Payette church launches food store

Charleen Williams (woman behind counter) talks with a customer at Banana Box Bargains, the newly opened food store at the Payette Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Payette has a new food store in an unlikely place: the recently converted community center rooms of the Payette Seventh Day Adventist Church, at South Ninth and Third Avenue South.

The store, Banana Box Bargains, is the creation of its manager, Charleen Williams, wife of the church’s pastor, Howard Williams.

Banana Box Bargains held its grand opening on Dec. 4. The store’s regular hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sauces, cereals, cooking and baking ingredients, spices, condiments, tea and coffee, and a wide assortment of other edibles are arranged with professional flair over the clean and shiny shelves and fixtures in the store’s front portion. At the rear of the store are racks of new clothing for children of all ages, and adults.

If this business operation looks and feels professional, it’s probably because Charleen and Howard Williams have experience at this. Charleen says they started and ran a larger store in Wrangel, Alaska, while Howard was pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church there. They operated the store for three years before moving to Payette a year ago.

As it was in Wrangel, the concept for the Payette store involves operating at a profit, and then using that money to fund various needs in the community — including everything from distributing free food and clothing, to providing help paying rent or a utility bill. The church has also given furniture, and assisted households with flooring and painting.

Charleen said the church has a long history of offering such forms of help, but church members have often funded it directly through their own donations. Obviously there’s a limit to how much help a congregation of 80 to 100 people can thereby provide.

“It was too strapped, too tight,” Charleen said.

With store profits now entering the picture, assistance to the community should increase.

The store’s prices, though, are easy on the pocketbook. By design, Charleen says, pricing is “economically friendly for the public.”

Many of the foods are near or beyond their printed shelf dates, and the store has a printed handout with information about food product dating. The educational effort is to allay any shopper fears about food safety.

The store sources most of its offerings from five locations, Charleen said, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Clackamas, Ore., Phoenix, Ariz., and a source in Wisconsin which has many imported foods.

“We get a lot of sauces. We get a lot of things that are out of the ordinary,” Charleen says.

Currently the store has an all-volunteer staff, but Charleen thinks there could be paid employees in the future. She said the store in Wrangel eventually had half a dozen of them, and that store was operating out of rented space, not on church grounds.

“The beauty with this is we have hardly any overhead,” Charleen remarked about the Payette operation.

Before their service with the church in Alaska, Charleen said, she and Howard served as missionaries in various countries. Their longest stint, 13 years, was in Bolivia, and they also served in the Philippines, Colombia, and in Mexico.

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