Harrison Avenue Boom
A commercial powerhouse in Lakeview
Cheryl Gerber Photograph
Take a look at New Orleans neighborhoods that have thrived over time, and at their center you will likely see a vibrant commercial core that helped fuel their growth. Consider for instance, how the proliferating restaurants and other businesses along Freret and Magazine streets have buoyed the neighborhoods of Uptown. Or think of the bustling activity along Frenchmen Street that boosted the popularity of the Marigny district.
Similarly, for people in Lakeview, one of the city’s largest neighborhoods, it would be hard to overstate the value of the area’s business centers. Harrison Avenue, whose commercial section cuts a mile-long swath across Lakeview’s rectangular grid, has for decades supported residential development with grocery stores, restaurants and services, as has the retail hub at Robert E. Lee and West End boulevards, at the northern end of Lakeview. Activity has proliferated in both areas during the last 10 years, helping to propel an impressive post-Hurricane Katrina comeback of the entire neighborhood.
The rapid expansion of commercial activity along Harrison Avenue has been particularly noticeable, as it has dramatically changed the look of the corridor. Some might label the avenue’s remake as a gentrification, and indeed, the stretch between Canal Boulevard and City Park has taken a quaint turn, with new brick sidewalks, street lamps and landscaped pathways that wind through the neutral ground.
But more important than the cosmetic changes is the business growth that has occurred. At least a dozen restaurants and cafés that operate on Harrison today did not exist there before Katrina. The food choices run the gamut from fried chicken and high-end donuts to upscale Mexican fare, nouveau cuisine and white-tablecloth bistros. Lakeview residents who wish to patronize eating and drinking establishments in their own neighborhood today have plenty of choices within a short walk or drive.
Shopping in the area has taken an upward turn as well. Several chic clothing boutiques have opened along Harrison in recent years to join the Little Miss Muffin gift shop that took a pioneering step onto the avenue shortly after Katrina. Newcomers include Gia’s Boutique, Carpe Diem Boutique Salon and Clothing, Shop Angelique and Swoon.
The availability of grocery stores played a crucial role in Lakeview’s post-Katrina comeback, and grocer Marc Robert filled the need by reopening Robert Fresh Market in the Robert E. Lee shopping center and replacing another grocery on Harrison Avenue with Lakeview Fine Foods. Those moves encouraged the development of additional retail offerings near both stores.
Underlying Lakeview’s vibrancy and its ability to bounce back from devastation is its relatively high level of personal wealth. The neighborhood has long been home to a middle- and upper middle-class resident population. It was their personal assets that led a few of the area’s largest financial institutions to set up shop on Harrison Avenue decades ago and lured more banks in recent years.
Dining on Harrison
Many of these eateries have opened on Harrison Avenue during the last 10 years:
• Another Broken Egg Café
Chase Bank and Whitney National Bank reopened large branches on Harrison after the flood, as did Gulf Coast Bank & Trust. Then-new First NBC Bank also built a large office on Harrison, though the bank recently fell on hard times and was acquired by Whitney. Institutions operating branches elsewhere in Lakeview include Capital One, Regions Bank and Fidelity Bank.
The newest addition to financial services in the neighborhood appears to be Fifth District Savings & Loan, which plans to build a new branch, with adjacent retail or office space, in the 400 block of Harrison Avenue.
Meanwhile, data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. show that bank branches in Lakeview held a total of more than $800 million in deposits in mid-2016, up 11 percent from total deposits just before Katrina.
All of which helps explain the proliferation of businesses during the past decade. Few, if any, flooded-out structures remain in Lakeview as residents and business owners have renovated or rebuilt on nearly every available lot.
Along with retail stores, dry cleaners and fitness centers located in the main commercial corridors, the neighborhood saw a revival of interest in Lakeshore Drive by restauranteurs, resulting in the opening of eateries such as Landry’s, Brisbi’s and Blue Crab. A Chinese restaurant called Ming’s opened near the stalwart Russell’s Marina Grill. And closer to the center of the neighborhood, 2016 brought the opening just off Canal Boulevard of Rosedale, by well-known chef Susan Spicer, who also owns Mondo, on Harrison Avenue. And most recently opened is Rizzuto’s restaurant, which replaced Tony Angello’s at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Fleur de Lis Drive.
In New Orleans, the health of some neighborhoods is reflected in their turnout for public events, and one that has shown staying power since its Lakeview launch in 2007 is the Harrison Avenue Marketplace. The monthly early-evening event, which bills itself as the first-ever outdoor market in Lakeview, regularly draws hundreds of people to shop dozens of arts, crafts and food booths and enjoy live music with their families.
Anchored in the parking lot of the Lakeview Fine Foods grocery store, the market further boosts interest in the growing number of restaurants and other businesses that have squeezed onto Harrison Avenue during the past decade.