World traveler and fashionista Suzy Gershman has been dropping notes to Peter from around the globe for years … this is her latest.
Yippie Ki Yay Peter,
Here I am in San Antonio, Texas where I did a whole hunk of my growin’ up. We moved here when I was 13 years old; I own a little house here and dream that some day I will retire here.
Meanwhile, I came to town to visit the family and remember the Alamo.
San Antonio is a popular convention city and business destination, but I chose the suburban pleasures laced with the taste of Texas. I did not go to the River Walk, any of the many historical missions nor did I once mention the names of Tony Parker or Eva Longoria in my entire stay.
Instead, I spent my time checking out all the changes in retail … and there were many.
LONG LIVE H-E-B
I’ve always bemoaned the fact that we do not have Trader Joe’s in Texas; local wags say it’s because the Traders are afraid of the all powerful and oh-so-clever people at H.E.B., the major grocery store chain throughout the state. To call these grocery stores is already a mistake; these are destination stores and the new ones belong in some sort of Museum of Retailing.
As luck would have it, a store opened while I was in town, called H-E-B Allon. It is on Harry Wurzbach Highway and smack dab in the middle of an upmarket residential area not that far from the Medical Center, which is one of the prides of San Antonio (along with the Spurs). This particular store is a new-build which is important to note because it was created to be the model for the new world of supermarkets—talk about your green grocer; this one is greener than a Prius.
When you walk by display cases, sensors motivate the lights to glow—otherwise they are dull, to save energy. There is no hot water heater; electricity from the food cases recycles to run the generators. Ceilings are low, which saves energy and gives the store an intimate feeling. More importantly, the store is not as large as many so again, it feels intimate.
H-E-B owns another branch of fancy supermarkets called Central Market, these being more upscale and international in food and merchandise selection and also smaller in scale than a neighborhood grocery store. Many elements from Central Market have been employed in the new Allon store, with cooking stations, the Central market Café on the Run, an area called “World of Good” which sells merchandise made by African tribeswomen to raise money for their community.
There are health and beauty lines so exclusive they are carried only at H-E-B and Neiman-Marcus (I am not making this up!); there’s a wall of wine and beer and an enormous selection of kosher foodstuffs. There’s a section called Salts of the World as well as a place to mix your own peanut butter. I rely on the house coffee for its San Antonio flavor.
Books are sold at 25 percent off (why wait for Amazon?), seafood is flown in daily, there’s a wine steward and a sommelier as well as a tortilleria as part of the bake shop. This is Texas, hon.
Hours are daily, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. And yes, of course they sell quail, rabbit and bison—after all, it is in season now. You can also get your local Cornish hen stuffed with jalapeno cornbread or your smoked turkey since that time of year is nearly here.
ON TO THE RIM
We then zipped out I-10 in the El Paso direction to get to more new stores and amazing sites (and sights). Growth in San Antonio from the Medical Center area at I-10 straight out to Boerne and the Texas Hill Country has been so enormous that property values have sky-rocketed and entire new developments have bloomed like a rose of Sharon. Where Loop 1604 crosses I-10 we have always had Fiesta Texas, a theme park.
Now we have La Cantera, a ritzy park-like village mall that just opened its Phase Two stores last week and The Rim, a large conglomerate of shopping centers with not only major big box stores (TJ Maxx and HomeGoods) but a whole lot of discount—Nordstrom Rack and Saks’ Off Fifth both open in mid-November. What’s so shocking about the off-pricers is that just across the highway from The Rim, at La Cantera, there’s a Nordstrom’s department store. It’s beyond me how or why they allowed the discount step-daughter to set up shop.
The Rim is so complete that, along with the usual chains and stores and restaurants, there are three enormous outdoorsy retailers (Cabela’s, Dick’s and Bass Pro Outdoor World). Bass Pro is from the Disney School of Retail Design—they should charge admission for you to see the décor and restaurant. With the show-biz rampant in the décor, the area movie theater is called The Palladium, it looks like Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and offers its own homemade gelato station as well as a section in each movie theatre where children are not allowed to sit.
Beyond The Rim, just maybe a quarter mile along the frontage road, is Rudy’s—one of the most famous barbecue stands in all of Texas. So skip the fast food places and mosey on down to see a way of life that seems to be disappearing from Texas.
A little outside of town in another direction, heading toward Austin on I-35, you can get to the two large outlet malls in San Marcos or you can go to one of my favorite stores in the world, Garden Ridge. Calling this a “store” is a generous term.
Garden Ridge is a sprawl of three or four warehouses all filled with, uh, stuff. It’s somewhat organized—furniture here, picture frames there, kitchenwares over here—but mostly you just prowl around for bargains and deals. A lot of the merchandise is seasonal, so right now it’s big on Christmas.
Everyday stock varies—I’ve bought fabulous dishes (plates of roosters that dance and crow) and then returned to find there is no dishes at all. This is the kind of store that many people hate, as it’s not for the faint of heart or the princess shopper. Me? I consider it part of the heart of Texas.
Hook ’em Horns, Pardner
- Suzy’s Postcard from El Paso, Texas.
- Suzy’s Postcard from Berlin, Germany.
- Suzy’s Postcard from Paris, France.
- Suzy’s Postcard from the Fancy Food Show.
- Suzy’s Adventures in Las Vegas.
- Suzy’s Postcard from Seoul, South Korea.
- Suzy’s Postcard from Hanoi, Vietnam.
- Postcard to Peter: Santa Barbara Shopping.
- Suzy’s Bay Area Baubles.
- Postcard to Peter: The Wares in Buenos Aires.
- Suzy’s San Antonio Adventures.