Groceries and Growth

Things are certainly popping in Mid-City, my friends. This week Winn-Dixie, the largest tenant in the new shopping center at the corner of Bienville and North Carrollton, opened for business, joining a Panera Bread, Pizza Hut and Office Depot, with a Five Guys hamburger joint, Felipe's Taqueria, Pei Wei Asian Diner and a few other places that I'm no doubt forgetting set to open shortly. The site has been abandoned since Katrina, and the new development has been welcomed by the powers that be as another sign of New Orleans' rebirth.

Then again there are other views. At least one friend, who asked to remain anonymous, characterized the development as mediocre and expressed the hope that Mid-City residents would continue to patronize local shops instead of the chains. That's mirrored what I've heard from other folks, though to be fair it's not what I've heard from my immediate neighbors.

Full disclosure: One of the things I've done over the past 19 or so years as a lawyer is represent grocery stores and other retailers. It's something I've done with my father, who has done that kind of work for a lot longer. When I first started practicing, he was representing Winn-Dixie and the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, which at the time went by A&P but later changed the name of the stores to Sav-A-Center. So I've represented both of those companies, and when Rouses bought the Sav-A-Center stores in New Orleans, I represented Rouses briefly, as well. I no longer represent either Winn-Dixie or Rouses, and I have no connection to either.

The new Winn-Dixie is a fine store. There's nothing particularly remarkable about it, but it's laid out well, with aisles that are wider than the standard and displays that are well lit. There were a lot of employees wandering around asking whether they could help me, whether I'd found everything I was looking for and whether they could do anything for me. No, yes and no, thanks.

There's a Rouses directly across Carrollton, of course, and that's been my default for the past couple of years. Now and again I'll shop at Langenstein's, Dorignac's, the Rouses on Baronne Street or either of the Whole Foods location, but the Mid-City Rouses is my go-to store.

I don't think that's going to change. The Winn-Dixie is, again, a nice new store. It's also a Winn-Dixie, and thus it doesn't have the same local products that Rouses does. Winn-Dixie calls itself (or did, anyway) the “beef people,” but the meat I saw on the first day it was open didn't compare to what I've seen at Rouses – to say nothing of Whole Foods. The produce section at the new Winn-Dixie is nice, and I give it six months before it looks like the produce section at every other Winn-Dixie. Rouses has renovated pretty much all of the former Sav-A-Center stores, and it seems like they're continuing to upgrade.

I may be wrong, and I am certainly going to stop in at the new Winn-Dixie from time to time to see how things compare. I prefer to shop locally, but I'll be damned if I don't buy things from Amazon, too, and I'll shop at Winn-Dixie if it becomes the better option.  

Which brings me to the next Mid-City development – the Whole Foods going in at the corner of Bienville and Broad. That cannot happen quickly enough. I will admit that I am a Whole Foods slut. I shopped at the original store on Esplanade, and while circumstances have limited my patronage in the past couple of years, I still shop at Whole Foods at least once a month. The problem, from my perspective, is that I need to either go to the heart of Metairie's CBD – which is an unholy cluster of mall and fast food and God knows what – or try to squeeze into the tiny parking lot at the Uptown location. When the Mid-City location (and yes, kids, it's Mid-City) at Broad and Bienville opens, I'll be in Fat City, and I do not mean that literally because if I did I'd be at the Metairie location. I haven't heard much in the way of negatives about the new Whole Foods location, apart from a few paranoiacs talking about how dangerous it will be to shop there. The construction of the medical complex between the CBD and Mid-City and the potential for additional development in that area has changed the landscape in more than a literal sense. There's no way a Whole Foods would have been feasible for that address a few years ago, but now? Now I'm going to be living close enough to jog to a Whole Foods. I mean, if I jogged.

God bless America, and God bless the market forces that are bringing free-range, organic arugula to my neighborhood.

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