How La Villita merchants resist the construction of Maverick Plaza
A year-long overhaul of La Villita designed to bring more visitors to San Antonio’s oldest neighborhood is causing short-term headaches for village traders, most of whom were already reeling from the decline in tourism caused by the pandemic.
In August, a major reconstruction of La Villita’s Maverick Plaza began turning a once-quiet public plaza along South Alamo Street into a field of dirt and debris. The aim is to make the square a center of culinary culture and improve the visibility of the village, which also includes artisan shops and galleries.
The end of the works on the square is scheduled for summer 2022, which will mark the 300th anniversary of La Villita. While construction is underway, bold signs and feather flags installed at entry points to La Villita Historical Arts Village remind potential visitors that the rest of the village is open for business.
“It takes a sturdy soul to see all the construction up front and to make your way through the village to shop or explore,” said Deborah Sibley, president of the La Villita Tenants Association and owner of Capistrano soap company.
Sibley’s company also sells products online and has contracts to supply hotels and other places; these helped keep her afloat when La Villita closed for almost six months in 2020.
“The city has been great in giving us rent concessions during this closure, but I know it has been incredibly difficult for some tenants as their whole business is tied into retail sales in this store, and it has been difficult.” , she said.
None of the stores closed, but some were not fully recovered when restoration work began. The 23 tenants in the village have mixed feelings about the construction schedule, Sibley said.
At the folk art gift shop Casa Manos Alegres, Patty Henry said the project and its barricades have created a maze for customers to navigate to find her shop.
“I have faced the grief of this demolition and am sitting in limbo waiting for visitors, tourists and potential customers to find us through the fences,” Henry said in an email. “We are all very business-hungry and will be there during this demolition and reassignment process. “
Sibley called this a growing pain, acknowledging that construction is affecting foot traffic and profits, but the prospect of new restaurants in the area is welcome. “We are feeling the squeeze right now, but we are also excited about what will ultimately be here,” she said.
“The transition will lead to something bigger,” said Sarah Yates, general manager of La Villita in the city of San Antonio.
The first time Sibley set foot in the historic art village of La Villita was to work on a booth at A Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA) in 1974. She then served as event president. on several occasions, then returned to the village for four decades. later to open his own shop.
“My family started the soap making business in 1929,” she said of her grandfather Ignatz Kyrisch, a Polish immigrant who lived near the San Juan Capistrano mission and sold his soaps to El Mercado.
Ready for a career change in 2011, Sibley turned Kyrisch’s soap recipes into an all-natural product and opened a pop-up store in La Villita to sell his bath and body brand Acequia.
In 2014, she moved the business to a quaint house in La Villita built in 1870, one of 27 original structures preserved by an ordinance introduced by then-mayor Maury Maverick and adopted in 1939.
It was Maverick who had the vision to transform La Villita into an artisan village on the banks of the San Antonio River, said Sibley, preserving and sharing the uniqueness of San Antonio’s mix of cultures.
Since 2009, the city has undertaken a series of efforts to improve La Villita by renovating the neighborhood, attracting new tenants and hosting events in addition to the NIOSA signature during Fiesta. The Maverick Plaza remake is the latest step in those efforts.
To help La Villita tenants overcome construction, the downtown San Antonio commercial organization, Centro SA, has posted a representative in the area to assist direct visitors, and the city and tenants association of La Villita also plan seasonal events to attract people to the village. . One will mark the return of a popular event that has not taken place since October 2019, lasting three days Day of the Dead event October 29-31. This will be followed by a very first Christmas event in the village on December 4 and 5.
Store owner Alejandro Sifuentes had a store in Alamo Heights when the opportunity arose to move to La Villita. He rejected his previous plans to move to New Mexico and relocated his jewelry making studio and Equinox Gallery in the Tejeda house from 1873.
“This is where the arts started in San Antonio,” Sifuentes said.
He is not concerned about the year-long construction at La Villita, he said. “My biggest challenge is to stay true to the vision and mission of our statement, to continue programming… to better represent our mission and our vision of handmade products and exhibition design. “