Local real estate group GrayStreet Partners has been busy filling up its Houston Street portfolio.
Last week, international architecture firm Gensler moved its San Antonio office from Travis Park Plaza to the second floor of the Schaum building, 229 E. Houston St.
Gensler, which is the firm designing GrayStreet’s projects, including the rehab of the former San Antonio Light building on Broadway, now occupies 6,500 square feet in the Schaum, which is also home to The Palm steakhouse and basement cocktail bar Jet-Setter.
The second floor of the Schaum has been vacant for decades, said Peter French, GrayStreet’s director of development.
The number of Gensler workers in the building is unknown; interview requests to Gensler were unreturned.
A block east on Houston Street, GrayStreet is rehabbing the Grant and Kress buildings, on the 300 block of East Houston Street, which will become home to global workspace company WeWork. French expects the rehab to finish toward the end of the year.
WeWork’s San Antonio location is slated to consume 75,000 square feet of the Grant and Kress, which will be connected in the rehab. The empty lot next to the Kress building, on the corner of Houston and Jefferson streets, will be repaved for parking for the space.
WeWork, which has locations in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, Austin and Houston, provides desk space starting at $45 a month. Geekdom, a San Antonio-based startup workspace also on Houston Street, has memberships starting at $50 a month. French says he doesn’t see the spaces as competitors, because their target markets are different.
French said, in comparison to Geekdom, WeWork spaces are likely to attract a larger, more corporate office market, but is still capable of hosting startup companies.
There are no new details on the food court that's slated for the Grant building, in the space last occupied by the children's museum, French said.
[ Previously published: Work begins on Houston Street food hall ]
National brand 18|8 Fine Men's Salons is slated to open in the Savoy building at 122 E. Houston St., potentially in June, franchise owner John-Michael Stern said.
"We're just excited to see the development in the area," said Stern, who owns five 18|8 franchises. "There's a lot of interest in continuing to rebuild and see that area become revitalized. I think there's a lot humming for that area."
18|8 is an upscale salon and barbershop that offers haircuts, straight razor shaves, face treatments, scalp treatments, manicures, steam-towel pedicures, coloring services, and back and chest waxing.
The hours of operation haven't been determined, Stern said, but 18|8 is likely to be open six days a week, potentially seven.
For Stern, the Savoy will be his fifth 18|8 location. He acquired one at The Rim shopping center last year, and he has two in Houston and one in Austin. There's another one at Huebner Oaks, and there are 60 locations nationwide.
The name, Stern said, comes from the elemental makeup of stainless steel—18 percent chromium, 8 percent nickel.
"When you combine those two elements, you get pure and polished stainless steel, which is the same look we are wanting for our gentlemen," Stern said.
When it opens, 18|8 will join Royal Blue Grocery on Houston Street set to open MondayRoyal Blue Grocery in the Savoy building, which developer Weston Urban owns. The small-scale grocer is expected to open on Monday.
There are three other vacant spaces in the Savoy left for Weston Urban to fill. A block west on Houston Street past the Rand building, which it also owns, the developer is revamping the green space into a functioning park.
Of course, on the next block west is the new Frost Tower. An email to Weston Urban requesting an opening date was not returned.
Setting It Straight: Because of a reporting error, the original version of this article stated Royal Blue Grocery was open Saturday. It's opening Monday.
Royal Blue Grocery, the Austin-based bodega chain, is scheduled to open Monday in the Savoy building, 122 E. Houston St.
Hours of operation will be 7 a.m. to midnight daily.
The 3,000-square-foot store will offer grab-and-go items such as sandwiches and tacos, beer and wine, snacks, and other light provisions. Co-owner Craig Staley has said the company hopes to serve tech district employees, especially with start-up incubator Geekdom being located in the Rand building next door. He also sees guests from downtown's many hotels using the store.
The East Houston Street location will be the first for Royal Blue in San Antonio, but potentially not the last, Staley told the Heron last month. He said he envisions other locations popping up in downtown proper.
"That's definitely the plan as we see more things happening between downtown and the Pearl," Staley said recently.
Currently, Royal Blue has eight other locations—six in Austin, two in Dallas.
Seating, roughly 5-6 tables, will be primarily outside on a raised patio.
Staley said San Antonio wasn't on the company's radar until it connected with Weston Urban, the Savoy building's owner, two years ago.
He said he doesn't see Royal Blue directly competing with H-E-B's South Flores Market, which is roughly eight blocks south at Flores and East César E. Chávez Boulevard.
"Even that store is always going to be shopped differently than one of our stores," Staley said. "It's four times the size or more (of ours), and then when it comes to the full-size grocery store, they're definitely shopping differently than ours."
"We don't think of it as anything we're conflicting with, or conflicting with us."
Royal Blue is the first tenant to open in one of the five retail spaces on the ground floor of the Savoy.
The second will be 18|8 Fine Men's Salons, a upscale national chain, whose Austin-based franchisee owner is looking to open in the Savoy in June. (We'll have more on this shop soon.)
Next to the Savoy, Austin-based firm AMS Real Estate Services is planning a restaurant/retail/hotel complex in the Book, Clegg, Kennedy, Veramendi and what's left of the old Solo Serve buildings.
Weston Urban's larger plans to resuscitate and repopulate west downtown, where it owns many parcels, includes filling the Savoy with retail tenants. But they don't stop there.
It's co-building the new Frost Tower. It's reshaping the former green space across from the tower into a park that will include a restaurant space occupied by Pinkerton's Barbecue of Houston. And in the agreement between the city, Frost and Weston Urban, which has resulted in the new tower, it plans to build 265 residential units in the area.
Earlier this week, we gave an update on Royal Blue Grocery of Austin, which is expected to open at 122 E. Houston St. the first week in April.
It appears a barbershop will be its neighbor.
According to city documents posted this week, a permit for "tenant finish-out for men's hair salon in existing shell building space" has been granted for Suite 104 of the same address as Royal Blue, the Savoy building block, where Weston Urban is refurbishing five retail spaces.
The permit doesn't give any more clues, and Weston Urban did not return an interview request for this article.
The men's salon and Royal Blue would be the Savoy's first tenants with three other spaces left to fill.
Weston Urban also recruited Houston's Pinkerton's Barbecue for the lone restaurant space on greensward it's transforming into a park a block west.
In this area of west downtown, the incoming salon/barbershop would join Abe's Barber Shop, which opened at 307 N. Main Ave., just off Houston Street, last year. So far, business for Abram Sanchez—who says he attracts city workers from nearby offices and City Hall—has done so well, he's brought in two more barbers into his shop who work independently. Sanchez took over the old spot next to the Robert E. Lee apartment building where tonsorial legend Willie Cedillo held court for many, many years before finally retiring last year.
Of course, there's also barber Chuck Holdridge, who recently set up shop in the Burns building, also just off Houston Street, and his second in the downtown area—but about four blocks east of the Savoy.
The recent barbers join the handful of others in the downtown area, including Metro Barber Shop on South St. Mary's Street, the old-school shop inside the Sheraton Gunter Hotel, among others.
Royal Blue Grocery of Austin is about a month away from opening its first San Antonio store at 122 E. Houston St. in the Weston Urban-owned Savoy Hotel building block.
The 3,000-square-foot store will offer "a little bit of everything," co-owner and founder Craig Staley said.
"If you're cooking dinner at home, we try to have something that covers all of those bases," Staley said. "We do a lot of business at lunch—sandwiches, tacos—and coffee in the morning."
Staley expects the store to open the first week in April. Seating, about 5-6 tables, will primarily be outside on the sidewalk. Hours of operation will be 7 a.m. to midnight daily.
Staley said Royal Blue Grocery wasn't looking to open in San Antonio, but Weston Urban, the development firm backed by philanthropist Graham Weston, convinced them.
"They're not looking to go in and build things and flip them," Staley said of Weston Urban. "That neighborhood is a long-term play for Weston and we really like that. And we know downtown San Antonio needs something like this."
Staley doesn't see Royal Blue stopping with the one East Houston location, which will be the Texas company's ninth store.
"That's definitely the plan as we see more things happening between downtown and the Pearl," Staley said, who added he could see two or three more locations in downtown proper.
He said the company is looking forward to a development by Austin-based AMS Real Estate Services that will encircle the row of empty retail spots Royal Blue is entering. The development—a kind of restaurant and retail complex with hotels on the upper floors—includes the circa-1906 Book building (just east of Royal Blue), and the Clegg, Kennedy, Veramendi and Solo Serve structures that face Soledad Street.
Staley also said he isn't worried about some of the dead times Houston Street experiences on week nights. He thinks there's enough foot traffic from downtown's hotels, and from the growing number of tech workers, to keep the store afloat until more development enters the area.
It's pretty much Weston Urban's territory at this point. Weston Urban is co-developing the new Frost Tower and is remaking the adjacent greensward into more of a park. It's also agreed to build 265 housing units in the area on property it has acquired—or will acquire—in a land deal with Frost Bank and the city of San Antonio—the same one that's resulting in the new tower. In the park remake, Weston Urban has recruited Houston-based Pinkerton's Barbecue as the lone restaurant operator.
Last year, the University of Texas at San Antonio announced it was expanding its downtown campus into the area, with three schools being built in the next three or so years.
"We're hoping that us being down there, it helps to kind of spur the residential construction," Staley said. "It is that component that is not there now."
The store's interior is pretty much ready to go. Most of the attention, Staley said, is on the reconstruction of the sidewalk. For the sidewalk patio, the company received permission from the city to remove two small trees, which Staley said has been planted in five-by-five foot concrete boxes, and needed to replaced anyway. They've replaced one of the two trees.
The lobby of the 1912 Burns building on East Houston Street is still. Modern furniture pay homage to the building’s past. The deep low hum of a psychedelic band playing on a record player from Traveler Barbershop is just loud enough to drown out the faint traditional lobby music. Through the glass window, you will catch a glimpse of Chuck Holdridge in his zone, blade or buzzer in hand, surrounded by an array of hair care products and whiskey selections.
Holdridge, 41, is a native San Antonian who, like everyone else, has had brushes with fate and struggled with aspirations. Hairstyling, he said, first piqued his interest when he was a high school student at Clark and he’d accompany his girlfriend to a salon that had an apprenticeship program allowing its participants to offer $10 haircuts. He described the vibe as “rock n’ roll.”
Despite the sparked interest and a fear of an office environment job, Holdridge went to college at Texas State University where he pursued a degree in business. However, he soon realized that the idea of working in the beauty industry was always in the background of his mind.
“We would talk about what businesses did in a booming economy and what businesses did in a lousy economy,” Holdridge explained. “They talked about different industries such as the automobile industry, the manufacturing—this and that—to show how the industries respond during different economic times. And then there was the beauty industry that just kept going. No matter what.”
Still, after college, Holdridge joined the United States Army Reserve in 1998 to serve his country and was deployed to Afghanistan. It wasn’t until his second deployment, some years later, that he realized that it was time to follow the signs. When he returned from his second deployment, he told his wife he was going to enroll in beauty school and she was very supportive. In the summer of 2007, while still active military, Holdridge began his journey at the Aveda Institute that was located at the Pearl. He went from never holding a brush before to working for a salon the Aveda company had owned.
“It’s actually the salon I used to go with my high school girlfriend where she would get her hair cut at,” Holdridge laughed. “I was like, ‘Wow this came full circle’.”
After four deployments under his belt and almost two decades in the Army Reserve, Holdridge continued through with his education and earned a management position, working throughout other Aveda salons. But he didn’t like the administrative and academic rules of compliance so he absorbed as much as he could until he felt like it was time to do his own thing.
“And about that time, I stopped doing hair behind a chair—I had started doing hair at the house—for like beer money, like kind of a side hustle,” Holdridge said. “It was mostly guys, friends of mine, then friends of friends, coworkers of my wife. Most nights I was doing a cut or two in the living room, drinking beer, hanging out. It was really fun and I was like ‘I really like this,’” Holdridge explained. “This is different from being in a salon. It was the barber world. I just enjoyed it. I always felt like I never fully understood women’s hair. And what women wanted with their hair. My customers loved it but things like blowouts and updos and styling I always felt really insecure about. As I was transitioning more to men’s hair, I was like I feel really good about this. This is what I like—I felt more comfortable in that environment and so I got my barber license.”
After searching unsuccessfully for a place to set up shop, Holdridge worried he wasn’t going to find a barbershop he could see himself in. He had already quit his job as a hairdresser at Aveda and didn’t want to disappoint his wife.
Then, chance took over. Holdridge reconnected with an old friend, Mario Guajardo, when he needed shirts made. Guajardo owns a company, Richter Goods, which operates out of the old Broadway News building on Broadway and Appler Street, along with other businesses run out of trailers such as Bexar Goods, Mila Coffee and Rise Up.
That same week, Holdridge, a fan of vintage trailers himself, was cruising through Craigslist when he came across an Airstream that was once a hair salon in Austin. Everything began falling into place. He didn’t have to work at someone else’s barbershop. He could open his own. With Guajardo’s permission to park his trailer in the lot, Holdridge opened Traveler Barbershop in November of 2016. It took off faster than he’d imagined.
Holdridge says his time in the military gave him skills that transitioned well into a small business practice mindset. Finding what motivates those around him positions Holdridge to be a better manager and people person. What Holdridge loved about the military was the mentorship; being put in situations you’re not prepared for; having the opportunity and guidance to nail down situations where, in many work environments, you’d be let go for messing up. In the military, you don’t always get to choose your team but it’s everyone’s job to motivate each other and make sure the task gets done, he said.
After a couple of years learning how to manage a growing business and with a support system around him, business was bursting at the seams and a unique opportunity came about for Traveler Barbershop.
David Adelman, the local developer behind AREA Real Estate, approached Holdridge with the idea of setting up a brick and mortar location in the heart of downtown San Antonio inside the Burns building at 401 E. Houston St., but Holdridge was reluctant because of customer parking until he realized, compared to other major cities, downtown San Antonio isn't hard to navigate, he said.
Apart from parking challenges, Holdridge was also thinking bigger. He disclosed that, in fact, the most challenging thing he experienced was everywhere but downtown. After opening Traveler Barbershop Airstream on Broadway three years ago, he had been on the hunt for a brick-and-mortar location for a couple of years. Holdridge had been chasing real estate properties in hopes of a location that could possibly house 10 chairs. After months of miscommunication, disappearing agents and leads that lead nowhere, Adelman made Holdridge’s move easy and he realized that he didn’t need some extravagantly big space after all.
"It's funny, working downtown and moving downtown. I feel like you meet a tremendous amount of people down here who aren’t from here," Holdridge said. “I‘ve been coming down here since 10th grade you know and you hear people who are like, ‘Downtown is blowing up, the Pearl is blowing up,’ and I’m like” It’s not blowing up. Blowing up to me means boom and bust and that’s one of the things I love about San Antonio, is that it doesn’t bust,” Chuck concluded.
“I feel like this town is really diverse, where one sector may slow down another sector kind of picks up. It’s a constant ever-improving kind of town. Here you are integrated into the community. People are searching for things they relate to, so if you take your time and do something right, you feel pretty confident it’s going to stick around.”
A crew has begun assembling a parklet on Jefferon Street, along side the historic Burns building, 401 E. Houston St.
The mini park, which consumes about 1,100 square feet of curb-side parking on the east side of Jefferson—from Peacock Alley to Houston Street—should be completed by next Friday, said Luis Miguel Martinez, urban development manager for AREA Real Estate, the company that is installing the public space.
AREA Real Estate, developer David Adelman's company, has also renovated the Burns.
So far this week, a crew started to install steel railings, weather-proof Trex decking (a wood fiber and plastic composite), and concrete blocks that will also serve as planters for palo verde trees and about five types of native grass.
"That was one of the highlights of construction—all the concrete blocks you can assemble and disassemble," Martinez said. "They're like Legos."
Once the park is assembled, AREA Real Estate will choose and place the furniture—a combination of tables and chairs, and rocking chairs, Martinez said.
Martinez estimates the park will fit about 30 to 40 people. Architecture firm dwg. of Austin said last year that the modular parklet can be disassembled in two days, if needed.
Martinez said he didn't know the exact cost of the parklet, the bill for which AREA is mostly footing, he said, until after the furniture is purchased.
In December, the City Council approved a Houston Street Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone incentive worth up to $255,880, and a Chapter 380 economic development loan agreement worth up to $446,895 (taken from the Inner City Incentive Fund fiscal year 2019 budget) for public upgrades associated with the historic preservation of the circa-1913 Burns building, construction of the parklet, and finish-out of the first floor retail spaces. Martinez didn't know how much of those finds would be applied toward the parklet project. An inquiry to the Center City Development and Operations department was not immediately returned.
The parklet will occupy four metered parking spots, which the city will license to AREA Real Estate at $800 per year for 10 years. The city estimates it will forgo about $3,700 in revenue from the four spots.
A single spot at Jefferson and the alley will remain available for commercial use.
» Jefferson Street parklet headed to Council
» Parklet concept next to Burns building gets approval
The oak-lined green space across from the current Frost Bank headquarters at Houston and Flores streets is being prepared for a major makeover.
Today, a crew removed and boxed up the statue of Col. Thomas Claiborne "T.C." Frost, who founded the bank in 1868, that had faced Houston Street for many years. It will be stored and eventually installed at the entrance to the glassy, 23-story Frost Tower currently under construction just across from Flores. The tower will serve as the bank's new headquarters when it's completed in spring 2019.
Developer Weston Urban is transforming the one-acre patch of green into a park, complete with seating and furniture, fountains, some retail, art, and a restaurant in the northwest corner, across from the Robert E. Lee apartments.
Weston Urban acquired the open space in a complex land deal between the developer, Frost and the city of San Antonio, which is resulting in the new tower.
Though it is privately owned, Weston Urban has assured the public the space, 210 N. Flores St., will be for public use.
Just as with the new tower, the park is scheduled for completion in the spring, Westin Urban President Randy Smith said.
"Park is still on schedule (rain hasn't helped)," Smith said in an email. "Restaurant will likely be a bit later than the park, but we've always anticipated that. We want to make sure the operator is deeply involved in design and will take our time on that to get it just right."
Smith did not mention who the operator might be. In an interview in June, he said it would be "very Texan."
The park is being designed by Seattle-based landscape architects Gustafson Guthrie Nichol. The firm also is designing the tower's new promenade that will face Houston Street. It's envisioned as a kind of park extension as you walk west on Houston Street and eventually hit San Pedro Creek Culture Park.
"In our eyes, we want all three of them to complement one another," Smith said in a previous interview.
Houston Street green space due for major upgrade