I’ve been working construction for months in an old building in Midtown, mostly installing, framing and trimming windows, with a variety of other miscellaneous tasks. Once it’s open I will be managing one of the stores.
There was an article on the front page of the Sunday Business section of the Houston Chronicle. Included below:
Midtown’s Continental Club is known for its live music and comfy Texas roadhouse feel.
The club, it turns out, is also an incubator for entrepreneurs who will soon open their doors one block away from the club at 3600 Main on Metro’s light rail line.
The soon-to-open shops at 3600 Main will not be mistaken for Highland Village. The barbershop Big Kat’s, for example, will feature a tattoo parlor with a 1940s sailor theme. Most stores will have a retro feel.
When Metro rail passengers look out the window, they may glimpse burgers grilling, a band playing and people dancing on the big patio of comfort food restaurant Natachee’s.
Pete Gordon, a developer of the 3600 Main project and general partner of Natachee’s, said he’s creating “a country-like setting right in the middle of Midtown. You’ll see a country barn dance every time you fly by on the train.”
Stores at 3600 Main will sell Texas music, funky gifts, folk art, furnishings and clothing, new and vintage. And there will be a coffeehouse.
When the Main Street light rail line opened in 2004, there were hopes that transit-oriented developments would follow, particularly at rail stops, but there has been relatively little growth.
One notable exception is the block next door to the soon-to-open shops at 3600 Main, at the Ensemble/HCC stop: 3700 Main, which houses the Continental Club, the Breakfast Klub, T’Afia, Julia’s Bistro and Mink bar. Four businesses on the 3700 block — the Continental Club, Tacos A-Go Go, Sig’s Lagoon and Big Top Lounge — were developed by Bob Schultz and his partners Steve Wertheimer and Gordon, and investors. Some of those businesses, including the Continental Club, predate light rail.
Schultz, president of RHS Interests, a real estate development and investment company developing the 3600 Main site, had tried for years to acquire both 3600 and 3500 Main for development.
In 2005, he began working with real estate agent Greg Lewis to assemble the blocks from several owners. Schultz didn’t have the financing to purchase the property. Lewis approached Schultz and Metro about acquiring the blocks and entering a public/private venture, Schultz said, with the idea of creating a transit-oriented development for retail and other uses.
Deal, with a condition
The prior Metro board did not agree to a partnership but authorized Metro to purchase the two blocks with the understanding that Schultz would have 18 months to buy them back with interest, on the condition that the property be used for transit-oriented development, Metro spokeswoman Raequel Roberts said.
Schultz acquired the blocks for a little more than $7 million in 2008.
“As a bonus, we were able to tear down some vacant buildings on the property that had become drug houses,” Roberts said.
Schultz said he is working on plans for 3500 Main and the west side of 3600 Main in an effort to create “more stores and experiences” in the area.
Ed Wulfe, chairman of the Main Street Coalition, a group aiming to enhance the street, offered reasons why only a relative few blocks have been developed along the rail line: land speculation, which causes real estate prices to soar and makes development less desirable; the lack of incentives to encourage development; and the recession.
Stores and restaurants at 3600 Main will be housed in a building being renovated.
Originally, the developers thought the boarded-up building would have to be demolished, but after poking around they discovered the frame and ceiling are sturdy. They peeled back surfaces to find exterior art deco reliefs and other charming features, Gordon said.
Tenants at 3600 Main will pay $18 to $24 per square foot for retail space, along with their share of the electricity bills, property tax and insurance, Schultz said.
“Those are very reasonable rates compared to more mainstream Inner Loop markets,” said real estate broker Larry Plotsky, who is not involved in the project.
Schultz declined to share other numbers, such as the cost to develop the property.
Along with Natachee’s at 3600 Main will be My Flaming Heart, owned by Judy Masliyah, who will sell her hand-sewn clothing as well as jewelry and folk art. She lives above the Continental Club with her husband, tango pianist/composer Glover Gill.
A vintage collaborative with the working title Shop-O-Rama will house 10 vendors selling retro clothing, housewares, furnishings and more. One vendor, Steve Candalari, is also a drummer whose rock band Picture Book performs at the Continental Club.
Musician Thomas Escalante’s music, poster and gift shop, Sig’s Lagoon, is moving to 3600 Main from the 3700 block. And a coffeehouse is scheduled to open at 3600 Main in the fall.
Hearing of the concepts for the site, Plotsky said that along with the 3700 block, “it’s like a slice of South Congress in Austin.”
Big Kat’s barbershop/tattoo parlor and Kat’s Meow hair salon will be owned by wife and husband Crissy Salazar and Edgar “Big E” Salazar, a Continental Club bartender and a music show promoter. Crissy Salazar will run their operation.
While the Salazars have never been retailers before, “Edgar is a great promoter of music and hot rod shows,” Gordon said, “and he has a following.”
Asked why he named his barbershop Big Kat’s, Salazar said, “I’m a big cat.”
None of the entreprenuers at 3600 Main would reveal their startup costs, but Schultz made an “educated guess” they were spending $50,000 to $400,000.
The Continental Club can serve as a magnet for businesses at 3600 Main, potentially allowing them to serve as “brand extensions” of the club, said Scott Testa, a professor of business at Cabrini College near Philadelphia. But he did note some challenges — one being the different hours a club and retail shop might keep.
‘Destination and hangout’
In the 3700 Main block for five years, Sig’s Lagoon was about to turn a profit before the recession, said Escalante, and now he is regrouping. Adding more retail should make the area “even more of a destination and hangout,” Escalante said. He expects the new businesses to boost traffic for Sig’s at times when it’s been slowest: daytime hours when the Continental Club is closed.
Also in the 3700 block, Tacos A-Go Go is making a profit, owner Sharon Haynes said. The Ensemble/HCC stop is about halfway between the Texas Medical Center and downtown, and during the lunch hour she draws light rail riders from both districts, Haynes said.
Article by Dave Kaplan, photo by Julio Cortez.