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Innovative when it was established as a “strip shopping” center on the northern outskirts of Clinton 60 years ago, Jordan Shopping Plaza grew over the years with the care of many, notably namesake Billy Ray Jordan. He built lifelong relationships within a community he loved and he sought the best for his hometown, traveling to the ends of earth to try to bring the greatest ideas back with him.
Jordan passed away on Sunday at the age of 81, leaving a legacy that will carry on through the many businesses in whose success he played a part.
He founded the strip shopping center — Clinton’s first — with his father and brother in 1958.
In the early years, he established Jordan Feed & Seed, Jordan Farm Center and Jordan Hardware, the last of which he opened with wife Janet, offering a wide variety of household products and even toys and Christmas trees. He also owned and managed Jordan Farms and Jordan Insurance Agency.
He also offered a place for a bounty of other local businesses, among them Sampson Bakery, White’s Decorating Center, Matthews Drugs, Shoe City, Break-a-Away Fashions, Bradshaw’s Barber Shop, Macks Department Store, Black and Bass CPA and Sessoms Jewelry.
The list goes on.
Jimmy Matthews, owner of Matthews Drugs, has been a tenant of Jordan Plaza since 1972, when he moved from the downtown at a time when many doctors were doing the same. That is when he really got to know Jordan.
“In a small town, you are aware of everybody else, but you don’t necessarily know everybody else,” said Matthews. “Knowing Billy Ray for Bonnie and I meant the future of our business. He was a student of shopping malls and strips. He traveled and soaked up everything. He was insightful and a savvy businessman, but caring about the people and the families who were his tenants.”
Matthews Drug started in a 1,200-square-foot space and, in just four years, had already expanded into 6,000 square feet, a “phenomal opportunity,” Matthews recalled. When a modification in the business was needed, dictated by changing times and necessary customer convenience, Jordan worked with Matthews to do just that.
“He had a way about him,” Matthews said of Jordan. He could be an aggressive businessman, assertive when he needed to be, but also offer a helping hand or an ear to listen. “He was talkative and easy to talk to. He was aggressive in business and insightful in his approach.”
Buildings were added over the years as new businesses were recruited to Clinton. That expansion included more than 20 buildings, the biggest being Clinton’s oldest grocery store, in continuous operation since 1963: Piggly Wiggly, now Carlie C’s.
Jesse and Elmon Lindsay were working at the Colonial Store on College Street when Jordan approached them about operating a grocery store at Jordan Plaza. They opened that first Piggly Wiggly with Moses King and went on to build two more in Clinton — on College Street and off Sunset Avenue — and the other in Roseboro.
In 1997, Jordan sold the shopping center to Paramount Foods Inc. and became director of real estate for Paramount, with Jesse Lindsay as the company’s president. Jordan oversaw leasing and day-to-day operations of two additional shopping centers, at Shamrock Plaza on Sunset Avenue and at Lakewood Plaza in Roseboro. When Jesse passed away in 2012, plaza co-owners Michael and Marshall Lindsay took over as president and vice president, respectively.
“He did an outstanding job as property manager for us,” said Michael Lindsay, who had direct dealings with Jordan on a regular basis in recent years. “I consider him one of my mentors. He was extraordinarily detail-oriented. He was always looking for a way to improve the center, his relationship with tenants and to keep profitable businesses in the center thriving.”
Jordan built rapport with people. He knew the key to an entity being successful as a whole was keeping the vital pieces together — the synergy of the shopping center. And he knew everybody, amassing the kind of friendships that were invaluable to that continued success.
“If you needed someone, whether it was a plumber, a carpenter, a roofer, an electrician, he had their name and number on speed dial,” said Lindsay with a laugh. “It takes a lifetime to generate those kind of contacts and people who will answer your calls, especially today.”
Ronnie Warren, who owns Clean-Rite Services in Clinton, was one of those contacts.
Warren and Jordan were members of Grove Park Baptist Church, where Warren was Jordan’s Sunday School teacher and they both served as deacons. Jordan was an active member for 63 years, serving as a Sunday School teacher himself, as well as singing in the choir.
Jordan was also chairman of the church’s Building and Grounds Committee, overseeing capital building projects.
“He was invested in Grove Park and loved the Lord,” said Warren. “He was a blessing to Grove Park. He saved us plenty of money over the years, negotiating the best deals in the community.”
The two not only knew each other personally but quickly struck up a professional partnership that endured through the years, one of many who Jordan sought out to assist the shopping center and its tenants. Warren started Clean-Rite in 1973 and he and his crew were hired to clean carpets at various businesses within the center.
“He was a nice guy and a great businessman,” said Warren. “He wanted Clean-Rite to excel because of our friendship.”
Just a couple days ago, there was an issue with at one of the businesses. Lindsay said he thought, “I wish I could call Billy Ray. He could tell me who to call.”
But it goes deeper than just that. Jordan wanted to see others succeed, and he knew how to help them. If he could make a call that could solve a problem or alleviate some stress, he would do it in a heartbeat.
“He loved this town,” said Lindsay, who also noted Jordan’s involvement on the Sampson County Economic Development Commission. “That was one of those things he loved, to be a part of this community and have a say in making it better. The ability to go out and find solutions to problems, he loved that. He was a phenomenal human being and had a wealth of knowledge on the shopping center world, and he was a mentor to us in that world. I think the city will miss him.”
Clinton Mayor Lew Starling attested to that fact. Calling Jordan a “40-year friend of mine,” Starling said he relied on Jordan’s wisdom, especially his business acumen, when it came to local matters.
“I trusted his advice, I listened to his advice,” said Starling. “He was a visionary.”
Jordan would travel extensively, for weeks at a time, calling Starling every now and then to see if the mayor thought a certain type of business would work in Clinton or just to bounce an idea off of him.
“He was always looking to improve the community,” said Starling. “He wanted the newest and the best.”
As the shopping center continued to grow, other regional and national businesses and chain stores were recruited to the community including Hardees, CitiTrends, Advance Auto Parts, Jackson-Hewitt, US Cellular, Rent-America, Subway and Domino’s Pizza.
“He’s worked with people to make good operations,” said Matthews, “looking for businesses that complement what each other do, so nothing was disrupted. He was concerned about his community.”
In 2015, while sitting to discuss with The Independent the recent expansion of Domino’s Pizza alongside franchisee and Jordan Shopping Plaza tenant Cindy Byrd, Jordan talked about the arduous process of choosing tenants and finding just the right piece to fit in the plaza puzzle. It had to be perfect. If it wasn’t, Jordan would wait, he said.
He pointed to the old Hardee’s building as a prime example. He said he wanted it to be occupied, but not until the time was right and the situation was perfect for Jordan Plaza.
“We’re really peculiar about our tenants and who we lease to,” Jordan said at the time, noting some deals with big-name restaurants that had come close but not panned out. “We’re waiting for the right person. We turn people down every day because of what we want in it.”
Matthews said that is very true, recalling Jordan’s various explorations into the possibility of having a Chick-fil-A and Five Guys Pizza.
“He loved a challenge, he loved to build and it was a love of life,” said Matthews. “He was a man who was very caring, and who I love and respect a lot and I will miss a lot as long as I am in business. I’m not sure where I would be without this. I’d be somewhere, but not with the fulfillment I’ve been able to have.”
Despite his failing health, Jordan was still coming into the office each week up until March.
“That’s just a testament to him,” said Lindsay. “He loved what he did and we loved him for doing it. We’re going to miss him so much.”
“He was an All-American citizen,” added Starling of Jordan. “It’s a huge loss for the town. He was a first-class gentleman; they don’t make them like that anymore.”