Through the eccentric lens of the life and times of John Schwegmann, The People’s Grocer presents a unique perspective on Crescent City history. Opening with a rare gambit, it begins in the Bywater, a less-than-glamorous neighborhood downriver from the French Quarter originally set aside under American rule to house the city’s labor pool.
After surveying the Bywater’s surprising development over roughly a hundred years, The People’s Grocer expands its historical scope to encompass the entire Big Easy. Here it finds a metropolis expressing what was in essence a renaissance—as artistic and business magic happened in the aftermath of prohibition, depression, and war.
But alas, the brilliance of the city’s postwar cultural and economic efflorescence was not to last much past the 1950s. For by 1960, suburban expansion had begun to break down the spirit of unity that made the New Orleans renaissance possible. The Crescent City’s already complex polity became even more tempestuous.
Into this maelstrom sailed John Schwegmann, whose out-of-the-blue twenty-year political career as an outspoken conservative and populist crusader serves to cast some much-needed light on murky power struggles that occurred in New Orleans and Louisiana from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. Indeed, the illuminating account contained in The People’s Grocer of Schwegmann’s weird passion for politics may well turn out to be this book’s most valuable contribution to regional history.