This month, Centro San Antonio partnered with Ana Fernandez, owner of Chamoy City Limits, to provide free paletas, facemasks and hand sanitizer to passersby at multiple downtown locations via a mobile food truck. The partnership, which began July 3 and has continued weekly every Friday since, seeks to raise public awareness about protections against Covid-19 in a novel and eye-catching way.
"It's kind of a more fun way to get your protective equipment, because everybody can use a mask, and most people could use a new mask," said Fernandez, who owns and operates the Chamoy City Limits brick-and-mortar location on West Hildebrand Avenue in addition to the food truck.
The truck displays artwork and charts communicating health information about Covid-19, and visits locations around the downtown Friday afternoons typically stopping outside the Emily Morgan DoubleTree hotel and the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk. From the truck, paletas and protective equipment are distributed using a six-foot pole with a small conical basket on the end in order to maintain physical distancing.
Fernandez seeks to reach San Antonio locals and tourists alike. Finding locals near the bus stops and tourists near the Alamo and River Walk areas, she utilizes the truck’s ice cream music to catch the attention of anyone nearby.
“People will wave us down and we’ll pull over, or we’ll see people and stop to give them masks if we see them without masks,” Fernandez said.
Centro San Antonio, an organization dedicated to downtown enhancement and promotion, first reached out to Chamoy City Limits last month in an effort to promote public health while supporting local businesses and artists.
“We’d always wanted to experiment with mobile experiences… and we’re big fans of (Fernandez), so we reached out to her with this crazy idea,” said Matt Sirgo, director of storytelling at Centro San Antonio. “It’s just one small way to connect with people and get the message across to stay safe, follow the recommended CDC guidelines, and we’ll get through this together.”
Local artist Isabel Ann Castro created all the informational art decorating the truck. Some pieces communicate a more educational approach, such as info on how to monitor symptoms of Covid-19. Others feature artwork accompanied by fun, San Antonio-specific phrases, such as “Stay Home And Resta, Or There Will Be No Fiesta.” Castro’s project was originally intended to be separate, but was combined with Chamoy City Limits’ truck after Centro realized how the goals of both initiatives aligned.
“Everything we do, we wanted to support local businesses and entrepreneurs, and also recognize that unfortunately during times like these, the first things to get cut are the artists and arts programs," Sirgo said.
The recent combined partnership with Fernandez and Castro comes in the midst of Centro’s rollout of their “Art Everywhere” initiative, which plans to add 10 murals to Houston Street this year. In mid-June, local artist Anthony Dean-Harris completed his mural, “Instructions For Use For Adapting To Our State of Constant Change” at the Maverick Building facing South Presa Street as part of the program.
Fernandez has two more distributions scheduled this month for this Friday and next Friday, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., with potential plans to continue in August. “Our hope is to make people feel good, and walk away with a big smile,” Fernandez said. “It’s cool when you’re walking down the street and someone hands you free ice cream.”
Benjamin Gonzalez is a reporting intern at the Heron. He graduated from Trinity University with a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology, and can be reached at email@example.com, @BennyCruzG on Twitter.
On Friday, Centro San Antonio is taking its popular The Spot on Houston pop-up series on the road. Or, rather, down the road.
The gathering of food trucks and mobile retail is scheduled for 5:01-8 p.m. Friday at 200 N. Main Ave., in the parking lot across from the Rand building on Houston Street.
Admission is free. An all-you-can-eat crawfish boil by Pinch Boil House and Bia Bar will cost you $10. Two bars will offer $5-$6 wine and bubbly options from Rosella at the Rand, $6 beer from Dorćol Distilling + Brewing Co. Free mini Topo Chico. Sound Cream Airstream will dispense jams.
The 5:01 p.m. start time is deliberate, and the message is a simple one from Centro to downtown workers.
"Extend your time downtown and celebrate the community you’re part of during the day time," said Liz Burt, Centro's director of placemaking and programming. "Don’t go to your vehicles and drive back out to loop land."
The series, which began in March 2018, usually is held during lunchtime in the parking lot at Jefferson and East Houston streets. This is the first time it's being held closer to west downtown, across from start-up incubator Geekdom, which occupies four floors at the Rand.
The Spot on Houston is intended to show workers and residents the untapped potential of Houston Street and the rest of downtown.
While Houston Street is typically vibrant during the day with office workers, and on many weekends, it still remains comatose most week nights.
"There are a lot of assets there, but it’s about connecting people and giving them the guidance on what's available, and removing any barriers—whether that’s the process of how to shut down a street or (how) to engage a private property owner," Burt said. "We’re looking for activators and funders in addition to the community’s feedback."
When the International Downtown Association begins its 64th annual conference in San Antonio on Wednesday, more than 900 registrants will meet and exchange ideas on the theme "Retropolitan: The New American City."
It's about "preserving a rich and diverse culture while looking forward, looking to the future," said Eddie Romero, vice president of marketing at Centro San Antonio, co-host of the international gathering of placemaking experts along with the IDA. "So that thread will be in the tours, the workshops, and some of these master talk speakers.
The IDA is composed of 2,500 place management organizations from around the world, which, like Centro, are focussed on growing and activating urban cores, and which manage public improvement district.
Its three-day conference offers participants tours of San Antonio's major urban projects — Alamo Plaza, Hemisfair and Zona Cultural, as examples. Multimodal tours include one by barge of River Walk architecture, one by bus of the Spanish colonial Missions, and one by bike of West Side murals. A mobile workshop explores the Pearl, "How a Historic Brewery Transformed a City."
They'll also discuss broader topics most downtowns are facing with sessions such as "Dockless Bikes and Scooters: The New Frontier," "Downtown's Role in Achieving Equity and Mitigating Gentrification," "Parking is Changing—How and Why Your Downtown Organization Must Be Involved."
Visit idaconference.org for a complete schedule.
The lunch options on Houston Street will get a significant boost on Friday with The Spot of Houston, a kind of midday food truck festival on the empty lot on Houston and Jefferson streets.
The participants are Lada Ladies (enchiladas), Bebere Ethiopian, Garbanzo (Mediterranean), Twisted Traditions (German, American, Asian and Italian), Ay Papi (Puerto Rican), Panifico Bake Shop and Estate Coffee. The gathering begins at 10 a.m.
Also, a mobile women's clothing store called Hola Beaches Airstream will sell its wares.
The event by Centro San Antonio is an attempt to activate a segment of Houston Street that's usually dormant. The activation is the second this summer, and stems from a public engagement process held by the International Downtown Association late last year in which stakeholders and residents brainstormed on how to breathe more life into Houston Street.
Many decades ago — and I mean like in the 1940s and '50s — Houston Street was home to San Antonio's largest retail stores. But in recent years, it has sputtered along despite attempts to revive it with public improvement projects, such as Tri-Party of the late '80s and '90s.
"Centro has always recognized Houston Street as one of our most storied and historical streets," said Liz Burt, Centro's director of placemaking and programming. "At one point it was compared to Fifth Avenue in New York. It has some great architectural bones, but it's had some ebbs and flows."
In the past 10 years, the pattern has been: retailer or restauranteur opens optimistically, then closes. Opens optimistically, then closes. Houston Street is somewhat active on weekdays, but not so much on nights and weekends. It has yet to really get into a rhythm.
There are signs of promise. On the corner of Houston and Jefferson streets alone, a pizza joint called Playland is scheduled to open in the Maverick apartment building in mid-July, and the historic Burns building is currently being remodeled into offices with restaurant space on the ground floor. Both of those buildings are owned by developer David Adelman.
The Alamo interpretive plan, which is currently going through a heated public process, recommends closing Houston Street from Broadway/Losoya Street to Third, and opening it up as an extension of the plaza. A few weeks ago, Revolucion Coffee + Juice opened at 300 E. Houston St. in a spot that has seen Moshe's Golden Falafel and Big Apple Bagels open and close in recent years. La Panaderia at 301 E. Houston St. opened a year ago and seems to be going strong. But that spot has been home to French, Italian and sushi in the last 10 years.
We'll explore Houston Street's future more in the coming months. For now, we wanted to let you know about the food trucks. This is an event that Centro will hold one more time this summer, July 27, and then consider bringing it back in the fall for perhaps the mornings or for happy hour, Burt said.
Also, the first 25 people who arrive on a SWell Cycle receive a free paleta from Steel City Pops.
Unfortunately, that offer doesn't apply to Bird scooter riders.
Featured photo by Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio