A Legend in “Doodleville”: Beatty Street Grocery

Beatty Street Grocery has seen many changes over its 70+ years.

It’s hard to imagine a neighborhood that has seen more change than Jackson’s Duttoville. Commonly referred to now as Doodleville, the South Jackson area roughly bordered by Highway 80 to the South, the Pearl River to the East, Lynch Street to the North, and Terry Road to the West has a particularly colorful—and somewhat ironic—history.

Father Louis Dutto, a Catholic priest for whom the area was later named, founded Duttoville in the late 1800’s. More than simply a neighborhood of homes, Duttoville was constructed as a complete, self-contained haven with its own fire station, Catholic church, parks and amenities. Now, the idyllic family homes have been replaced by warehouses and industrial centers.

One building, though, hasn’t changed a bit. Beatty Street Grocery opened in 1946, providing for the kitchens and tables in all those idyllic Duttoville homes.

Founders Mack and Irene Baldwin adapted their butcher shop and grocery offerings as the neighborhood changed around them, selling hot breakfasts and hearty sandwiches to the growing crowds of factory workers and eventually adding a full menu of home-style southern favorites like po’ boys and fried bologna.

Their descendants continued making changes, until a restaurant counter had replaced the full-service butcher and the produce shelves repurposed into dining tables. But through it all, the little white building in Duttoville remained the same. Even today, factory workers and attorneys sit side-by-side at those wooden tables to enjoy a burger or a fried bologna sandwich for under $5. And yes, they can still pick up a few canned goods from the aisle on their way out.

All that may soon have to change, however.

Street closures and construction just north of Duttoville, which initially were scheduled to be finished within 6 months, have stretched on for over two years with no end in sight. Many of Beatty’s loyal customers have stuck with them through it all, but now the area is so difficult to reach that even their visits have dwindled. Mary Harden, the founders’ granddaughter and Beatty’s current co-owner, recalled that 2016 was the worst year on record for the store’s revenue. 2017 is on track to bring in even less. “Every time I call to ask about that bridge, they tell me ‘6 more months’. I’ve given up, I don’t think they’re ever going to finish it,” Harden says.

Harden has been asked many times if she would ever consider moving the business to a new location, but she says she just can’t. It’s easy to understand why Harden won’t do it. In the back of the building, one wall has been turned into a gallery of sorts. Large framed photographs of the Baldwins hang in the center, surrounded by receipts, handwritten notes, scraps of paper, and newspaper clippings ranging through the decades. Harden’s resemblance to her grandmother is utterly striking—it could be a photo of a young Harden hanging there on the wall—and the clippings around it tell the story of Harden’s childhood spent growing up inside these four walls. “My papaw and his brother in law put this building together with their own hands,” Harden recalls. Moving the business somewhere else? “It just wouldn’t be the same.”

That doesn’t mean Harden hasn’t considered other options. She’s looking into expanding to a second “satellite” location, or perhaps adding delivery. But she’s right: experiencing Beatty Street Grocery anywhere else really wouldn’t be the same. Something about the atmosphere, which feels as though it’s still in the middle of transitioning from grocery store to restaurant, suits the menu of comfort food items perfectly. What better place to enjoy a classic 1940’s-style factory lunch than surrounded by 1940’s clutter?

Beatty Street Grocery has survived for 71 years, and if family dedication and love are enough to keep it open it will likely survive another 71. Harden and her family are certainly determined, despite the many challenges. But amidst all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure: the food is so good you won’t regret the little extra effort it takes to pay them a visit.