To mark StoryCorps’ 20th Anniversary we are revisiting classic conversations from the past two decades with updates from the participants.

This story is from New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. The neighborhood was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and was slow to recover. Almost 10 years after the storm it still didn’t have a single grocery store.

Lower Ninth Ward resident Burnell Cotlon wanted to change that. He saved money by working at fast food restaurants and dollar stores and used it to buy a dilapidated building on an empty block, and opened a neighborhood grocery. 

In 2015 he told his mother, Lillie, how his story started in the days after the flood…


Produce, snacks, and a picture of the building before it was renovated at ‘Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market’, New Orleans, Louisiana. By Ian Spencer Cook for StoryCorps. Photo of original building courtesy of Daniel Schergen, who helped renovate it.


Burnell Cotlon and customers in his store in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana in September, 2023. Courtesy of Burnell Cotlon.


Top Photo: Lillie Cotlon and Burnell Cotlon in front of Burnell’s store, ‘Burnell’s Lower Ninth Ward Market’ in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 19, 2015. By Ian Spencer Cook for StoryCorps.


This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired September 22nd, 2023, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

First story aired on August 8th, 2015 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This story is featured in Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, a collection that celebrates the passion, determination, and courage it takes to pursue the work we feel called to do from Penguin Books.