By Garrett Lemery | email@example.com
Photos by Victoria Gruber
Nicole Smith has personal history with St. Augustine and particularly the Lincolnville neighborhood.
The store she runs today, the Corner Market, is a continuation of that. It’s Smith’s attempt to revitalize the neighborhood she grew up in.
“I moved away when I got married, and I realized during my visits back here that something had changed, so I came back to open this store,” Smith said about her store at 97 Martin Luther King Ave.
The building, once a library and a barbershop, has remnants of its former tenants. Smith has left the “Lincolnville Public Library” sign up on the side of the building, as well as bookshelves in the back to preserve the unique history.
Next door, her brother Tony runs a transformed barbershop that seeks to revitalize the community. The store has also welcomed famous guests.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. actually visited the store on one of his visits here, and members of the NAACP practiced their nonviolent protest techniques in the building as well,” she said.
Today, a historical plaque on the exterior of the building marks those events in order to bring more awareness.
“I think there’s always been a separation between downtown and Lincolnville which contributes to the unknown, more hidden history of Lincolnville,” she said. “Now, people are beginning to realize this side of the city’s history and are able talk about it more because of the efforts of those in the community to put up the plaques in different areas.”
Keeping the history alive is important for Smith. “We really don’t need to forget the history, because that’s why we are where we are, and it’s equally important to remember the history so we can continue fighting for the freedoms that they fought for,” she said.
Smith often shares the store’s history with customers, and that interaction helps her get acquainted with a neighborhood that’s constantly changing.
“It’s a great community, but it’s a changed community,” she said. “I think if you don’t talk about this sort of unknown history with other members of the community, it’s like how if only one person writes history, then that’s their side of history and they kind of change it how they want.”
Smith isn’t done with the store yet. She hopes to turn the back area into a patio with a setup for live music and other Sunday happenings.
Luckily, she’s had help along the way. Volunteers have helped Smith fix up the store, and she’s hopeful that the community can continue to help her business prosper.
“I would love to have different people all come out and plant flowers in recycled tires in the back, just to create more of an inclusion of the community and help me get to know others better,” Smith said.
“I also think live music out there would do this too because growing up there was always jazz on Sundays and I loved listening to it.”
Lively, local art decorates the walls of her store in an effort to highlight the talent of others in the area. The warm, loving nature of the store is encompassed through this art, as well as the soft jazz coming through the speakers.
An incorporation of live music from local artists would also provide a channel for more community inclusion and vitality that Smith strives to attain.
Smith provides more than just groceries at the market. Other wares include modern and thrifted clothing for resale, a range of baked goods coming primarily out of her her mother’s kitchen, along with a few of her own specialties such as boiled Cajun peanuts.
She also serves beet-related products and everyday necessities ranging from dish soap to mayonnaise. Her sense of entrepreneurship is always expanding, and she hopes to return some of that success to other entrepreneurs within the community.
Her creativity is evident throughout the store. Her beet-cranberry sauce, as well as sugared beets, taste nearly identical to candy. Her knowledge of beets has given her the title of “The Beet Lady” within the community. Even St. Augustine Mayor, Nancy Shaver, has referred to her by the nickname.
Smith’s beet fascination initially came about when she was low on iron and looking to change her diet. Though she once hated beets, that changed when her mother insisted she try some again. It was then that she started experimenting with a beet and relish hotdog topper.
“I ended up having two beet-relish hotdogs for lunch that day, and the rest is history,” Smith said.
The unique nature of Corner Market can be summed up through the experiences Nicole has had with her beets. It’s all about taking something old and adding an eclectic, fresh twist onto it. This notion extends to her fresh ideas and products, which have both been changing with her in ways.
“I’m growing with the store,” Smith said. “In a sense, it feels kind of new because I have all these new people around me.”