Baylor University student Sarah Blair heads to her car after shopping at the aging H-E-B store on South 12th Street and Speight Avenue.

Staff photo— Jerry Larson

Plans to close the H-E-B grocery store on the edge of growing Baylor University as a new H-E-B Plus! arises a few miles away naturally raises a melancholy note for those who patronized the old store. Many Baylor students have found it convenient to stroll over to the store at North 12th Street and Speight Avenue to pick up a few items, then head back to their lodgings and campus life.

Some disappointed students interviewed by Trib staff writer Mike Copeland even cited trips to the store as a part of the “Baylor tradition.”

Yet, as both Baylor and Greater Waco evolve, change and improve our area’s quality of life and business environment, we suggest this latest grand scheme of things may offer silver linings. The 121,000-square-foot H-E-B opening this fall on the former University Middle School site on South Valley Mills Drive will hire several hundred folks, even as it shutters the store just off the Baylor campus as well as another modest-sized store (well, at least for H-E-B) at South Valley Mills and Dutton Avenue, near Floyd Casey Stadium.

Whatever else you can say, H-E-B’s larger stores resonate with locals, particularly if their successful stores in Bellmead, the Hewitt area and on Waco’s Wooded Acres Drive are any indication. The new store will be the largest local one yet. And besides employment and a wider variety of products offered in the Waco market, the San Antonio-based H-E-B remains a thoroughly engaged corporate neighbor, investing generously in area charitable causes.

The closing of the Baylor H-E-B offers another distinct opportunity — the possible establishing of a small grocery outlet downtown, something that a number of city leaders have discussed as pivotal as the Greater Downtown Waco Plan unfolds and more people consider living downtown or nearby.

In view of discussions on how to make the Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) more viable and downtown living more appealing, a small grocery store almost must be an integral part of any mix, whether it’s a brick-and-mortar offshoot of the successful Waco Downtown Farmers Market or some other enterprising operation.

One model might be a small grocery and restaurant we saw in downtown Fort Worth that sells basic items such as bread and milk, yet also markets cheeses, fresh vegetables and even an array of handmade U.S. beers. It also offers up breakfast, lunch and dinner on a modest and informal scale. You order at the front counter and your food (wraps, sandwiches, salads) is brought to your table.

In short, the closing of the Baylor-area H-E-B presents opportunities in terms of downtown development, especially as we seek how to further tighten bonds between downtown and the Baylor campus (including ongoing discussion on expanding shuttle service between the two in evening hours, when Baylor students are more likely to come to town to dine and shop). Meanwhile, many of us are left to eagerly ponder a new H-E-B Plus! In that sense, times ahead could offer much to nourish us.