The couple shared the origin story of their Nashville grocery store, known simply as The Store, with People today.
“This has been our dream that was about five years in the making and we opened just over a year ago,” Williams-Paisley explained. “This is a free, referral-based grocery store for people facing food insecurity. They can come and shop with dignity and make choices for their family without getting a handout – ideally not in a pandemic.”
“We’ve had to pivot due to the pandemic,” she added. “So now we do deliveries, we do curbside, we do deliveries to homebound seniors. And we’ve delivered almost 1.3 million meals in our first year.”
Brad Paisley and Kimberly Williams-Paisley Got the Idea from Unity Shoppe
Unity Shoppe is a 501(c)(3) in Santa Barbara, California that offers groceries, clothing and other essentials to people struggling with poverty, the aftermath of a natural disaster or the effects of a health crisis. It has been in operation for over 100 years.
The couple first went to Unity Shoppe in 2012. According to The Store’s website, they took their boys there to teach them about helping others and giving back to those in need.
“We came away surprised by what the organization had taught us,” Paisley said on the website. “Most people don’t want handouts. They want dignity and respect. Most people want to become self-sufficient.”
The message of Unity Shoppe resonated especially strongly with Williams-Paisley, who had the service ethic drilled into her as a kid.
“I grew up with a mom [who] was very big in service,” she told People. “We used to deliver Meals on Wheels. We used to go to a food bank, and we’d dole out peas and turkey to people.”
“And I always sensed a little bit of resentment,” she added. “I don’t think I fully understood more why until I got older and we went to Unity Shoppe. And Barbara Tellefson who started, who explained the program to us – and just passed away, unfortunately – but she explained what it is about Unity Shoppe, and that it’s that people have that sense of dignity.”
Helping People Get Back on Their Feet
Williams-Paisley said their kids loved being at Unity Shoppe and helping out. And Paisley said they took some lessons home with them from that trip.
When they decided to start their own free grocery store, they wanted to incorporate Unity Shoppe’s emphasis on dignity, among other lessons. And, drawing on those lessons, they managed to open The Store the week before the pandemic hit.
“I feel like [The Store is] a model that helps them get back on their feet,” Paisley said. “This is for people that are really trying to dig out.”
The couple works with Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee to stock groceries. Using the donations that come in, they provide the food for free to people who can demonstrate need. Besides food, The Store has also branched out into nutritional education, cooking classes and specialty body care products.
Watch Paisley and Williams-Paisley talk about The Store here: