Business Owners Along Former Old Highway 90 Want Identity Back
For some residents on the Southwest Side the name Old Highway 90 West is one of character and neighborhood identity. And while the road remains, the street signs have changed to Enrique M. Barrera Parkway. And that has upset a small group of business owners and residents. They’ve come together to have the old name restored.
Many of the stores and restaurants along the recently re-named Enrique M. Barrera Parkway set up shop long before the name change last October.
“On this road, there’s 100-plus businesses on this highway, so it’s affecting all of us,” says Javier Gutierrez, owner of Del Bravo records, as he drives around the stretch of road. “This is the intersection of Old Highway 90 and Southwest 36, and we’ll always call it Highway 90.”
Gutierrez’s father opened the record store exactly 50 years ago. The outside displays a new sign with the address 554 Old Highway 90 in large, bold lettering. He says it’s a protest against the change. His store is full of old records and CDs in aisles marked Norteno, or conjunto. Gutierrez turns on a song, by Los Thunderbirds, about Old Highway 90.
Gutierrez says the name change erases identity. “It’s like you coming to me and saying you’re going to change your name to Enrique Barrera. Nobody knows me by Barrera, they know me by what I’ve done as Gutierrez.”
The Westside Development Corporation provided a grant of up to $1,000 per business to change stationary and signage. But business owners say that didn’t cover their costs, only got covered a few t-shirts and business cards.
Gutierrez claims new customers still have trouble finding his shop. “You go GPS and you key in Enrique and it throws you to Enrique Street which is about a mile away. It’s a dead end. So we have customer’s calling, 'Hey, are you on a dead end? We’re on Enrique Street.’ No, we’re on Enrique Barrera, so they can’t find us even on GPS.”
Guiterrez isn’t alone. A block away at the corner of 37th Street is 4M Auto Parts. The shop’s owner Michael Cooremans says the old highway is entirely small businesses with a deep-rooted connection to the surrounding neighborhoods.
“You don’t see any big box stores here on this. This is a historical highway with a bunch of family-owned businesses on this one stretch. It’s rare for mom and pop businesses to thrive and survive and it was all due to because of our name.”
Just why the highway was renamed dates back to 2013. District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez suggested the new name following a recommendation from the SA 2020 Westside Summit.
“It was brought up that perhaps, as we talk about the significant investments we want to make into that corridor, that we might want to consider renaming it.”
Enrique Barrera, like Lopez, was a former District 6 councilman. He was also on the Edgewood ISD School Board. He died in 2007. Lopez says a tremendous number of people supported naming the highway after Barrera.
“To the point to where it was not only individuals that live work and play in the area, but it was also individuals that through their time in city government had the opportunity to work with Mr. Barrera and know him to be an honorable individual and those were individuals who helped raise the money independently to fund this.”
Lopez says when the issue comes before City Council again he will support keeping it as Enrique Barrera Parkway.
The director of the city’s Department of Development Services is also against reverting back to the old name. Rod Sanchez says the new name helps eliminate any confusion between Old Highway 90 and the current U.S. Highway 90 that goes from near Florida to Del Rio.
“We try not to have that same situation because we don’t want to have our emergency responders get confused in the case of fire or heart attack where every second in precious,” Sanchez says.
Plus, Sanchez says many businesses have already changed their branding to Enrique Barrera Parkway.
“So this would be a hardship to have to change it two times to them,” he says.
But some of the longtime business owners are fighting back by forming the group Save Old Highway 90. The group has raised the $32,000 that would be needed to replace the current street signs. They hope tradition and nostalgia will persuade City Council when it takes up the issue next month.