Driving down Washington Avenue for the past two decades, amidst the bars and “advanced” development popping up, one would see a community staple that has remained true to itself—and though October will mark the end of one era, it will also signal the genesis of new growth and opportunity.
Wabash Feed & Garden Store, the beloved country feed store at 5701 Washington Ave., is in the final stages of re-locating its services to an expanded property near 43rd Street and North Shepherd Drive after a nearly year-long ordeal which has seen the potential moving date postponed on multiple occasions, though owner Betty Heacker has continued to see a wealth of opportunity despite the constant setbacks.
Wabash sells organic edible plants and gardening supplies as well as yard decor, pet supplies, livestock and livestock feed, and has served the Washington Corridor since Heacker bought the property in 1987.
One goal for Wabash’s new location is expanding on several of the educational and community commitment aspects of the business. Heacker’s vision involves actively teaching residents urban homesteading skills as well as food storage and food preparation skills (how to dry food, how to can, how to pickle and how to ferment) which mesh with their client base’s shared values.
“It’s just farm-related activities that people can do in an urban setting,” she said. “A lot of our customers are very interested in not just eating organic food, but also leaving a smaller footprint, so they get involved in all kinds of recycling and gardening and make it a family event. They want to know where the food comes from.”
Despite her undying love for the Washington property and the memories it has provided for more than two decades, Heacker said she and her staff are eager to have the chance to “spread their wings” on the education front with the expanded location.
“I think it’s important to our customers to have a sense of being centered and grounded,” she said. “A lot of our customers are plugged into the social media side of their lives, but then you have this more spiritual side of things, and that’s where Wabash comes in.”
Circle of life
Despite the change, however, a sense of familiar destiny remains in the air for the beloved shop.
“When I bought this, it was a plumbing supply house,” she said of the Washington location. “The property we’re moving to on Shepherd? It’s a plumbing supply house.”
As luck would have it, the owner of the property at 43rd Street and North Shepherd from whom Heacker bought the space would be the son of the plumber who built the Washington location.
“When I found that out I was thinking this has to be destiny or something,” she said. But that is not the only parallel between the old and the new which leads her to believe the move had to have been in the cards.
“I’m also buying a piece of property in a neighborhood that has already seen its worst time (43rd/North Shepherd). This neighborhood (Washington Boulevard) was [also once] at its lowest ebb,” she noted. When Heacker received the permit to build, the permit granted to her was the first permit issued in the Washington Corridor in more than a decade.
Though she believes it unlikely the store will have the same density on North Shepherd as in its current location, Heacker maintains a belief that it will work out because it seems meant to be.
“We’re buying a plumbing supply shop in a transitioning neighborhood—it’s a small version of the circle of life,” she said, smiling.
The (hopefully) final countdown
Wabash began the process of moving in December of 2015 (though plans and engineering and things began even earlier, in October), closed on a buyer by January and received their first building permit for the new property in May. However, the date was postponed several times due to unforeseen circumstances. Heaker now believes that management’s original expectations for the move-in may have been slightly ambitious and naïve in hindsight, due to the unforeseen costs of remodeling and retrofitting a more than 50-year-old building with modern changes, such as lowering the property around them about five or six inches due to the slab being at grade.
“That’s stuff you don’t think about. When I was looking at the building, I wasn’t thinking about what it was going to cost to fix some of this up,” she said.
However, all seems to be in place for the time being. According to Heacker, the new move-in date is scheduled for Oct. 23, but for now it is simply one foot in front of the other.
“We’re going to try and be a good neighbor and I think we’re moving into an area where people are going to be happy to see us,” she said. “Moving a business five miles is a real gamble, because you know you’re going to lose at least some customers.”
That said, Heaker assured the public that serving their client base remains the priority, wherever such service occurs.
“You figure it’s going to take a little while for people to realize you’ve moved, and our situation has been that we can’t tell people when we’re moving in for sure,” she said. We’re going as fast as we can.”