Fifty years ago, Marie Henderson’s dad closed up his gas station at the corner of Main Street and Ashland Avenue in Lexington.
Today, his daughter, who used to run around the station site with her brother Ralph wearing child-size attendant uniforms, is operating the new Henderson’s Eclectic Emporium in the same spot.
Judy’s Garden Shop was on the site for more than 20 years. Before that, the site hosted a liquor store, and before that the Henderson family’s service station.
Henderson, a theater costumer among many jobs she’s held over the years, was helping with costumes at Transylvania University when she told a colleague she was was going to stop by Judy’s Garden Shop on the way home.
“I’m going to stop by Judy’s and get some local honey and see if Judy was ready to sell,” she joked.
Judy McCreary and her husband Bob opened Judy’s Garden and Produce Shop in 1995. A zone change request for the property that would have allowed its development as a five-story mix of retail, office and residential units fizzled in 2006.
Henderson’s jest was no joke. She found on her stop at Judy’s that Judy had retired, and landowner Tyler Prewitt was pinch-hitting running the store. Henderson thought she would love to take over, then talked herself out of it. Briefly.
Henderson’s Eclectic Emporium opened June 26 and she is running the business with the help of a couple of friends. Fortunately, she has retail experience, having worked in retail businesses large and small.
She plans to do things differently at the former Judy’s site, she said. Worried that a garden center won’t make enough for rent at that high-profile corner, she’s planning to switch up the retail model, starting off by adding light around the building and removing some of the detritus from the parking lot.
A room where Henderson’s father had his service station office is going to become a gallery for local artists, including a potter, jeweler, woodworker, photographer and crochet artist, she said.
A vegetarian food truck also wants to sell on site, Henderson said. She may even add picnic tables.
To make her vegetables really fresh, she is teaming with James Massa, chief executive officer of SuperGrow, on nearby Central Avenue.
Currently, they are growing organic Romaine, spring mix, arugula and basil in a corner of the store. Eventually, there will be 40 feet of fresh vegetables sprouting beneath grow lights so that Henderson’s customers can get a truly fresh tomato in the depths of winter.
“What I’m hoping is that we’ll become invaluable to the neighborhood,” Henderson said.
At the moment, the store sells everything from cheese to decorative parasols to make-your-own gift baskets to fried pies from a lady in Crab Orchard.
If you want tomatoes, Henderson has them in both traditional red and heirloom varieties with a sample of three tomato varieties at the register. She’s planning to have fewer flowers but more vegetables, she said.
Massa said that the neighborhood is taking to Henderson because she is customer-service driven. When someone makes a request Henderson finds the item, be it varieties of heirloom tomatoes or, coming soon, items such as bread and country ham, as well as fatback to use in preparing green beans.
“She’s doing something fresh and different here,” Massa said. “The neighborhood’s responding to her, and the effort she’s putting in.”