Once flooded out and dried up, Smithwick is regrowing

DANIEL CLIFTON • EDITOR

Smithwick Market cashier Anna Moore checks out customer Vicki Amidon. The original market closed in 2010, but Rick and Joette Davis bought the property and fixed it up with the intention of leasing it out. However, after many inquiries about ‘re-opening’ the store, the couple did just that and opened Smithwick Market on Sept. 3, 2015. Now, locals and folks passing through or stopping at nearby Shaffer Bend Park have a place close by to pick up necessities. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Smithwick Market cashier Anna Moore checks out customer Vicki Amidon. The original market closed in 2010, but Rick and Joette Davis bought the property and fixed it up with the intention of leasing it out. However, after many inquiries about ‘re-opening’ the store, the couple did just that and opened Smithwick Market on Sept. 3, 2015. Now, locals and folks passing through or stopping at nearby Shaffer Bend Park have a place close by to pick up necessities. Staff photos by Daniel Clifton

SMITHWICK — Rick Davis only wanted to fix up the old Smithwick Market building on RR 1431 so he could rent it out.

“You know, maybe a store or a motorcycle shop? I don’t know,” he said. “But that’s all I wanted to do — lease it out.”

He never intended to open a store himself, but just about every day he was working on the building, someone would stop by and ask, “Are you re-opening the market?”

Davis, who also owns Davis Electric in Smithwick, still shakes his head at the question.

“I’m in the electric business,” he said with a smile as he stood among the stocked shelves at the reinvigorated Smithwick Market. “I never wanted to be in the store business.”

But as residents kept asking the questions and after connecting with three solid, future employees, Davis did just that. He and his wife, Joette, plunged headfirst into opening Smithwick Market on Sept. 3, 2015 — a year ago. They aren’t the original owners and knew little about retail, but they’re happy the store is theirs.

“It’s a fun place,” Joette said.

She and Rick know who to thank for their success: store manager Shelly Joslin and clerks Anna Moore and Shirley LaBounty.

“The people here are great, so friendly,” said customer Vicki Amidon, who works up the road at Hidden Falls Adventure Park. “It’s just so good the market is open again.”

It’s not the only business in town. About 50 feet from Smithwick Market’s front door is Travis and Debbie Schilling’s Cookin’ On Wood Pit BBQ. The couple opened the food trailer-style joint earlier this year. They serve up a variety of barbecue, including a meatloaf brisket (you really have to try it) as well as hamburgers and sausages. With the exception of the sausage, everything is brisket-based. The Schillings initially opened a sit-down barbecue restaurant less then a half-mile east of their current location, but they eventually had to shutter it.

‘RAIN BOMB’ DRIES UP TOWN

Travis and Debbie Schilling, owners of Cookin’ On Wood Pit BBQ in Smithwick, opened the food trailer-style venue earlier this year adjacent to the re-opened Smithwick Market. The small community east of Marble Falls felt the sting of the long drought as visitors to local parks dried up along with the Colorado River. But last year, new owners opened the market as water and visitors began to flow once again.

Travis and Debbie Schilling, owners of Cookin’ On Wood Pit BBQ in Smithwick, opened the food trailer-style venue earlier this year adjacent to the re-opened Smithwick Market. The small community east of Marble Falls felt the sting of the long drought as visitors to local parks dried up along with the Colorado River. But last year, new owners opened the market as water and visitors began to flow once again.

Stretched out along RR 1431 east of Marble Falls, the unincorporated Smithwick encompasses several miles. A big draw is the upper arm of the Colorado River, which eventually creates Lake Travis. On the river, the Lower Colorado River Authority maintains several parks, including Shaffer Bend Recreation Area with 523 acres that includes camping and a shoreline along the Colorado River.

The former market and the Schilling’s first restaurant offered visitors waystations for food, last-minute supplies and basic necessities. Plus, residents didn’t have to head into town if they only needed a few basics.

But the closures of the two businesses paint a picture of past struggles in the Smithwick community.

In 2007, the so-called “rain bomb” dumped approximately 19 inches of precipitation in a few hours on the Highland Lakes, causing unprecedented flooding. The floodwater tore up Smithwick roads, including portions of RR 1431. A length of the road was even closed between Lago Vista and Smithwick for about a week until waters receded enough to allow traffic to pass.

This forced drivers who typically drove 1431 between Marble Falls and Cedar Park to temporarily find another route. Then, Travis Schilling pointed out, road repairs caused traffic to decrease significantly.

Businesses like his restaurant and the market depended on that regular traffic for customers.

The Schillings hung on for awhile but eventually looked to greener pastures. Someone else had a go at where the restaurant was but also had to close shop.

Then the Colorado River in those parts dried up because of a prolonged drought. With just a trickle flowing down the river for several years, coupled with extended burn bans that often forbade campfires, visitors to parks such as Shaffer Bend dried up as well.

In late 2010, the previous Smithwick Market closed its doors.

“There was really no place for people to go,” said Joslin, the new market’s manager.

The market remained closed until the Davises purchased the property and began remodeling it, eventually giving into the demand for a store.

REVITALIZATION

Since opening a year ago, Rick Davis said daily sales have been climbing, but, he pointed out, there’s still room for growth.

But the biggest change, noted the Davises and their employees, is the effect on Smithwick’s residents.

“They are so glad we’re open,” Joslin said. “I think every day someone comes in and tells me that.”

As much as it’s a convenience for some, the Smithwick Market is almost a necessity for others who might not have regular transportation to Marble Falls.

That’s evident with some of the “transportation” customers use to get to the market, Joslin noted.

“We have some who come up here on their lawnmowers or tractors,” she said. “We even had someone ride their horse up here. So for some, they can’t always get into Marble Falls on a regular basis, but now they can come here.”

Joslin, who places the orders for the store, has kept the stock fairly basic with things people would typically find in a convenience store. But she’s looking to expand selection with fresh vegetables, fruit and some meat as the demand calls for it.

Outside the market, the Schillings realize attracting customers to their restaurant involves several things — especially awareness.

“A lot of people don’t know we’re here or even that the market is open,” Debbie said. “There’s been nothing here for so many years that people just drive by without realizing anything is here.”

But “here” they are.

The restaurant, which sits on a trailer that Travis enclosed, includes a pit, a kitchen and food prep space. Behind the restaurant is a covered, concrete patio with picnic tables.

The Schillings are no newbies to cooking, customer service and the restaurant business. After they closed their other restaurant, they ventured out to Livingston in East Texas, where they opened a barbecue place that featured live music — including some pretty substantial names in country music. But family brought them back to the Smithwick area, and after Rick and Joette Davis re-opened the market, the Schillings inquired about setting up their trailer on a nearby parcel of land owned by the Davises.

“It helps us both out,” Travis Schilling said. “People can stop in there, pick up something to drink, and if they’re hungry but don’t want to cook, come on over here, and we’ll take care of them.”

Debbie Schilling agreed with the Smithwick Market staff who see the store as a shot in the arm for the community.

“It has made a difference,” she said. “This is by no means a Marble Falls, and probably will never be, but for Smithwick, it’s really helped.”

Along with the market and barbecue place, Smithwick has Hidden Falls Adventure Park, Coldwater Creek RV Park, the Smythwick Castle and Lodge and the Heart of Texas Ranch and Wine Tour.

The Schillings are thinking about adding live music to the restaurant, but they know things don’t just magically happen.

“We’re taking baby steps right now,” Debbie said.

“Yep, just one thing at at time,” Travis agreed.

But there’s one thing on which the Schillings and the Davises agree: Things are looking up in Smithwick.

“A lot smiling faces in here,” Joette Davis said.

The Smithwick Market, 9135 RR 1431, is open 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

Cookin’ On Wood is open 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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