by Emily Waldrep
After a devastating fire badly damaged the much-loved Woodville convenience store, West Magnolia Drive-In Grocery Chevron Station, more commonly known as "John Kenner's" by locals, on June 6, 2013, the Kenners are picking up the pieces and deciding their next move.
Owners John and Sherry Kenner built the store in 1972, making it one of Woodville's first three convenience stores owned and operated by the Tolar family business enterprise.
West Magnolia Drive-in Grocery operated for 41 years, until approximately 12:30 p.m. on June 6 when a grease fire broke out in the kitchen area and quickly spread to the ceiling. During an initial attempt to extinguish the fire, the store was evacuated and calls were made to the fire department.
"Among all the turmoil, the local Fire Department responded within minutes and the firemen demonstrated great knowledge, cooperation, and dedication in protecting those involved," said Sherry Kenner, owner of West Magnolia Drive-in Grocery and John Kenner's wife.
According to the Kenners, the store has made news over the years as a bellwether for business trends affecting country stores. The Tyler County Chamber of Commerce awarded West Magnolia Grocery as Business of the Year 2005. New York Times National Newspaper on Storm and Crises highlighted West Magnolia in an article covering Hurricane Rita entitled "At Dusk, When People Are Absent, Shared Kindnesses." The article referenced a local citizen's comments regarding the store: "It can be stated as unchallenged fact that those beef sandwiches were the best food item available in two electricity-free counties in Texas.
"At this time, the family is still in the process of cleaning up and evaluating damages," Kenner said. "The answer to the most asked question about what we are going to do, continues to remain unanswered. Anyone who knows John Kenner can be confident that every prospect is being considered."
Citizens of Tyler County are also wishing the Kenner family the best on their Facebook page, West Magnolia Grocery. Here are some comments from the page:
"So sorry this has happened to such a wonderful place in Woodville," said Woodville resident Nancy Hanson Pilgrim....We love you Mr. Kenner our prayers are with you and everyone working there and the families!"
"The kind offers to assist and help during this time are sincerely appreciated," Kenner said. "The First Baptist Church deacons have contributed tremendously with the cleanup phase."
The Kenner family and employees want to thank their patrons for the opportunity to serve them, for so many years of friendship and for contributing to their days with many fond memories.
The family is confident that the many shared stories will not go unwritten or untold as time unfolds.
See colorful pictures and anecdotes that illustrate the store's history on Facebook at: