The Nogalitos Street H-E-B now officially stands above the rest, re-opening as the company’s first multi-story shopping center in the state. Thursday’s preview opening marked the retrofit of the oldest operating H-E-B grocery store, which opened on April 1, 1945.
The retrofitted store opens Friday for business, nestled in the Collins Garden neighborhood west of downtown San Antonio, where Interstate 35 meets Highway 90.
As I walked up to the new storefront – though the original facade was preserved and restored – an eager crowd was cheering the mariachi band and its rendition of “Viva Mexico.” Throughout the rest of the ceremony, speakers alternated their announcements between English and Spanish. That proved to be a prudent choice, as various audience members’ faces alternated between comprehension and blank stares.
Everything from the honor guard to the elementary students singing the national anthem exemplified H-E-B’s style as one of the largest private companies in the country. It’s difficult to imagine a corporation with fidelity to national shareholders opening its new flagship store design with an invocation of Spanish prayer – provided by Pastor Gil Paredez of Shepherd’s Gate United Methodist Church.
Attendees seemed eager to shop once they stepped on to the second-floor via the cart-friendly “travelator” (a stair-less escalator) and found an interior three times the size of the old store at 62,000 sq. ft.
The seafood section has expanded, along with their beer and wine selection – the applause following this last announcement was especially enthusiastic. There is now a deli, an organic section, a cutting station, bakery, and a pharmacy accessible both inside and as a drive-thru.
Tastefully expanding while keeping their history in mind, H-E-B’s architects preserved the original building façade as a free-standing entrance, respecting the store’s 70-year presence in the community. The retro structure isn’t ornate or beautiful, but it is strong and resilient. It’s easy to imagine San Antonio shoppers through most of the past century passing through its threshold.
Greg Souquette, senior vice president of H-E-B, said the high cost of land was one of the primary reasons for building a multi-story development. What he didn’t say during the ceremony is that buying the surrounding land also would have displaced families living in the surrounding Collins Garden neighborhood.
Managing displacement has been a challenge for H-E-B as the grocer has grown. After a lengthy and contentious process, H-E-B will be closing a portion of South Main Street that passes through its East Arsenal Street headquarters as part of the company’s $100 million expansion and campus master plan that will allow for 1,300 additional employees by 2030. The 10,000 sq. ft. Flores Market – a working title – is on track to open just beyond the headquarters in early 2016, after all street and traffic improvements are completed.
The Nogalitos store also will compete with the new Collins Garden Park Farmers Market, which opens on March 22, but H-E-B management has promised to work with the market to ensure mutual success, according to Market organizer Jovanna Lopez.
Concurrent with the re-opening, H-E-B donated $70,000 to a number of groups in the surrounding community, including the Blue Star Arts Complex, Shepherd’s Gate United Methodist Church, St. James The Apostle Catholic Church, Burbank High School, Green Spaces Alliance, VFW #76, and the San Antonio Parks Foundation
District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales announced that the Parks Foundation will use the $25,000 donation to pay for the Collins Garden Park children’s playground to keep kids cool in the summertime, along with extra programming for activities in the park.
Gonzales said she has sponsored a “slow zone” in front of Nogalitos Street, which includes a 20 mph speed limit and an expanded 12-foot sidewalk intended for use by the children and seniors who live nearby.
Green Spaces Alliance, which helps communities create and maintain community gardens around the city, will build four stations for harvesting and processing community garden crops with its H-E-B funding. UTSA architecture and design students are proposing unique structures for each garden, and GSA will select the best designs and then build them.
Blue Star will dedicate its funds to the organization’s Berlin Residency Program, which sends local artists to practice and study in Germany for three months before returning to showcase their development.
Souquette also thanked farmers for the products, the prices, and fruits of their labor that benefit the local community. He went on to thank customers for their loyalty, and San Antonio for its long time support.
During his English invocation, Fr. Joseph Kandeor of St. James Catholic Church blessed the neighborhood’s revitalized supermarket and gave thanks for a place where “both buyers and sellers work together for the common good.”
*Featured/top image: Kimberly Harle, H-E-B’s head of public affairs watches District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales and Nogalitos H-E-B Manager Claudia Ornelas cut the ribbon to open the new grocery store on Nogalitos Street. Photo by Mitch Hagney.
This story was originally published on Jan. 15, 2015.