By Cory Sparks
Louisiana Association of Non-Profit Organizations

When Tommye Myrick and Phyllis Johnson bought the building on Franklin Avenue in New Orleans, it was knocked lopsided by the waters of Katrina. They turned it into The JuJu Bag Cafe, one of the first businesses to open in that part of Gentilly. Residents living in nearby trailers came to enjoy coffee and wireless service while they rebuilt. Over the years the JuJu Bag has remained a gathering place, holding community events, book signings, and live jazz in the rear courtyard shown above.

In recent months, The JuJu Bag has hosted two meetings of an emerging merchants association that is working to strengthen the rebuilding Gentilly area. Gentilly is a vibrant part of New Orleans with more than twenty neighborhoods, four universities and three commercial thoroughfares. Unfortunately, business development has lagged residential recovery in the area. Gentilly is seriously underserved in its retail needs.

The merchants association is the vision of David Baker, Web and Associate Editor for The Louisiana Weekly newspaper. The Louisiana Weekly and the JuJu Bag are business members of the organizing group, along with Chinese Tea Garden, Sweet Savors Bakery, Merlin’s Place (now Fleury of Wings), and Gentilly Vision Source, among others.

Capital One Bank has provided funds to LANO to support the development of the merchants association. The goal is to create a best-in-class group that will make a measurable difference in Gentilly.

The association will promote business retention, increase the diversity of stores, and decrease the volume of blight and vacant commercial property. All of these efforts will help to keep more revenue circulating within the community. Working with elected officials and neighborhood associations, the businesses will play a critical part in promoting a more prosperous community.

For more information about this project, ways to create an association like it in your area, or nonprofit start up tools, contact Dr. Cory Sparks, Director of LANO New Orleans.

Read original post on the LANO’s blog at