Richards overcomes odds to fulfill lifelong dream

Alyse Richards, along with her five children, stands outside of Just Coot’s Convenience Store on D.F. Fuller Drive in Griffin.

For Alyse Richards, a devout single mother of five who works two full-time jobs, the last seven months have a been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride as she fulfilled a life-long dream to own a convenience store at the most unlikely of times.

“A higher power has allowed me to reap the benefits,” said Richards, who recently, with the help of many, opened Just Coot’s Convenience Store on D.F. Fuller Drive in Griffin. “I have sown a lot of seeds, helped a lot of people.”

Those who know Richards are not surprised by her success.

Still, for Richards, who teaches 4-year-olds to read and write in the Henry County public school system by day the past 20 years — including the last five as a certified instructor, which also includes earning her masters in education degree at Mercer University where she graduated with a 4.0 GPA just last year — the timing was not exactly what she had in mind.

First, her then 19-year-old daughter, Alexia Willis, a local healthcare worker, contracted COVID-19 back in April and had to be hospitalized. Healthcare workers told Richards that Alexia’s oxygen level dipped to 36% at one point.

Willis ultimately recovered and returned home seven days later.

During the same time, Richards, like so many in education, had to adjust to the strain the pandemic put on academia as schools turned virtual.

“It was totally unexpected,” said Richards. “You know I went through a lot with Alexia.”

“It was something I wasn’t ready for,” added Richards.

But Richards also knew the convenience store business well.

“I’ve worked convenience stores for 20 years,” she said, managing several stores.

Ultimately, however, it was Richards’ oldest daughter, Aliya Barkley, 21, who gave her mom the support to get the ball rolling.

“She was like, ‘Mom, I’ll find you a store,’ ” recalled Richards. “And I was like this is not the best time to be working in a store — we’re in the middle of a pandemic, I have to learn to teach my kids virtually (and) also Alexis is still recovering.”

“She was like, ‘You know it’s your dream,’ ” added Richards. “Years ago I wanted to own a gas station.”

But Richards found out what she already knew deep down inside.

“I just think God moves sometimes when you don’t want him to move you, or when you least expect him to move,” said Richards, who submitted her application and held her breath. “ ‘I was like God I just overcame something big.’ ”

“And God was like, ‘Well, you can run your own store and you told me if you had the funds you’ll do it, so if I give you the resources why not — what are you waiting on?’ ”

While they were considering her application, it turns out the person’s wife in charge of approving or denying the application grew up in the same church — New Hope Baptist — and put in a good word for Richards at the key moment.

The application was approved.

“It happened so fast, I didn’t have any business plan,” she said.

Nonetheless, Richards was ecstatic.

“I didn’t know which way to go,” she said, “so I had to find out.”

“Even though I have worked and managed several stores,” added Richards, “it’s different when you get your own.”

It took off from there as a string of things on a to-do list seemed to grow daily — submit business plan with the department of agriculture, get an architecture, secure cash/debit machine, get approval for SNAP and get the lottery amongst other things.

“This was the most difficult and challenging thing I ever had to do in my life besides what happened to Alexia,” said Richards.

During the whole process, the community has been supportive of Richards.

“The neighborhood helped me, they assisted me (at one point),” Richards said of a cookout they held to help her raise funds to pay fees so the store could finalize having lottery installed just two weeks ago. “The community is very supportive where I am.”

“It’s like my store, how can I say it — is like a ministry,” added Richards.

For Richards it all comes back to the way she was raised and how she has lived her life: “Working with people 20 years, I’ve learned if you treat people right and give them what they want or what they need they’ll come back to you.”