By Barry Dalton
Mexico residents over the age of 50 probably remember the Liberty Theater, 1920-1995, as where they first saw Jaws or Star Wars or any number of other classic films from the 50s to the late 70s.
“We’ve known for a long time that that road coming into Mexico could use a little refresh,” said Mexico Chamber of Commerce President Dana E. Keller. “So we’re excited about all of the additions we’ve had recently. We hope that it continues. It’s good for the community no matter where it is, but we really love that it’s been on Liberty Street.”
For many years since, Liberty Street has seen businesses come and go. It once had one of Mexico’s two Hardee’s locations where the Ori Hibachi food truck now sits offering a delicious variety of asian noodles. Young people would cruise in a loop from the Hardees on the west side of town to the Hardee’s on the east side of town.
Today, the car-hop themed Sonic is the main fast food attraction on Liberty Street, while across the street TYD’S serves “real midwest wood smoked barbecue” and the United Credit Union has just broken ground on its new location.
“I’m happy to be next door to a new upgrade to my town,” said Tim Davis, owner of TYD’s, which opened in late 2018.
The United Credit Union is currently located in the building that was once the Garfield School, Mexico’s all black school where many students were bused to from across the county. Now it’s building a modern headquarters on Liberty Street. It also has branches in Vandalia, Troy, Fulton, Moberly and Columbia.
“We’re moving our main branch location over there,” said President/CEO Brent H. Sadler. “We’re not going to get rid of the [Garfield] building. “This building is over 100 years old. We’re growing exponentially and part of that growth, given the members and the staff, we wanted to give them a more modern building they deserve.”
While the credit union will no longer be right across from the historic brick plant where it was forged, the new location will be just around the corner.
“We’re excited,” said Sadler. “The credit union originated as a few employees from the brick factory who actually started this in 1935 with a couple of hundred bucks. Now we’re at about $220 million.”
Sadler said relocating in the same part of town where its roots are at was an important consideration and made Liberty Street all the more appealing. That other businesses were also locating there, he said, was just a fortunate coincidence.
Even businesses that have been on Liberty Street long enough to remember the Liberty Theater are happy with the new developments. Ken’s Fast Lube, the credit union’s new neighbor, was built at the same location of Mexico’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“Liberty is getting better through here, yes it is,” said Kevin Shaw, owner of the lube shop, which has been at its current location for 34 years. “[The new businesses] will help the property value go up as well.”
On the other side of Ken’s Fast Lube, sits Mexico’s newest shopping complex, Nilrock Properties LLC. The Nilrock strip mall opened in May of this year and has since filled all seven of its units with five additional businesses.
The new businesses include a dog groomer, a hair salon, a tanning salon and Audrain County’s only coffee shop. A medical business is currently negotiating to occupy the final two rental units beginning next August.
At the center of the Nilrock complex is Realty 365/American National insurance, which is also owned by Nilrock Properties.
“I was at 113 E. Monroe, which Mexico Ledger is actually renting it now,” said co-owner Jessica Nilges, who has been in insurance for 37 years. “We sell insurance and real estate.”
Nilges said she wanted a busier location spot and Liberty Street filled the bill even though a lot of the previous businesses have shut down or are for sale.
“This street is going to be hot here again soon,” Nilrock said. “Our building all came together very fast, and we feel very happy and fortunate because I think we’ve got them all rented out.”
Nilrock even purchased the parking lot behind their location to accommodate increased parking.
Lori Hopkins, a co-owner of the Nilrock strip mall’s coffee shop, says she loves the location. Her shop, Sailer’s Brew, got its name from her son’s business, a tattoo shop in the Lake of the Ozarks area, called Sailer’s Tattoos.
“My boys came to me and wanted to know if they opened a coffee shop if I would run it,” explained Hopkins. “They wanted me to get away from factory work.”
Their menu offers a wide selection, including cappuccinos that come in a variety of flavors. The shop’s premium coffee is custom made in Georgia.
“They have good coffee here, so I’m happy they opened,” said Emily Donaldson, a customer who visits at least once a week. “I usually do the frappes. I’ve had about half of them. My favorite is the English Toffee but today I got the white chocolate.”
The shop has been so successful that a second location is being planned in Osage Beach.
“I love it here,” said Hopkins “It’s a good location. It’s a busy street. Business is doing really good.”
There are many other businesses located on East Liberty.