by M. Martin
I am, be it freely admitted, older than dirt.
When I first started hanging out in Montrose, Sid Vicious was still alive, Ronald Reagan was merely an embarrassment to the state of California…and Montrose had neighborhood grocery stores. Oh, there were encroachments by large corporate chains–but there was also Butera’s on Bissonnet, The old Alabama Grocery at Jack Street, Richwood Market (AKA “Freaky Foods”) on Richmond, and numerous small examples of what used to be called “Drive-ins”, like Lankford Grocery (still there, but now just a mom and pop burger stand).
One of the biggest “chain stores” in the neighborhood was the Weingarten’s at the corner of W. Alabama and Dunlavy, across from Wilshire Village… my, how things have changed.
The Weingarten family has moved on to the far more lucrative and soulless business of developing real estate, their former operation on West Alabama is now a Fiesta Mart, and the eight acres former occupied by Wilshire Village is now home to “HEB Montrose Market”–a faux Whole Foods the size of a Walmart.
It can be endlessly argued whether this is a good thing or bad thing, but it is certainly a different thing…and probably the end of Montrose as those of us who have called it home for more than a couple of years have known and loved it.
That fucking store is huge, pointless, and directly contrary to anything I have ever thought of as “Montrose Community Values”–hell, the damned thing opened without a beer and wine department. Granted, this is because they are still negotiating an onsite consumption permit from the TABC, but still–a grocery store? In Montrose? That doesn’t sell booze??? Where do you bitches think you are? KINGWOOD?!!
I further question the extent to which anyone particularly needs a store with a frozen food section the size of a squash court. Are a hundred different versions of the same bland and uninspiring frozen dinner essential to anyone’s well being? Isn’t the whole point of living in a community like Montrose that you don’t necessarily buy into the suburban mythos of McMansions, Hummers, and consumer wretched excess?
Or is that just a bygone notion, a remnant from an earlier era when being “hip” entailed something more substantive than skinny jeans, ironic mustaches, or a a willingness to swill down crappy blue collar beer?
I have nothing but admiration for those who attempted to head this tacky behemoth off in favor of a public park, but I knew their efforts were foredoomed. If this really was “The City of Montrose”, it’s entirely possible that Wilshire Village apartments might’ve given way to public green space and a farmer’s market. It’s even possible that Wilshire Village might’ve even been saved from decades of neglect at the hands of a property owner with obvious symptoms of Hoarder’s Syndrome. But alas, Montrose is firmly placed within the municipal limits and business culture of Houston, Texas–which is to say, no culture at all worth mentioning.
Which is to say that “HEB Montrose Market” was probably inevitable and probably the most favorable outcome that could be expected–let’s not forget that the slimeball that demolished Wilshire Village originally planned a couple of high rise towers even more obnoxious than the “Ashby Highrise” that still threatens to appear a few blocks further down Dunlavy at Bissonnet.
Whether or not the ongoing suburbification/gentrification of Montrose is likewise inevitable remains to be seen–and has everything to do with the choices we make as a community.
I doubt that HEB’s corporate management actively conspires to put their across-the-street competitors at Fiesta Mart out of business. But I am certain that they intend to take as much market share as they possibly can from the half dozen or so direct competitors within a two mile radius of their new store–and if the hardest hit competitor happens to be one directly across the street, well, that’s just how the free market works (what are you–some sort of socialist?).
I rather suspect HEB’s management did consider the possibility of putting the River Oaks Rice Epicurean Market out of business when they opened Central Market (again, across the street). But a decade and some change later, Rice Epicurean is still there. It’s there because its loyal customers kept it there.
Even if you don’t particularly like the Dunlavy Fiesta (I know some don’t, for reasons that escape me), do you really like the idea of what is likely to take its place? Just because one developer scumbag didn’t get to put up a hideous high-rise tower on the ruins of Wilshire Village doesn’t mean some other scumbag isn’t going to get to build one on what use to be Fiesta.
So, yeah. If you love Montrose– truly love Montrose as an alternative to the tacky, plastic, tastelessness and bourgeois complacency that makes up 90% of Houston– then you will spend every penny you possibly can at that beautiful old Fiesta Mart. You will not complain about the tiny aisles, and you will not be swayed by the corporate behemoth across the street selling your shitty hipster beer and your extra-firm tofu at loss leader pricing. What you will do is show some loyalty to a merchant that was doing business in your community decades before HEB would’ve even considered it. Because otherwise, this isn’t really a community…and condo-owning douchebags deserve to take what’s left of it.