratory public relations semi-reporting and are now talking about both sides of an incomplete and unfinished recovery.
The pictures. Check it out. I figured how to do a proper gallery. It didn’t a take long. What takes normal people a few hours can take me a few weeks. If you like the thumbnails, click on one. It’ll open to a 12 x 8 inch photograph. This is step one in a major upgrade. I’ll talk about that as I work toward it. It’ll be lighter in feel, have a white background and a lot of the clutter will be moved into the background. It will also be the home of Laskowitzpictures.com as well as dot org. That’s my more commercial site. You’ll also be able to buy art prints or license them for more commercial uses. Books and e-books, too. Some of you have asked about that.