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Chasing Daydreams: 200 Carroll tenants ponder the past, anticipate future renovation

A black and white sketch of a partially-done mural stretches across the back of the building at 200 Carroll Street, waiting to be filled with color. One part that has been filled in shows the large face of a woman wearing blue sunglasses. On her neck and shoulders are the words, “Don’t quit your daydream.”

Rose Badillo, owner of M&O Station Grill and one of the building’s tenants, said she often likes to come around to the back of the building and ponder over the mural’s message. Before she moved her business to 200 Carroll Street – a building that will undergo renovation starting in June – Badillo said she almost gave up on her “daydream.”

Nine years ago, M&O Station Grill operated in the space where Velvet Taco currently stands at 2700 West Seventh Street. The restaurant was called 7th Street Station Grill at the time, aptly named for its location.

But when the property was sold to make room for the West Seventh mixed-use development, Badillo said she received a notice that her restaurant had 30 days to move out of the location.

Badillo said she didn’t know what to do, as her business was not financially stable enough to secure a bank loan and find a different location.

“Is this the end, Lord?” she asked.

As Badillo began writing a letter informing her landlord that 7th Street Station Grill would close down, she suddenly heard a knock on the door.

It was Marty Leonard, owner of Leonard’s Department Store Museum, which was one of the tenants at 200 Carroll St. Badillo and her husband, Chef Danny Badillo, had done some catering for Leonard in the past, and they developed a friendship over the years.

As it turned out, Leonard’s museum had unoccupied space next door. Leonard used her business connections to help Badillo secure a loan of about $102,000, and Badillo was able to move into the space neighboring Leonard’s museum.

The restaurant had to be renamed, though, because “7th Street Station Grill” didn’t make much sense on Carroll Street. So Badillo decided to rename her restaurant to “M&O Station Grill,” after Marvin and Obie Leonard, the original owners of Leonard’s Department Store, as a way of saying “thank you” to Marty Leonard.

“It’s been a beautiful experience,” Badillo said. “She’s helped us, we help her.”

The restaurant and museum have operated side-by-side for the past nine years. There’s an open door connecting the two spaces so that restaurant visitors can enter the museum and vice versa. Admission to the museum is free, so visitors can come in and out as they please.

“We’ve got a real partnership here, not in a technical sense, but in a relationship sense because they do things for me, and I do things for them,” Leonard said. “It’s worked out really well.”

When Fort Worth real estate investment group M2G Ventures bought the building last year, Badillo worried she would have to move all over again.

But that fear “didn’t last long,” Badillo said. It came as a pleasant surprise when she found out that M2G Ventures was not planning to tear down the facility or force out any of the tenants – instead, the company planned to renovate the 10,000 square-foot building, give it a modern facade and put up more visible signage for the existing businesses. The renovation also includes a new patio for M&O Station Grill. On May 3, the Fort Worth City Council granted a tax break worth about $27,441 over a five-year period to assist in the project.

The businesses in the building, which also include Fort Worth Screen Printing, Creative Ammo, Art Room and M2G Ventures, will remain open during renovation.

Badillo said the renovation has been a “long time coming,” as her business has slowed about 30 percent since construction began on the Trinity River Vision’s Henderson Street bridge. Customers opted to shop and eat on the other side of the bridge to avoid traffic, leaving her restaurant hiding behind the shadows of Montgomery Plaza and West Seventh Street.

She said she hopes the renovation will be the first step in growing her business. She wants to open up more M&O grills one day, if Leonard would allow her to keep using the name.

But for now, Badillo and Leonard say they’re looking forward to their building getting a new look. Badillo said she’s also looking forward to the completion of the mural at the back, a work by Fort Worth artist Katie Gorman Murray, which continually reminds her to never stop daydreaming.

“I don’t think that Marty and I met by mistake, honestly,” Badillo said. “I think that was part of the plan. I truly believe that.”

Leonard’s Department Store

Leonard’s Department Store covered seven blocks in downtown Fort Worth from the early to mid-1900s. The self-proclaimed “one-stop shopping center” sold just about everything from groceries and clothing to hardware and home goods. The store was sold to Tandy in 1967 and eventually closed in 1974.

Marty Leonard, daughter of store founder Marvin Leonard, didn’t have any plans to open a museum at first. She said her friends would often find Leonards-branded items at antique shops and send them to her, so one day, she decided to host a party, with the contingency that all party guests must bring a Leonards item or artifact. The next thing she knew, she had a full collection of items that sat at her house for a while until she decided to open the Leonard’s Department Store Museum in 1997. The museum operated in downtown Fort Worth’s former Tandy Center – now called City Place – before moving to 200 Carroll St. in 2005.

Today, the museum is stocked with memorabilia, such as a full train set, clothing and Leonard’s original store directory. Leonard said she recalls a visitor telling her there was one thing missing in the museum – a box of Kleenex.

“It seems to mean a lot to a lot of people still,” she said. “A day will come when it’s just another museum, but still, it’s history. It was real history for Fort Worth.”

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