The corner of North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue once majored in drug dealing and prostitution. Women of the night would ply their trade in the shadow of three rough-and-tumble bars, and a seedy theater featured hard-core pornographic movies. It was not a place to open a grocery store.
But Mission Waco has changed that intersection, and the transformation continued Thursday with the grand opening of Jubilee Food Market. It is a nonprofit grocery to serve a neighborhood located more than two miles from the nearest full-service grocery — the H-E-B at Park Lake Drive and North 19th Street.
Mission Waco executive director Jimmy Dorrell and his team raised more than $500,000 to renovate an old Safeway store, stock it with fresh produce, meats, canned goods, household items and even Blue Bell ice cream, and invited those living nearby or across town to fill their shopping baskets and support a cause.
More than 150 people Thursday crowded around the store, painted in pastel colors, that Dorrell hopes will give residents a healthy alternative to convenience stores in the area. It had opened quietly three days before Thanksgiving, with the seven staffers working out kinks in the price-scanning system, stocking and restocking the shelves and greeting a steady stream of customers most days. Dorrell emceed the grand opening, introducing the Brook Avenue Elementary School choir, which sang holiday favorites; and acknowledging the Mission Waco board of directors, staff, special guests and the “dream team” of contractors and grocery planners who helped make Jubilee possible.
Leslie Sweet, a public relations staffer for the H-E-B Grocery chain, attended the ribbon cutting and praised the work of Dorrell and Mission Waco. Dorrell spotted her in the crowd and motioned for her to make her way to the microphone, joking that he had no intention of running H-E-B out of Waco with Jubilee Food Market.
“We would love to serve all of you all the time, but we know we can’t,” said Sweet, addressing the crowd. She said H-E-B recognizes the need for neighborhood groceries that can provide convenience and fair prices to those living nearby, some of whom are older and with limited transportation options.
‘A saint on Earth’
If anyone can make such a venture work, she said, it is Dorrell, whom she described as “a saint on Earth.”
Mission Waco will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year, and in that time it has created an oasis of a different kind at North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue, opening there the World Cup Cafe, Jubilee Theatre and Fair Trade Market.
Mission Waco placed its headquarters at that corner and began breathing life into life-changing programs, with God’s help, Dorrell said, to feed the hungry, provide temporary shelter for the homeless, get addicts into drug treatment and train those in need of jobs.
Mission Waco and its Church Under the Bridge bring the gospel and meals to those who meet Sundays under the Interstate 35 overpass at South Fourth Street, near Baylor University.
Now, with the opening of Jubilee Food Market, Dorrell said he thinks another need has been met.
Doris Washington, 53, who lives within walking distance of the grocery, said she believed in the cause strongly enough to pass out 500 fliers to her neighbors.
“I love it,” she said of the store. “I remember when me and my daughter-in-law were walking by this place, and we asked the people standing outside what it was going to become. We were told they were considering several things, and I said: ‘Please make it a grocery store. We really need one.’ ”
Dorrell said he invited residents to gather and have their say, and those who attended overwhelmingly voted to turn the old building into a grocery. He said he negotiated with the previous owner for more than four years, but a deal remained elusive because of the asking price that Dorrell considered excessive.
Still, Dorrell remained dogged in pursuing the place, which long after Safeway left had become a convenience store attracting patrons with eight- liners and 40-ounce bottles of beer, and which charged “predatory” prices for its snacks and food products.
“Bread was $3 a loaf, and you could find it anywhere else for 85 cents,” Dorrell said.
Finally, a storm, which Dorrell vows was not an answer to a prayer, knocked a hole in the roof of the store, and the owners went looking for Dorrell to make a deal.
Dorrell said he has no hard feelings for H-E-B or Wal-Mart, which have chosen to place their locations on busy roadways away from residential areas.
“These are great people,” said Dorrell, noting Wal-Mart also made a monetary contribution to the Jubilee Grocery project.
But the need remains for neighborhood markets with healthy food at decent prices in grocery wastelands such as that near North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue.
Sue Goodwin, 60, and her daughter, Samantha Jones, 37, own North Waco Tropical Fish, 1521 N. 15th St, next door to Jubilee Food Market.
“We’ve been in business since the ’70s, and we’ve seen a lot of changes,” Goodwin said. “What Mission Waco has done for this neighborhood is amazing.”
She said her grandchildren, ages 4 and 13, already beat a path to the new grocery next door to buy pears and candy.
“I know a place that size does not have the buying power of an H-E-B,” Goodwin said. “But the prices are good for a small community grocery store.”
Store manager Darrell Wickert predicts the store will generate about $17,000 a week in sales, though others have told him that figure is underestimating its potential.
John Redden, 94, who has lived on Colcord Avenue “about 50 some-odd years,” said the new store is “quite handy,” and he was impressed by its cleanliness and order.
He uses a cane to get around, so he likely will take his car to the store when he needs a few items. He bought canned salmon and bananas Thursday.
“I’m a good driver,” said Redden, wearing a World War II cap, “if people stay out of my way.”
Tommye Lou Davis, former chief of staff for President Ken Starr at Baylor University who also serves as vice president for constituent engagement, attended Thursday’s grand opening of Jubilee and toured the store afterward. She said Baylor contributed to fundraising efforts but declined to reveal the amount.
“Jimmy Dorrell is a great asset to this community,” she said. “He is one person who can make a difference in the world, not just Waco.”