Wood County businesses outline plans for development grants

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Wood County will be seeing a surge in economic growth and development thanks in part to $50,000 in grant money handed out by the Wood County Economic Development Commission and a lot of hard work. Expect to see great things from these locals.

Hidden Pines Venue in Mineola, co-owned by Jim and Robbie Wallis and their daughter Brandy Kellenberger, is in its first stages of development.  The idea for a wedding venue and event center was born two years ago after a family member got married and requested the help of his aunts to decorate the venue. It was nice, but not a climate controlled venue. On the night of the wedding, guests huddled in their coats against nine degree temperatures.  Robbie and Brandy decided they could have something different to offer people looking for a local venue.

Hidden Pines will host weddings, business events, graduations, proms, dances, quinceaneras and more. “Our goal is to provide a multipurpose facility in a quiet, peaceful setting,” says Wallis. The 4,000-square-foot building on 75 acres will have a front portico with a large parking area. Along one side will be French doors and a 15x80 covered patio. Downstairs will include a kitchen, storage, handicapped accessible bathrooms and open space for events. The central stairway will lead guests upstairs to a balcony, bridal suite, grooms quarters and an outside deck.  

The building itself will be contemporary and modern, leaving patrons the ability to decorate as they desire. “We’re not going for the barn look,” says Kellenberger. “It will be a clean pallet with nice clean lines.” There will also be a dedicated area outside for ceremonies, with an archway and a view of the piney woods.  

“We want economic development here.  We’ve met with event planners and talked to caterers already,” says Wallis. They plan to work with local businesses to offer packages that could include photography, catering, music and entertainment, floral services and travel packages.  

If all goes well, they want to expand to quarterly dances with bands and build some guest houses.  

Electricity has been established and the pad work has been done. Construction on the building will start Oct. 1. They hope to be finished by February and begin booking events in March.  

Speakeasy Coffeehouse, on the square in Quitman, will be expanding with the grant money. The building is 5,000-square-feet, only half of which has been usable. The upstairs area that was a hotel and speakeasy in the past has not had updates or renovations since the 1920s.  

Kelly and Rodney Keike will be installing ductwork and an air conditioning and heating unit, doubling the space available to patrons.

As of now, parties and celebrations are limited to after hours, but with the expansion of space, guests will have more accessible options.

Since its inception, the mission of the owners has remained the same – to create an environment of creativity and community while doing their part to be a driving energy needed to help rebuild the downtown community they love.

They will continue on their journey of connecting the citizens of the community. The walls upstairs have been removed, opening up the space as an extension of downstairs. The Speakeasy will offer art classes, after-school tutoring of math and literacy, yoga classes and self-empowerment classes. Kelly’s desire is to continue building community connection through luncheons, meetings, parties and reunions.  

They also want to have a place with more seating for Friday and Saturday night activities such as live music and plays and hope to involve more teens in the community by having One Act Play students do skits. 

The updates are about more than just improving the business. Keike views the Speakeasy as a ministry.

“The coffee is good here, but what draws people is the ability to escape and connect,” she said. “We are successful because people can come in and be loved and get away from the nonsense.”

Renovations should be complete by spring.

Also in Quitman, Your Appetites will be using its grant money to replace equipment that is either going out or breaking, including a four-foot cold table and a bread mixer.  

Since opening in February 2018, Your Appetites has had a steady line of patrons daily.  “We’re talking about expansion but its not in the works yet,” says Shannon Wood.

Doc Cooper Farms in Golden is undergoing a revitalization. They will be using the grant money to continue the rehabilitation of this charming home built in 1896. It’s a labor-intensive project with approximately $97,000 spent to date on the restoration.  

Much work has been done including removing the chimneys, running all new electricity, rebuilding all the porches and repairing the foundation of this historical home.  

The owners plan to live upstairs in Ethel, the name they have lovingly given the home in honor of the past owner. Downstairs, they will have a small venue, able to accommodate 100-200 people. “Whatever your need is, we will accommodate.”  

Guests will be able to enjoy weddings, baby showers, live music, farm to table dinners, celebration dinners and more in a quaint setting that takes you back to bygone days.  

For owner Valarie Kerby, moving to the farm and living on the property is like coming home. “We want to bring people back to small home town.  Let’s have some sweet tea and talk about some history.”

Doc Cooper Farms intends to be open for business in the spring. Follow their progress at www.facebook.com/doccopperfarm/.

The Retired Teachers Association of Wood County is excited about the grant money they received to buy books for students. For the last eight years, the retired teachers have been reading and donating books to the first graders of Wood County schools. The program was started in Mineola and branched out to Hawkins.  They have included Quitman for three years and Yantis for two years in the program.  The goal is to expand to Alba-Golden and Winnsboro soon.

The retired teachers do not just drop off books to be handed out to the students. Instead, they aspire to read to each child individually the book of their choice, and then send that book home with them.

“If I was a child, it would mean more if the book was read to me and then given to me,” says Jeanie Stiles, book project chairman and treasurer.   

This is the third time the Retired Teachers Association has received a grant from WCEDC to purchase books. This year, they received $1,500, more than ever.  

Years ago, Stiles would go to garage sales, library sales and other book sales to purchase used books for the program. This meant a lot of time erasing and cleaning up books before handing them out. With the grant money, they are able to purchase new books for the students.  

Now, she orders books from Scholastic Book Club through a local teacher.  This ensures better book pricing, and the teacher earns points to get things for their classroom.  

Each retired teacher involved goes to one classroom a month. Stiles said they enjoy going because it “brings the classroom back to us.”  

In addition to the book program, Stiles also spends one day a week at Mineola schools helping with the literacy program.

“I have seen how individual time increases confidence and helps them,” Stiles says of the students with whom she works.  

Businesses in Alba, including Alba Cafe, Guys & Dolls Hair Salon, the EDC,  and Monkey Trunks, received over half the grant money given by the WCEDC.

Alba Cafe will be using its portion of the grant to buy new coolers and replace outdated equipment.

“Right now, our walk-in cooler is costing us more money than it’s worth,” says Jonathan Mize, co-owner of the cafe. 

They will be tearing out the walk-in cooler and replacing it with commercial coolers that have a better warranty. They are also updating the kitchen and getting a new waffle iron.  

Co-owner Kathy Reynolds says they are updating but have no plans for expanding the business or changing the hours.  

Guys & Dolls Hair Salon, owned by Amber Bates, will continue updates.  She has already redone the interior, added clothing and jewelry and replaced the outdated A/C unit. With the grant money, she will be replacing the roof and ceiling. Eventually, she plans to change the store front.

The salon has been in Alba for 22 years, and is an established business. “We’re slowly updating. It’s hard with such an old building,” says Amber, but progress is still being made.   

The Alba Economic Development Corporation is working on revitalizing the downtown area and enhancing the park with grants. The WCEDC grant will aid in completing the concrete parking spaces at the Alba library and museum.  

A grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife is being used to add new playground equipment to the city park.

“We’ve ordered the equipment and it should be installed by the end of November,” states Lindy McCarty, city secretary.

An asphalt walking path around the perimeter of the park has also been added, making the area a nice place for families to spend time walking and playing.  

Monkey Trunks, a new restaurant owned by Ben Hartin, will be opening soon in Alba with help from the grant money.

“I’ve been cooking for groups for a long time,” says Hartin, and he’s ready to start something new in his life. Monkey Trunks will start off as a Friday and Saturday night taco restaurant with other seasonal, off-menu items available too.  

They are pouring concrete this week and hope to be open for business soon.

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