After a Year, A Light at the End of the Tornado Tunnel

To look at the moonscape that is the southeast corner of Preston and Royal a year after an EF3 tornado struck it, it may seem like there is still a lot to be done.

“Four of our leaders had shepherded 40 customers into the dairy cooler and the meat cooler, and it protected all 40 of those shoppers and other members of our team,” Stephen Butt, president of H-E-B/Central Market Division recalled, adding that when he saw the news of the tornado he called each of the stores in the potential path.

The store on East Lovers Lane answered.

The store at Midway and Northwest Highway answered.

“Preston Royal, just silence,” he said.

But on Monday, representatives from Central Market’s parent company HEB joined with Dallas officials to celebrate a bit of good news – the neighborhood grocery store will be open this spring, and Regency Centers central region director Patrick Krejs says the beloved stores that were once home in the Preston Oaks shopping center will be back sometime next summer.

“We could have reopened our store in early December if we chose to, but because we planned to expand the building and add about 4,000 square feet, and have curbside expanded, produce, other things that have been reported, we elected to take additional time to where we could finish our building and be complete for a mid-April or early May opening,” Butt said. “We’re very excited for that.”

Butt said that many of the 140 employees who are now working at other Central Market locations will return.

“I’m pleased to be able to announce here today, a projected construction completion date of June 2021,” Krejs said. “At that time, we’ll be turning over the rebuilt shopping center to our merchants, for them to start their interior build-out.

“Our goal is to have them open and operating for next holiday season.”

Krejs said that so far, Preston Road Animal Clinic, I Heart Yogurt, Hollywood Feed, Fish City Grill, Sample House, Marco’s Pizza, Talbots, Tip Top Cleaners, and the Pedi Spa will return.

But perhaps the biggest news came in the form of a big check to the Dallas Education Foundation to help the students in the three schools hardest hit by the tornado – Thomas Jefferson High School, Cary Middle School, and Walnut Hill Elementary.

“HEB wants to present you and the Dallas Education Foundation with a gift of a million dollars to go tour the rebuilding Thomas Jefferson High School and Walnut Hill,” Butt told Dallas ISD superintendent Michael HInojosa.

“Wow. Wow. And that’s a, wow … my staff knows that I’m in pursuit of, wow, this is a wow moment,” a beaming Hinojosa said.

“If anyone knows me, you know, that I’m rarely ever without words – I do like to speak, and I’m going to… first of all, echo Dr. Hinojosa’s comment, which was ‘wow.’ This is incredible,” said Dallas Education Foundation executive director Mita Havlick. “And I think we all know that it takes a community to educate a child, and no one knows this better than Central Market and HEB.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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