WALLA WALLA -- The first employee of the day walked over the threshold at the Walla Walla Worm Ranch that December morning with knife skills on her mind -- not firearms.
There to prep food for the day's diners at Dora's Deli, she walked right past the gun case not noticing the shards of glass on the floor from thieves who'd broken into the Wallula Avenue business and taken 25 guns in the night.
Only after a customer noticed the mess did it come to her attention. She immediately dialed up Worm Ranch owner Rubio Jimenez. And in that moment a transformation of sorts began for the business, opening its second location on Third Avenue next week with a more assured sense of identity.
"It made a big turnaround for us," Jimenez reflected. "We had been thinking about getting rid of the weapons anyway."
Easily one of Walla Walla's most diverse operations, the Worm Ranch has evolved over the last couple of decades from a place to pick up fishing tackle, soda pop and snacks into a shop equally renowned for its authentic Mexican fare and growing local wine selection. During crush, Jimenez said he gets requests to deliver food to wineries all over town. The spot has also developed a cult following among tourists, as well as local residents.
Jimenez and his wife, Dora, have tried to be open-minded to the special requests of their customers and made a point to stock the shop accordingly. One example: Jimenez, a former employee at the Washington State Penitentiary, noticed early on the number of prison employees who stopped by the store when he bought it 12 years ago and the shortage of places in town for those customers to find uniform items and accessories for the job. So he started supplying them at the shop.
He gave the same consideration to firearms when customers who came in for the fishing gear began asking whether Jimenez had considered selling guns. It was a decision that made his wife slightly uneasy from the start, and it didn't take long before he could see why.
"It was bringing in the wrong crowd," Jimenez said.
Since the robbery last winter, two people have been charged with possessing six of the stolen guns. They will face a jury next month.
Jimenez said if they had to go through an ordeal such as this, it couldn't have come at a better time.
Around the time of the burglary, Stan Long, owner of the former Short Stop Market, approached the couple about buying his place at 1303 S. Third Ave.
Once a target itself for burglaries, the mini-mart had been armed over the years with bars on the windows to protect it from break-ins.
Jimenez and his wife agreed and began a total remodel. Workers have replaced the floors, added a kitchen area with deli, painted and more to provide a second location for Dora's Deli & Mini Mart.
They hope to bring the spirit of the original location with them as well as the tortas, tacos, burritos and menudo for which the business is known. "That little neighborhood needs it," Jimenez said. "We think there's a lot of potential there."
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.