VALDOSTA — Very soon, a sign will be affixed atop the newest business in District 2. It will communicate more to residents than just the store’s name, Mr. B’s Market; it will serve as a beacon to other entrepreneurs that the district is waiting with open arms for future economic development.

When renovation of the former bowling alley on North Lee Street began in September 2005, it was the first sign of economic development the community had seen in many years. Market owner Jesse Billingsley had big plans for the old building. He felt the residents of District 2 had been underserved for too long and intended to give them an IGA to be proud of.

He certainly did. When Billingsley opened the doors to his market Tuesday, each customer walked through the automatic doors and across the glossy tile floor with a stunned look that quickly melted into a smile.

They had just left their cars in the newly paved, attractively landscaped parking lot before entering through the doors to witness aisle after aisle of perishable items perfectly organized. Customers saw colorful produce neatly arranged on one side of the store and fresh meats proudly displayed on the other.

All 15,000 feet of retail space was spotless. Billingsley’s plan is to provide a clean environment in which shopping is simple and maintenance is easy. As a full-service grocery store, Mr. B’s offers an assortment of perishable items, both frozen and non-frozen. There is even a special section with Hispanic foods.

Fresh meat is the store’s specialty. Beef, chicken and pork are prepared, cut and packaged daily in the store by close to 10 full-time employees. Scott Griswold is the meat market manager and is primarily responsible for the tasty cuts displayed in the refrigerated cases on the left side of the store.

Reason Porter, produce manager, is accountable for the leafy greens and bright fruits available in the produce department.

These men, along with store manager David West and assistant manager Craig Lokey, join Billingsley’s management team in an effort to provide flawless service to the people of District 2.

“It has been satisfying just to open the doors,” Billingsley said. “It is something I’ve anticipated for a long time, so now I feel satisfaction and relief.”

He has been planning this store for many years, though the actual renovation only took about five months.

Cauthan Construction is the company responsible for the wonderful transformation. Billingsley was pleased with the work performed and claims Cauthan will be the first place he calls the next time.

“We were just a little behind schedule, mostly because we decided to install tile instead of leaving concrete floors. But I’m happy with the decision and I’m very pleased with how things turned out,” he said. “(Cauthan) will be the first one I call next time, if there is a next time —who knows! I guess that depends on this store’s success.”

Success comes with pleasing customers, a job at which Billingsley is an expert. He continues to hear praises of his new store, many coming from shoppers who previously frequented his first store.

Donna Thomas, District 2 resident, claims to love Mr. B’s IGA on Hill Avenue, but admits it is often hard to get there. She is glad to have such a fine store so close by.

“I love it. I’m very glad they are here,” she said. “Now, if I had to get here without a car, I can just ride my electric scooter.”

She is not alone. Councilmen James Wright and Willie Head both commented on their excitement to see economic growth in District 2 in a previous story.

“I think that it is certainly an economic stimulus for the district,” Head said. “(Billingsley) has taken a building that was a big, empty box and is turning it into a viable business that will create a number of jobs. I think once folks see this business moving in, they will have confidence in the community.”

Wright agreed: “I think it will be a positive attraction to other business.”

The men also said they believe IGA will be successful at this location due to the volume of people in the area and to the owner’s way of conducting business.

Billingsley has planned for a grand opening the first two weeks in March, so expect sales. Also expect a clean, well-organized facility that will make you say “wow” upon entering. Expect to be greeted by friendly employees and other happy guests. Expect an overall, great experience.

“We are open and proud to be here,” Billingsley said as a message to the residents of District 2. “We would like to have the opportunity to serve you.”

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