January 30, 2023

Since it was founded in 1948, Herweck’s has survived the disruption of many construction cycles — it’s one of the challenges of a location on a busy downtown corner.
But the art supply store’s owner isn’t sure it will survive this one.
“We’re looking at construction everywhere you’re trying to drive downtown,” Scott Rote said of his store, whose front entrance is separated by a high chain link fence from a construction site on Broadway Street — which has been closed for over a year. “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t want to go down here. It’s too difficult.’”
Herweck’s isn’t alone in such struggles.
On North Main Avenue, the owner of Charles A. James Bicycle Shop has been lodging complaints with the city over street parking in the area, much of which has been displaced during a street reconstruction project slated to wrap up by 2024.
Hank Estrada, Sr., owner of Charles A James Bicycle Shop, grimaces as he talks about the construction projects outside his shop in San Antonio in TX, on Sept. 14, 2022. The mix of city and private construction projects have been posing challenges to the city’s oldest bike shop.
In the La Villita Historical District, owners of street-level businesses are frustrated because customers can’t even get to their front doors.
Whether it’s fences along Broadway, blocked sidewalks in La Villita or piles of bulldozed concrete on North Main, it’s only the latest of the disruptions business owners have been facing across the area for years. Restaurants have closed. Retail shops and offices are seeking new locations. Customers and tourists struggle to navigate closed streets and complain about reduction of parking.
It’s a byproduct of the metro area’s rapid growth and efforts by the city and private developers to keep up.
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Wheels hang on the wall at Charles A James Bicycle Shop San Antonio in TX, on Sept. 14, 2022. The mix of city and private construction projects have been posing challenges to the city’s oldest bike shop.
San Antonio, the state’s second-largest city by population, is in one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the nation. Its population grew 8.1 percent in the past decade, and has been growing more than 2 percent a year in recent years.
To keep up, the city and private developers have been expanding the city’s landscape with new private development and embarking on multi-year infrastructure projects like those disrupting traffic downtown.
The scale of change is massive. More than $3.3 billion is being spent downtown over the next five years. It’s paying for new housing and retail space, hotels, street repairs, upgrades to cultural amenities such as the Alamo, Hemisfair, Tower of the Americas and Institute of Texan Cultures, and creation of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park.
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The combination of major infrastructure projects throughout the central city and the boom in private construction has created a perfect storm that’s buffeting business — and sinking some.
On Broadway, Herweck’s managed through the COVID-19 pandemic mainly by offering curbside pickup.
But Josie Ybarra, a manager at the store, said there haven’t been many walk-in customers in the year since a city construction project displaced the store’s street parking options and has nearly hidden its front door. Major construction at the nearby Light Building, which houses the Express-News, has also disrupted traffic.
Herweck’s has long banked on its screen-printing business and sales of school supplies every fall. “But construction makes it hard for customers to want to come downtown,” Ybarra said.
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A customer carrries a large canvas to the counter at Herweck’s San Antonio in TX, on Sept. 14, 2022. The mix of city and private construction projects have been posing challenges to downtown businesses such as Herweck’s.
Scott Rote, an owner of Herweck’s, talks about the construction project outside of Herweck’s San Antonio in TX, on Sept. 14, 2022. The mix of city and private construction projects have been posing challenges to downtown businesses such as Herweck’s.
Amy Rote closes the freight elevator doors painted to look like Audrey, II, from “Little Shop of Horrors” in the warehouse of Herweck’s San Antonio in TX, on Sept. 14, 2022. The mix of city and private construction projects have been posing challenges to downtown businesses such as Herweck’s.
Sales are down enough that Rote has had to lay off one employee so far.
Outside, a wheel loader pushes gravel in the fenced-off construction site that’s eliminated curbside parking. But the store rents several parking spots in a nearby lot, enabling staff to carry supplies to customers.
Rote said he sees the city and private projects scattered around downtown as largely “cosmetic” but thinks they’ll help update aging infrastructure and add space for newcomers.
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He’s just hoping the project outside his door is done by the target date of 2024.
“We were just getting out of COVID and thought everything was done and everything should be normal,” he said. “But then this hits us and it’s not normal. We have a long road ahead of us. By no means are we at the end.”
City Council members understand that reality and know that as such projects continue into coming years, businesses in other parts of the city will be impacted. Some think they should do more to help businesses facing challenges because of continuing construction.
Included in the $3.4 billion annual budget approved by council this month is a $400,000 one-year “city construction mitigation program” proposed by District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia.
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Rocha Garcia, who represents the Southwest Side, proposed adding $1 million over two years for a construction displacement fund for businesses.
“They’re in need of help,” she said. “My idea would be to focus in on an impact study and possibly some grant funding.” Something as simple as helping businesses with signs telling customers they’re open would be worthwhile, she added.
Many council members expressed support for the idea — some even said the city should increase it to $1 million per year.
Construction is always going to be disruptive, said District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez, who represents the East Side. With his district set to receive more funding for work repairing the East Side’s worst streets, he knows major reconstruction work is on the way.
The reason so many streets need complete reconstruction is the city’s history of not investing in street repairs on the East Side, McKee-Rodriguez said.
“We need to think about what role we played in getting to this point,” he said.
District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo, who represents the near West Side, proposed an even larger fund: $20 million over the next two years.
For now, business owners are merely trying to stay afloat.
Crews work on road construction project on Main Street outside Alamo Music Center in downtown San Antonio, TX, on Sept. 14, 2022. The mix of city and private construction projects have been posing challenges to downtown businesses.
At La Villita, most of the shops and galleries were closed on a recent Wednesday morning. Few people were walking in the neighborhood, which is surrounded by construction on East Nueva and South Alamo streets. They opted to use the River Walk or to drive by at street level.
“This is hurting our business,” said Patricia Saenz, who works at Villa Tesoros, a women’s clothing shop. “Our customers say, ‘I didn’t know you all were here. There’s all construction and we didn’t know how to get in here.’”
The explosion of construction projects has also made it difficult for people to get to work on time as cars and Uber drivers struggle to follow the maze of detour signs and streets that may be open one day and closed the next. Tourists and residents struggle to get to favorite bars and restaurants amid the landscape of orange traffic cones, fencing and scaffolding.
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Sidewalk and street access is also limited around the cross sections of East Travis and Soledad streets, where Dallas-based builder Rogers-O’Brien construction broke ground on Weston Urban’s 32-story luxury apartment tower in April.
The loss of parking on North Main has been a challenge for Charles A. James Bicycle Shop . Its customers have been riding or carrying their bikes for several blocks to get to the store, its front entrance hidden behind tall fences.
Established in 1920, the oldest bike shop in San Antonio has suffered a sudden 40 percent drop in monthly revenue since the Weston Urban tower’s construction began this year, its owner said. The staff even started a GoFundMe page to raise money to help pay bills.
“Right now, I’m living week to week,” said Hank Estrada Sr., the shop’s owner. “I pay the rent but I’m normally two weeks late because of the lack of revenue.”
Estrada said he lodged complaints with the San Antonio Public Works Department after not receiving notice that construction crews were also ripping up North Main for a city sewer line project.
An apartment highrise is pictured across the street from downtown businesses along Main Street outside Alamo Music Center in downtown San Antonio, TX, as seen on Sept. 14, 2022. The mix of city and private construction projects have been posing challenges to downtown businesses.
The work lasted nine weeks — his entire summer biking season. The two-lane road shrank to one lane and crews began taking parking spots once relied on by the store’s staff and customers. The city department eventually intervened and parking opened up earlier this month.
“The city is trying,” he said, “but I question whether they understand the economic impact.”
On the nearby corner, the Alamo Music Center, founded in 1929, says it’s the oldest music store in Texas. It’s surviving largely because most sales are generated online. But the ongoing construction has deterred longtime customers from sidestepping heavy machinery to visit in person.
Inside Alamo City Music Center San Antonio in TX, on Sept. 14, 2022. The construction outside the family-owned music store has caused many issues.
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Adriana Flores, co-owner of the musical instrument store, said she plans to send a letter to city officials notifying them that city construction had again damaged the building.
“This is a safety issue,” she said. “I’m hoping they will listen to us. We’re hoping that nothing happens in the future. You already ruined our property.”
Early this month, her staff found “two gigantic piles of dirt blocking access of the building” and water in the basement where Alamo Music keeps inventory, including guitars, she said. The basement suffered water damage when the city conducted the preliminary investigation into the construction project in 2019.
Still, Flores said she’s optimistic about the benefits city infrastructure projects and the Weston Urban apartments will bring to the area.
“I understand progress,” she said. “We need downtown to grow, but we need to take care of everyone downtown.”
As for Estrada, the owner of the bike shop, he wants to believe the projects will bring him more customers but has reservations.
“I’m going to get hopefully more people in here, if I survive the next two years,” he said, referring to construction on the apartments. “It’s going to be hit or miss.”
San Antonio has room for improvement planning for and communicating about such projects, City Manager Erik Walsh said.
“We need to do a better job,” he said. “We have a lot of major construction going on.”
In the future, the city should over-communicate before construction begins and ensure that customers have access to businesses, Walsh said.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg agreed communication is key.
“Part of the solution is ensuring that businesses are in the fold when we’re putting together these major capital projects that we know are going to cause disruption,” he said.
Even businesses on streets unencumbered by construction are seeing impacts. On North Alamo Street, The Synergy Studio’s entrance is noisy with passing traffic. With surrounding roads closed for city and private construction projects, drivers are being forced to reroute their trips.
“This is a major pain,” said Todd Morgan, manager of the yoga studio.
Morgan, originally from Los Angeles, helped his partner three years ago move the yoga studio to North Alamo from the Pearl District. They have since struggled to help clients enrolled in yoga, tai chi and breathwork classes find parking amid street closures. He’s also made numerous trips to auto shops to remove 11 screws from his tires — a common experience among residents and tourists in the area.
“The area is great, but the traffic is ridiculous,” he said. “I thought I was from the worst place to drive, but now I think it’s San Antonio.”
Over on Broadway, Iz Fuentes, a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, recently found her way to Herweck’s to shop for an art portfolio she needed for one of her classes.
“I wasn’t sure they were open because of the construction,” she said.
Fuentes used AppleMaps software to find Herweck’s, followed detour signs as she drove, managed to find a parking spot two blocks away and walked toward the construction site on narrow sidewalks enclosed by tall fences.
“Is this all necessary? How long is this going to take? How long are you jeopardizing the businesses?” she said, eyeing the laborers. “I wonder. But I have to let go of the thought because it’s going to be constant. There’s so much construction.”
eric.killelea@express-news.net
megan.stringer@express-news.net
Eric Killelea is a technology reporter, covering Space X and area cybersecurity, cloud-computing and IT companies. Before moving to Texas, he worked for local newspapers and freelanced for The New York Times in Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota and Montana. He is from New Jersey.
Megan Stringer joined the Express-News in October 2021 as the City Hall reporter. She previously reported on workplace issues for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas, where she wrote extensively about local police union contract negotiations and an overwhelmed state unemployment system in the pandemic. While in Kansas, Megan was a corps member with Report for America, a national journalism service organization. She has also covered business and economic development for the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. Megan holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from DePaul University. She grew up in St. Louis.

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