In August of 2015, Burnell Cotlon opened the first grocery store in the Lower 9th Ward since Hurricane Katrina. Over a year later, he opened the first laundry facility in the area. Burnell held the grand opening of the facility at his storefront grocery store, located on 2036 Caffin St.
Cotlon’s grand opening date of Sept. 15, 2016, is his one-year anniversary of his debut on the Ellen DeGeneres Show; and it is his mother’s birthday.
Over the last year, Cotlon amassed support to help fund his initiative to fill gaps in Lower 9th Ward businesses. Last Septemeber, television personality Ellen DeGeneres funded the equipment for Cotlon’s new laundry facility.
The new laundry facility has four washers and two dryers for public use.
The New Laundry Facility
The operation to expand Cotlon’s business into a laundry facility started over a year ago. “One guy came into my store one day and had a big garbage bag. And he always bought two things. He bought some soap powder and a Coca Cola,” Cotlon said.
“He opened up the garbage bag and it was filled with his clothes and his daughter’s dirty clothes. He said he was going to ride across the industrial canal to find a laundry room,” he added.
At that moment Cotlon decided he would open a laundry room, the store owner said. The store owner wrote television personality Ellen DeGeneres about his current mission and plans to open a laundry facility. On Sept. 15, 2015, DeGeneres flew Cotlon to Hollywood, CA, to share the story of his business. At the end of his segment Degeneres said she would underwrite the cost of Cotlon’s laundry machines, Cotlon said.
As of Sept. 15, 2016, Cotlon operates the only laundry facility in the Lower 9th Ward. Robert Green, a Lower 9th Ward resident since 1967, was the first customer to use Cotlon’s Laundry Facility.
“What this new laundry room does is tell people how resilient Burnell is and his ideas. It also show the need that we have down here,” Green said.
The new customer said that the nearest laundry room was too far to walk, and many times he depended on friends to help wash his clothes.
“We need more businesses like this, and we need more people to invest in the Lower 9th Ward,” Green added.
The Grocery Store Operation
Cotlon’s story started shortly after Hurricane Katrina. The businessman was able to rebuild his home after being devastated by the storm, but noted something in the community was missing.
“I saw the community was suffering. They didn’t have a grocery store. I called up all the big box stores and they said there wasn’t enough people,” Cotlon said.
The nearest grocery store, according to Cotlon, is Walmart, which is roughly three bus rides away from the Caffin neighborhood.
“It wasn’t about the numbers, it was the people who were suffering. So I said if they’re not going to do something, I’m going to do something,” he added.
Cotlon spent his life savings to build the store. He purchased a blighted 4 bedroom home and remodeled part of it into a window-operated grocery store. Over two years later, Cotlon saved enough money to expand from a window operation to a storefront.
“The look on some of the customers faces is epic. It’s a store that has a sense of home. The look on peoples face makes this all worth it,” Cotlon said.