Construction is about to begin on a project that will transform a historic convenience store on McKinney's east side into a grocery store with healthy food options.

In June 1992, McKinney resident Jason Hernandez stood in front of the store at the southeast corner of Greenville and Murray streets and sold his first dime bag of marijuana. In 1998 he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for distributing drugs, and served 18 years in prison before President Barack Obama granted his request for clemency.

Now a free man, Hernandez is back on the same street corner as the owner of the convenience store. And he has big plans for it. He wants it to supply the neighborhood with fruits and vegetables instead of drugs.

“I just want to do some good in the ‘hood,” he said.

At a June 7 McKinney City Council meeting, Council Member Patrick Cloutier credited District 1 Council Member Justin Beller for compelling Hernandez to take ownership of the store so that residents of east McKinney could get fresh food that they could walk to.

“It’s coming,” Cloutier said at the meeting. “It’s not coming tomorrow, but it’s coming.”

Hernandez is leasing the store currently with a grant from the Marguerite Casey Foundation.

”We are trying to buy the lot once we get more money, so if people just want to help out, whether it's volunteering, donating, little things that need replaced ... this is something that is going to be very impactful and special for this community,” he said.

He’s also looking for partnerships, particularly with a grocery store, that can help supply him with what he needs to help the store operate. He has plans for payment options where people who qualify, namely those who live on the east side of McKinney, will be able to receive a discount on their groceries.

Hernandez is the founder and executive director of Aspiring Latinos Achieving Success Together, a local nonprofit leadership-building program for Latino students in high school. The nonprofit can work in tandem with the store to help provide leadership opportunities for students, Hernandez said.

The store is closed as Hernandez prepares to begin his renovations this month. He’s giving away drinks and allowing people to see what the store originally had to offer before those items are discarded. Items were sold that could be used to sell and do drugs. Some of the only food items at the store had exceeded their expiration dates and were full of preservatives.

These sort of items he’s not putting back into the community, Hernandez said. He wants anything coming out of the store going forward to benefit the area, he said.

Commonly known as Rodriguez, the building has been around since 1952, Hernandez said. It was the place where people came to see and be seen.

“This is one of the last neighborhood stores in McKinney,” he said. “This has always been considered the heart of the east side. It just needs a bypass.”

People who live on the east side have a hard time accessing fresh fruits and vegetables, he said. This store will be within walking distance or a short drive away for many people on this side of the city.

“This is a magnificent thing from McKinney, Texas, that in a longstanding food desert there is finally an option,” Cloutier said at the meeting.

Going forward, Rodriguez will be known as La Tiendita. Hernandez’s plans not only include upgrading the store’s interior and cleaning out the shelves, but also transforming the landscape of the store. He wants to have a gravel driveway, a white picket fence, gazebos and features that will make the store an attractive place and somewhere the students at Webb Elementary School across the street can feel comfortable walking to.

“This is going to be a safe place, a safe haven if they want to come here,” he said.

To that end, Leo Yruegas with North Texas Palms & Pottery in McKinney is donating his efforts to help make the landscaping at the store attractive.

“Hearing Jason's story and seeing the great he has done for himself and the city has been amazing,” Yruegas said. “This project in particular hits home as a parent of a son who lost his life to drug abuse. Having a platform to do and create a better environment for others to succeed is a blessing and I'm grateful to be able to be a part of this.”

More partners like this are exactly what Hernandez is looking for to help the store become all it can be. He has plans to open the store in time for when students return to school in the fall, but will be continually looking at how the store can be improved. Those interested in partnering with Hernandez can email him at [email protected] or donate directly to the store's Go Fund Me.

It’s a giant task, but he said with the community of McKinney behind him, it can be done.

“McKinney is a place that should solve social issues, whether it's hunger, homelessness, food deserts,” he said. “We should not only be creative and innovative when it comes to technology, we should be creative and innovative as we solve social issues. So I think at the end of the day, we will do that with this store, and then create a model [for other cities].”