They Never Forgot Where They Came From…

Whole Foods Bin


Rob Hill
Director, Community Donations
Goodwill Central Texas

On Memorial Day, 1981, I was 12. I remember being at the Capitol that day – my mom worked next door, and, with school out, I wandered over there with the intention of just walking in and becoming a page. Somehow, I was allowed to hang out with a bunch of older kids that had known and done all the bits necessary to actually get a spot as a page, and I tagged along as we delivered stuff through tunnels under the Capitol Complex, to avoid the torrential rains.

I remember that night and the next day, realizing the full scope of the destruction and loss of life. 13 people died. I mostly saw the destruction along Lamar: the cars washed out of dealerships, Louis Shanks and Strait Music ruined, the creek rising by Hut’s Hamburgers. For an Austinite, that flood is lore, a critical memory: it’s our “Great Blizzard of ’01”, our “Big Twister of ’56”.

Whole Foods 1981

At 10th and Lamar, in a sturdy, unassuming little brick building, a small grocery store, just eight months old, was ruined. $400,000 in damage. No insurance. It being just a very slightly more George Bailey-esque time, “creditors, vendors, and investors all provided breathing room for the store to get back on its feet.” Whole Foods Market reopened in just 28 days. With a party, of course, featuring “Beer and Tea and Music”.

In the 1990s, Whole Foods moved on up the hill, twice. It became a central part of my Austin life, and has always been the headquarters to the running group I’ve coached for eight years. The sturdy, unassuming little brick building at 10th and Lamar later became one of my favorite places, home to my friend Jason’s Cheapo Records, from 1998 to 2012. In 2014, it became a Goodwill store, retaining the murals and art, and, I believe, the high-water mark on the northeast corner of the building.

This Monday, exactly 34 years after the worst flood in 70 years, after even heavier rains, Shoal Creek overcame the sturdy, unassuming little brick building once again, caving in the front door, and destroying equipment and inventory.

In 34 years, Whole Foods has gone from 1, to 419 locations; from 19 employees, to 90,000. They’ve taken their positive environmental and community impact global. But they’ve always stayed close to home, and they’re reaching back down Lamar to help, with a million dollars in loans to affected businesses – like Goodwill gives, and like they got in 1981, they’re not giving a handout, but a hand up.

And, no doubt partially from love for their childhood home, they immediately agreed to host one of Goodwill Central Texas’ new donation bins, to help fill the gap until we can get the store cleaned up and back online.

This morning, planting the bin at the flagship store on 6th and Lamar, history swirled around me. The 12 year-old and the 46 year-old, the 1 year-old hippie health food store and the global grocery giant, had all stared out at the flood waters and the aftermath together. I felt and heard the whisper of 34 years of change in this city, and in Whole Foods Market, and in my own life, fanning past like a flip book animation, and I was reminded that there are some things that are constant, and meaningful, even in an ever-changing city, even in an aging life.

My Whole Foods contact copied me on an email last night, and I read down the internal thread. It started with a short email, with the call to action, “Can we make this happen for our neighbors at Goodwill?” Everything that followed was, “we’ll make it happen.” The tone was clear, and I knew it was the same tone of unquestioning determination and sense of home that no doubt sounded in the flooded, sturdy, unassuming little brick building down the hill, 34 years ago.



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Ella, May 27, 2015

One of my favorite GW’s to shop and was there last Sunday.
Glad to see such great support in our city.

jeannie kelso, May 29, 2015

So poignant and well written.  Having a daughter who works at WF, and another that works in Austin, I feel like this is my family, too. I grieve with those who have felt loss, and I rejoice in the hope and rebuilding that defines a community and strengthens that community.  May God with with you during these trying times.

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