New Orleans market aims to give small businesses a boost

Along just one street in Central City lies a staggering amount of history.

It was just off LaSalle Street that the Rev. Martin Luther King famously organized for civil rights, the first voter rights drives in the nation were held, and the historic Dew Drop Inn, once touted as the “swankiest nightclub in the South,” welcomed everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Little Richard.

It seems fitting that the street that holds so much of Central City’s past may also hold the key to its future.

At least that’s the hope of Una Anderson, executive director of Harmony Neighborhood Development. Since 2006, Harmony has been developing for-sale and rental rehabs and new construction homes throughout Central City, the most notable of which is Harmony Oaks Apartments.

Just off South Claiborne and Louisiana Avenue, Harmony Oaks features 460 market-rate, mixed-income apartments.

“Harmony Oaks has been a real success,” Anderson said. “But we kept hearing our residents saying that what they really need now is opportunity and income — a way to build wealth for themselves and their families. That’s how Market on LaSalle was born.”

Located at 3300 LaSalle St., Market on LaSalle neither looks, nor operates, like any other market in New Orleans. Driving by you’ll find six ultra-modern, podlike structures parked on what was recently just another blighted lot.

Designed and built by the Tulane University School of Architecture’s URBANbuild program, these moveable, micro-retail spaces have been drawing big attention from the more than 11,000 cars that pass by every day, and Anderson couldn’t be happier.

“The idea here is to create a ladder that budding Central City entrepreneurs can climb to success,” Anderson said. “The first step is providing a low-cost, high-traffic retail space where they can sell their wares.”

Market on LaSalle has done just that. Since its grand opening on July 13, this Saturday afternoon market has hosted hopeful startups selling everything from handmade gifts to hot food. Vendors pay $35 per day for the space. In return, they are connected with various resources to help them with everything from marketing to financing — whatever they need to be successful.

Three years ago, Tracey Daniels started her own business, Tracey’s Tasty Catering. Up until the Market on LaSalle opened, Daniels had been working out of her house, cooking up her signature gumbo, red beans, shrimp fettuccine and ya-ka-mein.

During the first week at Market on LaSalle, Tracey sold every bit of food she had brought. She is in the process of receiving grant money through the Good Work network to open her own location.

Unlike with traditional neighborhood markets, short-timers like Daniels are celebrated. In fact, the Market itself is built to eventually move on to bigger and better things.

The first goal is to grow beyond the six structures up to an additional 20 tents. The space also is slated for future special events and community celebrations.

“Market on LaSalle is currently operating on a special event permit, with the goal being to have vendors here every day of the week,” Anderson said. “I’d love to see someone selling coffee and pastries every morning, and definitely some fresh fruit and vegetable vendors.”

From there, plans already have been drawn for a permanent building where the pods now sit. A mixed-use structure, it will house three successful Market on LaSalle vendors on the bottom, with apartment living on the top.

As for the other successful vendors? Anderson smiles.

“There’s plenty of room for more retail throughout Central City. The success of this project will migrate right on down the street.”