Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The papel picado is coming down. The remaining molcajetes and molinillos are going into boxes. And the hot pink, vintage fridge is being shipped to a buyer in Galveston. At the end of September, the colorful cocina store at the Pearl, Melissa Guerra, will close its doors for good.
Guerra, the store’s namesake and owner, is not renewing her lease on the space she’s occupied since the former brewery was renovated and opened. But it was a choice forced upon her as much by the “Amazon effect” as her own desire to pursue passions beyond the kitchen.
“It’s been a great journey – that’s the part that’s sad,” Guerra said, talking with the Rivard Report Thursday evening from the back office of her shop, a space filled with packing boxes and some items ready to be shipped out. “But going online makes sense. The same people who are online are the same ones outfitting their kitchens right now.”
Melissa Guerra was one of the first retail outlets to open at the Pearl, along with the Twig Book Shop and Adelante, originally occupying the Full Goods building until the Lab Building opened in 2012. Other retailers have come along – Dos Carolinas, the guayabera shop, The Tiny Finch, and Niche Boutique, to name a few. Adelante Boutique has recently expanded.
Owner Marla Ross moved the dress and accessories shop from Alamo Heights in 2008 and said traffic at the Pearl was slow at first. That has changed as the Pearl campus has grown.
“Business has been insane, and our growth has been everything I thought it would be,” Ross said. “When One Lucky Duck folded [next door], I didn’t think about it. Business the past 16 months had been so huge, I’m like, ‘Okay [let’s] do it.’”
Ross wishes Melissa could remain her neighbor at the Pearl, but understands the challenge.
Like many kitchen stores big and small, business has stalled at Melissa Guerra, with the average ticket around $30.
“It’s not sustainable [for business] anymore,” she said. “And that’s why I’m here to begin with.”
A self-taught culinary expert and food historian with several cookbooks to her name, Guerra said she opened the store at the Pearl because she wanted to be part of the Culinary Institute of America community. She is member of Les Dames d Escoffier, a founding board member of Foodways Texas, and a served as a member of The Culinary Institute of America Latin Cuisines Advisory Council Executive Committee.
“But as my industry started changing, I couldn’t be as much a part of it as I wanted to,” she said.
These days, she’s more actively involved with the blogging community, beyond simply recipe-sharing, and writing about another topic she knows well – the Texas border.
At New Worlder, Guerra has penned several installments in a series of first-hand accounts of ranch life on the border where she grew up and resides with her husband. The first is titled, “The Nameless, Faceless Migrant.”
Though Guerra says she will continue to write and talk about food, and peddle related cookware and supplies, at her website and, yes, via Amazon, she feels God put her in a place and time and gave her a gift. She wants to make sure people far from Texas understand the issues that people on both side of the border are facing.
“[Immigration] is not a Hispanic problem, it’s a human problem,” she said.
Guerra said closing the store will also give her more time to complete two book proposals, only one of which is a cookbook.
For now, she is moving out the fixtures and reducing inventory, offering many items in the store at greatly reduced prices. Friends and former staff are stopping in to reminisce and say goodbye.
Melissa Guerra will vacate the space before Oct. 1. There are reports that the store will be replaced by a vendor from the Pearl Farmer’s Market. The Rivard Report reached out to a Pearl spokesperson, but she could not confirm the new tenant yet. This story will be updated when that information becomes available.