Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Viva East Side!

The Express-News has been profiling East Side businesses recently.  It's something I have followed avidly, given that this is once again my side of town, and it's also an area badly in need of development.

Moreover, it's a side of town historically ignored by city government.  SA's population is only about 7% black, and it's concentrated on the East Side.  I do not mean to infer any sort of racism here, though I will say that our black community seems to be often overlooked as a cultural influence.

I love this side of town.  I am not entirely sure why.  I went to Herman Hirsch for most of elementary school (finished up at PF Stewart) and to Jeff (SJ) Davis for junior high, and was horribly bullied at both.  When I first moved back to San Antonio, every time I came over on this side of town, it was as though a hot blanket was wrapped around my head.

And yet...

And yet, if you are from this side of town, it calls to you.  If you grew up over here, being ignored by the city, dismissed as only a high crime area, you traditionally have two choices: either you run like hell, or you get sucked into the criminal element.

Recently, though, there has been another choice.  Enough of us who started out running have come back.  Some folks remember the East Side's better days.  Some (like myself) are just pissed that it's being ignored and want to drag it, kicking and screaming if necessary, into prominence.  This is an important side of town.  We have a lot going for us.  The Freeman Coliseum and AT&T Center and Alamodome are all over here.  There are some historic homes, historic businesses (or the buildings they left behind, at least).  Fort Sam Houston is here, and BRAC is making it more important. The iron of revitalization is hot, and there are people with hammers, striking it.

Sunday's paper talked about the Landmark Coffee Shop.  This is one of two coffee shops within walking distance of my house.  I can't find the interview with Charles Williams, the owner, online (dammit), but here is a choice quote:

What's coming next?

We hope to get a beer and wine license, so we can stay open a little later on Fridays and Saturdays.  We plan to buy this house two doors from here...

I'm a firm believer that this part of town needs to redevelop...My mission is to see Montana Street redevelop from Monumental (Street) to the Alamodome, make it look similar to Alamo Street as it leads into the Kind William area.

I talked with Rev. (Claude) Black about this very project about 25 years ago...I thought that rather than sit on the sidelines and complain about what's not happening, I can be part of the solution by making some things happen.

(Edmund Tijerina conducted & wrote up that interview.)

Elsewhere, Mr. Williams talks about the obstacles he had to overcome in renovating the house.  He tried to keep the house looking as close to original as possible, but without photos had a difficult time.  Apparently, there was also some trouble from the Powers That Be at the historic review board, who objected to his choice of doors.  ("The review board objected to it...I think it was mainly because I put it in without asking permission.  I had to have a door because I got tired of people walking in and taking my things.")  I haven't been there yet, but we've driven past it a few times and it is right at the top of my list of places to visit.  It's apparently pretty yummy.

Today's paper had an article on Joaquinn Arch, titled "Man putting money where memories are."  Mr. Arch is renovating a building on North New Braunfels (very close to Ft Sam), which is slated to have three separate businesses: a grocery store, a business center, and a barber shop.  Having had recent need of the business center (and Erik of the barber shop!), I'm really looking forward to this.

Mr. Arch is another returnee:

As a young boy, Joaquinn Arch used to run three blocks from his home to the historic Grandview Food Center on North New Braunfels Avenue for sausage and cold cuts for his grandmother.

He remembers when it was part of a bustling network of businesses along North New Braunfels. But by the time he graduated from St. Girard Catholic High School in 1995, the neighborhood had fallen into disrepair as gang and drug activity was on the rise.

It's such childhood memories that prompted Arch, 34, to return as an entrepreneur to his former neighborhood, buying properties and renovating the center with the help of a nonprofit group that supports enhancement of East Side businesses.

The mention of the matching grant made me curious, so I searched for SAGE, and found their website:  San Antonio for Growth on the East Side.

This is their Mission Statement:

To be a catalyst for development that mutually benefits the quality of life for individuals, families, neighborhood, and businesses on San Antonio Eastside. 

San Antonio Eastside is to be a recognized place where people want to live, visit and work, investors want to invest, and businesses want to be located. SAGE exists for the purpose to promote, renew, and empower the economic and cultural vitality of San Antonio’s Eastside through an inclusive and trusted process designed to achieve a common purpose of sustainable economic prosperity, safety, and enjoyment for its residents, businesses and visitors while making a difference for San Antonio as a whole.
They have two programs.  The Store-Front Grant program provides matching grants to business owners.  This is talked about somewhat in the article on Joaquinn Arch: "He's one of three recent grant recipients of the SAGE Store-Front program. Charles Clay received a $6,852 grant to expand his auto garage, and George Daau plans to repair the roof and side of his business, Fashion & Mart, with his $10,000 grant."  These are matching grants, dollar-for-dollar, essentially doubling the money these owners have available to spend on their benefits.

There's a loan program as well, the Economic Development Incentive Program, which provides businesses "with the stimulus to initiate building renovation, business expansion or infrastructure improvements."  There have been three of these awards so far.

I know I complain a lot, but I'm not doing that here.  I'm excited, genuinely so, about the future of my side of town.  Hope and Change do work...but when they come from the ground-up, not from the government.

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