Eyesore Becomes Center for Education and Entrepreneurs
A building that was once a neglected neighborhood pharmacy, eyesore, as well as a hangout for unemployed men who spent their days on milk crates, is giving a New Orleans neighborhood a needed, new and improved look. The old, beige, dull and depressing building with a tattered roof and crumbling façade has been replaced by a brand new green and yellow concrete building that is part office and part community center. At the intersection of North Galvez Street and Piety Street sits the Entergy Innovation Center. “Small businesses are the backbone of the city,” says Connie Jacobs, owner of Unlimited Communications. Unlimited Communications sells cell phones and serves as a bill-pay center for residents.
The overall goal of the center is to serve as a business connector and provide self-help services like free financial seminars, computer literacy courses and job training sessions. Through a partnership with educators, volunteers and business owners, the center can set a tone of self-reliance in a part of the city where Katrina’s baggage is still ever present. It’s not out of the ordinary to walk down a block and find trees sitting in the middle of the road or see homes leaning to the side, as if they’re waiting for a strong wind to topple them onto the ground. Still, none of it deters or distracts those who believe the community deserves a fair chance at reshaping its image. “We partnered with community groups and activists in the neighborhood to make sure that what was coming to the Entergy Center met the needs of the people, not necessarily the business owners,” says Jo Ann Minor, building manager and business consultant.
“We got here and nothing was standing,” says Jacobs. These days, she’s reaping the benefits of her decision to return home and is optimistic about the future.“Business is good,” says Jacobs. “I hope the city comes back and more entrepreneurs hire local people,” she adds.
Minor believes business owners like Jacobs’ may shift the focus and serve as an encouraging symbol for those uncertain about returning to New Orleans. To fill the open rental slots and get the word out, Minor is a walking advertising machine for the center. “I go out to the bus stop that’s right outside our door and I tell people about what we have going on here at the center,” says Minor.
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