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H-E-B's New Store Hopes To Meet Downtown Demand

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Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
Shoppers browse the new H-E-B South Flores Market on openind day; December 2nd 2015.

Until today downtown San Antonio, could have been considered a food desert. 

Now, after more than a decade without a full-service downtown grocery store, H-E-B has opened its South Flores Market.

H-E-B officials and city leaders hope that the store will help make downtown a more desirable place to live.

It’s a crowded first day in H-E-B's new urban grocery store. Shopper Laura Nikas pulls a bag of grapes, cereal, and other items from her small shopping cart and places them on the check out counter. 

Nikas was raised in the Northeast where urban inner city grocery stores are common.

“When I first moved to San Antonio 20 years ago, it was inconceivable to me that I could not walk to a grocery store, so this has been something I’ve waited a really, really long time for,” she says.

Nikas’ multilevel condominium is a short block and a half walk from the new store.  Until now she had to drive to Olmos Park for day-to-day essentials, some xx miles away.

She says that as a real estate agent convincing clients to live downtown was sometimes a challenge.

”All I ever hear from people is 'Do you have a grocery store?' Or, ‘I can’t live downtown because there’s no grocery store.'"

This store is exactly what she has been waiting for.

“I’ve been calling myself the most excited San Antonian about this store for a long time. I can see today that probably there are people that are just as excited as I am.”

The new store is a compact 12,000-square-feet, about one?? then the size of the big grocery stores where 

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Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
Downtown resident Laura Nikas

  its customers normally shop.

Dya Campos, director of H-E-B Public Affairs says the scaled down space was a necessity for locating downtown.

“It is a complete shop but operating in an urban environment, the smaller square footage is necessary, and so you’re really challenged to make the best use of the space you possibly can.”

The parking lot contains 50 free spaces, something many downtown businesses could only dream of.  There are also four double-sided gas pumps. The narrow aisles are flanked by fresh produce, prepared meals, a deli with gourmet selections, but there’s no pharmacy. San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor seemed impressed as she grabbed a bottle of squash pasta sauce.

“This is going to be transformative for the folks who live here, but not just the folks who live here, even those of us who work downtown and even some of the visitors who are staying in the hotels. Sometimes you want to pick up something quick,” the mayor said.

Ramiro Cavasos, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says H-E-B’s presence should spur job creation, downtown housing and it could spark competition.

“So, it’s job creation. It also will give competitors the opportunity to also locate downtown and give downtown residents more options. Wherever H-E-B goes, you’re going to see other retailers follow.”

Cavasos remembers the last time downtown had a grocery.

“I think the last grocery store that was downtown was an old Handy Andy and it was about 10 or 15 years ago that closed in the King William neighborhood.”

For years no other grocery stores would come here.  Then in 2013, the city offered a million dollar incentive for someone to open one downtown. H-E-B turned down the money, and hasn’t said why it didn’t locate a store here sooner.

Campos says the company will be watching to see how the store that is next door to H-E-B headquarters performs.

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Joey Palacios
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Texas Public Radio
Many shoppers were impressed to see items not found at any other HEB store.

  “It’s still a very new, urban, residential area for us and we’re looking forward to seeing how this investment turns out and interested in learning how to operate in an urban market and about the demographic downtown and our new shoppers.”

Richard Tangum, director of UTSA’s Urban and Regional Planning Research Center says the store is a start to solving downtown’s  lack of food stores.

“I think what we need is more of these stores and again where they sell basic items, are reasonably priced and also produce and fresh food in neighborhood areas.”

Centro San Antonio estimates there are about 18,000 downtown residents and thousands more who work and shop here.  H-E-B is hoping it’s a ready market of customers for its H-E-B South Flores Market . 

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules