Pastor Tom Atchison’s work with those down on their luck has led him to many places, but never did he think he would find his calling at a Texaco car wash and convenience store.
As Pastor of the New Beginnings Church in Tampa, Fla., Atchison also runs a program called New Beginnings, which provides transitional housing and employment for those recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, as well as for children who have aged out of the foster care system at 18 and are starting out on their own as adults. But it’s just this line of work that inspired him to open a c-store.
With the economy down, Atchison began finding it increasingly difficult to find jobs for members of the program. To combat the problem, New Beginnings decided to create its own businesses, including landscaping and home improvement, to help provide starter jobs for program members. New Beginnings got a much-needed boost from Joe Capitano, president of Radiant Oil, who was instrumental in helping them obtain a rundown Texaco station to use for their cause.
In March, Atchison began running a car wash on the property, and in June he opened the Texaco Food Mart, staffing the store with members of the New Beginnings program. In the course of a week, about 20 employees work 10-20 hours a week at the business. All answer to Atchison.
Most unconventional of all, Atchison runs the c-store with a unique twist. “The one thing we’re doing differently is that we don’t sell three of the industry’s biggest money makers. No alcohol, no cigarettes and no lottery,” Atchison said.
And, without working gas pumps, there are no gasoline sales either.
While many question how Atchison is going to stay afloat, he believes the decision will benefit the store in the long run. “A lot of people don’t want to see liquor and all these other things sticking out at them,” he said. “They don’t want to see a bunch of pornography behind the counter. They want to buy a snack or a drink without having to see that.”
The decision to eliminate these categories was a fairly simple one considering the goals of his program, Atchison said. “Now it looks like it might actually be a marketing tool to get people in our store because no one else has that,” he said. “In every other convenience store people who struggle with addiction have to walk past five (cooler doors) of beer.”
Response to the c-store has been mixed, “but it is appealing to a particular niche of the population—those who are opposed to drugs, alcohol, gambling and pornography, and for those who have had problems with it in the past and are in recovery,” Atchison said. “It’s a refreshing change for them to not have to see those things.”
With several categories off the table, beverages, candy and ice cream are driving sales. “We’ve been adding more products as we go, but it’s still new for us, so we’re learning as we go,” Atchison said.
For their part, employees are very excited. “It’s challenging,” Atchison said, “but hopefully some of them will be able to get jobs at other convenience stores once they’ve proved themselves here.”
As he works out the kinks, Atchison has an eye toward expansion. “Once we get this one stocked properly and to the point where we’ve increased sales, we would consider opening up another one to give more people a chance at proving themselves.”