More than 100 H-E-B executives and employees, City officials, and neighbors gathered at South Flores Market on Wednesday morning just hours after the new store officially opened for business in Southtown.
“The opening of the South Flores Market H-E-B is a pivotal moment in the revitalization of downtown San Antonio,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor. “This investment by H-E-B is not just in developing a grocery store. H-E-B developed a master plan for the expansion of its downtown headquarters which will result in an overall investment of at least $75 million and an additional 800 jobs by 2020.”
“Since opening the first San Antonio H-E-B store in 1942, H-E-B has remained committed to increasing the economic vitality of our home city, San Antonio,” said Todd Piland, H-E-B’s executive vice president of real estate and facilities. “Our commitment to downtown and its residents continues today as we expand our corporate headquarters, open the South Flores Market H-E-B and give back to some very deserving community organizations that are near and dear to our hearts.”
Long before officials arrived, eager customers and neighbors arrived in the still-dark early morning hours to be among the store’s very first shoppers.
Customers arrived as early as 5 a.m. to shop in the highly-anticipated 12,000 sq. ft. urban market – the smallest of the grocery chain’s more than 350 locations in Texas and Mexico. H-E-B employees served complimentary breakfast tacos and coffee in the chilly weather, and the crowd’s anticipation and excitement grew as the 7 a.m. opening neared. By the time doors opened, 150 people entered in the initial rush, each one receiving a commemorative Chuck Ramirez canvas shopping bag and complimentary bottle of H-E-B pressed juice. By the time long checkout lines formed a half hour later, customers were making a rush on heavily discounted grocery caddies that neighbors can use to carry home their groceries.
H-E-B worked for months with City staff, neighbors, the King William Neighborhood Association, and other stakeholders to work out a deal that would allow its corporate headquarters on East Arsenal Street to expand, closing off a section of South Main Avenue. The trade deal included H-E-B building the new market and funding $8.3 million in street improvements, including a cycle and pedestrian track, or protected bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalk, traffic lights, and an abundance of native landscaping. In return, and after finding that the closure would not impair traffic flow, the City allowed H-E-B to close the street between East Arsenal and César Chavez Boulevard. After heated debates at neighborhood meetings and in City Council chambers, the deal was unanimously approved in December 2013.
State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123), who was the District 1 representative when the deal was discussed and approved, attended Wednesday’s ceremony that seemed to also officially mark the end of a tumultuous neighborhood issue.
“Tough decisions are tough for a reason. What that usually means is that there are good people and good points on both sides,” Bernal said. “But there was never a question in my mind that this was the right call. It’s not just about a street closure. It’s about investment, it’s about catering to locals, and it’s also about the jobs that H-E-B is bringing here.
“In the past few months we’ve seen the true character of this company come out,” he added, referring to the grocery chain’s recent allotment of ownership stake to its 86,000 employees, called “partners,” in Texas. “That doesn’t mean that some of the concerns that people had (about closing the street) weren’t legitimate … but to me the good outweighed the bad and I think that we’re witnessing the good today.”
Southtown native Madeline Martino, who has lived in the King William Historic District for all of her 75 years, was vehemently opposed to the South Main Avenue street closure. She lives a stone’s throw away from H-E-B’s Arsenal campus and the Commander’s House, an adult and senior activity center that shares a lawn with the new store.
“We were all against it, but since H-E-B did all this (store construction and street improvements), now we’re happy about it,” Martino said. She and her friend Nita Shaver were the first members of the general public to enter the store Wednesday morning. “It was just a shock at first. After 75 years I can’t go through there? But it hasn’t affected me at all. I can still come through (Arsenal Street).”
She said that the South Flores Market will help increase the value of her for-sale historic home in the district and increase Southtown’s commercial economy.
“When you do conventions, the first they ask: ‘Where is the store?'” she said. “We’ve been waiting for this for years … we’re the oldest ones close to the store and thank God we’re living to see it.”
Another prominent opponent of the street closure, South Main Avenue resident and noted poet Naomi Nye, also was among the very first customers to arrive and take her place at the head of the line. While some customers discovered a few individual grocery items not available on day one, everyone seemed positively overwhelmed by the store’s range of choices, its inviting design and atmosphere, and attentive service. Civic and business leaders and neighborhood shoppers all seemed to agree the store exceeded their expectations.