By Jimmy Isaac/ Longview News Journal
Huey Smith Jr. said his convenience stores serve and build up their communities, but neighbors to his second location want him to take his services elsewhere.
Smith is CEO of This Our Store on Mobberly Avenue, which opened in March 2015. It sells groceries, household needs and other items like digital scales and grooming products.
On May 9, he opened This is Our Store Too 24 on Ridgecrest Drive off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It’s located in a strip center that once housed barber and beauticians’ shops, leather goods makers and other small businesses. But it’s been vacant for several years.
This is Our Store Too 24 has already attracted dozens, if not hundreds, of customers to the predominantly residential neighborhood — a fact that raises neighbors’ concerns.
“We don’t want to keep him from making a living. I’m for him making a legitimate decent living,” said Christine Lloyd, who’s lived in the house next door to the This is Our Store Too 24 location for nearly four decades. “We just don’t want it in our neighborhood. We’ve never needed a store in our neighborhood.”
Neighbors have started a petition, and they’ve taken their grievance to Longview City Council members. They complain the store has attracted late-night vagrancy, litter, noise disturbances and unwanted traffic.
“The place has been open one week, and we have noticed the traffic there,” said Dorothy Walker, who lives on nearby Blount Street. “We want the man to have his business, but not on Ridgecrest.”
Marie Edwards, who lives about three blocks away, puts it in harsher terms.
“It’s not a store for us. It’s just a drug haven, and we already know this,” she said. “We don’t want it, we don’t need it, and it will not help Longview.”
Not true, Smith said.
He has signs throughout the store telling customers that drug use, loud noise and weapons are not allowed. His store doesn’t sell alcoholic beverages or lottery tickets.
“We don’t have lotto because I know for a fact that there’s an addiction to it. I don’t have gambling because of the same thing. I don’t have beer and wine because of the scrutiny that’s coming from it,” he said.
Smith said his father, Dean Falls, owns the stores and several other business ventures in Longview and Seattle. Smith said there are even more neighbors who support his business. Monday morning, he gathered more than 200 signatures of his own, from people he said want him to remain.
His stores also register voters, he said, to give neighbors a voice in politics. And they give free sports drinks and bottled water to players on local youth sports teams after their games.
“We’re here to help build the community, not take it down,” Smith said. “If you don’t know me, then you just don’t know me. But if you get to know me, we are very respectful. We have a diverse crowd, as far as customers go. Employees, we have black, white, Mexican. It’s all here that they’re looking for. It’s here.”
Last August, This Our Store was the site of an officer-involved shooting. According to Longview police, 17-year-old Joshua Kennon Thomas was shot by officer John Delgado after Thomas produced what appeared to be a handgun. Police later determined Thomas had a carbon dioxide-powered pistol that uses compressed air to fire projectiles similar to a BB or pellet gun.
Thomas was treated and released from a local hospital. The officers were later cleared of any wrongdoing by a Gregg County grand jury.
Neighbors of This is Our Store Too 24 say that incident is an example of what makes them fearful.
“They’ve already had a shooting (at This Our Store on Mobberly Avenue),” said Renee Anthony, who lives on Blount Street. “The clientele that’s over there, it’s going to come over (to Ridgecrest Drive).”
Bertha Armstrong, who lives six doors down on Ridgecrest, said she has seen people smoking in cars in the store’s parking lot.
“I have grandkids. We have elders in the neighborhood, single mothers,” Armstrong said. “We want that store out of our neighborhood. It’s bringing down our neighborhood anyway. … It’s just trouble waiting to happen.”
Smith said some neighbors simply haven’t given his store a chance. The officer-involved shooting is the only assault to have occurred at his store, he said.
“We have accounts set up with all of the elderly people to come in and to just sign and walk out the door with all of their items until they get their check on the first or the third or the fourth, which is something they don’t do at other stores. If you come to this store and your credit card is declined, what are you going to do? Walk out the door and take it with you, and you can pay us back later,” Smith said. “What I’m telling you is, we’re with the community.”
But for some neighbors, they would prefer he were with another community.
“It can be moved somewhere else that’s more suitable for it,” Lloyd said.