Editor’s Note: The H-E-B South Flores Market opened on Wednesday morning at the corner of Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard and South Flores Street. Click here for the latest South Flores Market coverage.
South Flores Market, H-E-B’s newest and smallest grocery store, has yet to open its doors to the public in Southtown but it was buzzing with activity Tuesday morning as employees stocked shelves, cleaned glass doors, and prepped kitchen and bakery equipment before its grand opening Wednesday morning at 7 a.m.
The combination store and gas station promises to offer downtown residents what they’ve been requesting for years: an affordable, accessible, downtown grocery store. The store’s architecture and design – signage, materials, and branding – mix modern and retro elements for a more hip, urban feel that is unique to the grocery chain’s South Flores Street and East Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard location.
“There’s not a lot of red in here,” Meat Market Lead Nolan Barrera said of H-E-B’s signature color, which usually dominates the interior of its stores.
South Flores Market does not have a pharmacy or deli station for custom cuts of meat, but H-E-B’s new, two-story Nogalitos store less than two miles away has a drive through pharmacy and Barrera said they could make room for more equipment in his department if needed.
“If there’s a demand for it, we’ll look into it,” Barrera said. “But I don’t think we’re going to need to turn anyone away. There’s a huge selection considering how small the space is.”
Reporters and photographers were granted a sneak peek of the store as H-E-B executives and merchants, in charge of product selection and display, monitored the finishing touches. With shelves and refrigerators nearly filled to capacity, Store Director Nick George stood near the entrance wearing a smile. He’s expecting a busy day tomorrow.
“The Chuck Ramirez piece really added an element that tied the store to downtown,” George said, pointing to the large photos of colorful brooms on display high above the aisles. In addition to the permanent exhibit of Ramirez’s work, the first 500 customers during tomorrow’s opening will receive a canvas bag featuring an image from his 2009 Euro Bag series.
Ramirez, who died tragically in a bike accident five years ago, worked for years as a graphics designer at H-E-B headquarters. (Read more: Works by Chuck Ramirez to Adorn South Flores Market.)
Previously, George was in charge of H-E-B’s Stone Oak location, an 80,000 sq. ft. store that employs about 300 people. The 12,000 sq. ft. South Flores Market employs 35 people.
“We’ve got a lot to learn about operating in a small, urban environment,” he said. South Flores Market will have everyday meal and household essentials as well as ready-to-go snacks that can be enjoyed on the patio by visitors and residents but the store is prepared to be flexible to customer needs and feedback
“Our pricing will be similar to what you see in other H-E-B stores,” he said, adding that the selection is smaller, but the basics are covered. “We have whatever you need … maybe not every size or every flavor, but everything is represented.”
The aisles are more narrow, the grocery carts are smaller, and the shelves are packed tighter than other H-E-B stores. The main challenge, said Dya Campos H-E-B’s director of public affairs, has been the effective use of space.
“It’s extremely challenging to try and get the right mix (of merchandise) in there,” Campos said.
The employees, called “partners,” have been uniquely trained on how to collect customer feedback, she said. “The store team is small enough and attentive enough that they can take care of those suggestions. I don’t think we’ll need a comment box – that’s kind of cold and removed. The store team is going to be very integrated with customers here. We know that we’re going to have to change things right off the bat.”
Large, reclaimed wooden beams from the Joske’s Building were used in the store’s construction, the building is energy efficient, and the landscaping has been designed to accommodate storm water runoff. A “living wall” covered in ferns and grasses will keep the south-facing wall cool in the summer and insulated in the winter.
“Sustainability is important to us, the building will be LEED certified and environmentally friendly,” Campos said.
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The store shares a yard with the Commander’s House, an adult and senior citizen activity center, and is adjacent to H-E-B’s headquarters in the historic Arsenal campus.
There are only 47 parking spaces in the store’s adjacent lot with limited street parking nearby, so the store is banking on customers walking, biking, and/or taking the bus from nearby historic neighborhoods, downtown employment centers and beyond.
“H-E-B has put a lot of work into the development of a downtown store for San Antonio,” stated Todd Piland, H-E-B’s executive vice president of real estate and facilities, in a news release. “Our commitment to the economic vitality of downtown is ever-present with the expansion of our corporate headquarters and the opening of the South Flores Market H-E-B.”
The South Flores Market at 516 S. Flores St. will be open seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. starting on Wednesday. The self-service fueling station in the parking lot will be open 24 hours daily.
*Top image: H-E-B employee of seven years Nolan Barrera walks by the refrigerated beverage coolers. Photo by Scott Ball.