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Feature

Business owners reflect on the difficulty of operating in the shadow of King William

Photo: illustration by Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

illustration by Chuck Kerr

Photo: File photo, License: N/A

File photo


“I don’t want a black wreath.”

Agosto Cuellar, owner of Jive Refried Vintage, hung up his antique phone, a replica of a ’70s Budweiser can. Calls were pouring in while Cuellar prepared for his last First Friday in the Southtown space he’s called home since 1999.

For over a decade his rock ’n’ roll boutique has been a stomping ground for creative types looking to meet like-minded artists. As the streets outside swirled with the foot traffic of the monthly First Friday art walk, Jive was packed with shoppers and longtime fans coming to pay their respects.

Amber Martinez, 19, says she comes for the great clothes and great people. “I love that Agosto gives young people a place to figure out who they are, and where they’re going.” The shop has always been about more than clothes — Cuellar loves to recount stories about the characters who wander into Jive, like “Glenda The Good Witch” and “Roberta, The One-Penny Song Girl,” who will compose a ditty, including your name, for a single red cent.

However, faced with eviction for what he says was his first-ever tardy rent payment, Cuellar laments the way neighborhood politics have changed the original character of the strip. “I’m one of the last few Latino merchants on this street,” Cuellar said. “Back in the late ’90s, we were a force. But year by year, the people who own the land have decided that we are no longer useful and we need to move on.”

In the case of Jive, which will remain open until July 23, Cuellar has also felt the pinch of steadily escalating rent as the area has developed. “I had a really good run here but its come to a point where I can no longer afford to pay the rent that they’re asking.”

In the early days of Jive more than a decade ago, “First Friday was just picking up, Blue Star [Arts Complex] had just gotten their wings to fly to become the success that it’s become, and we found our way in all of that chaos,” he said. The store sat right in the heart of Southtown, a place where offbeat attractions lure people in from across the city. South Alamo, the district’s premiere corridor, runs through the heart of the historic King William district, where some of the city’s highest property values are found. What ties it all together is art — expressed in the murals, mosaics, and the beautifully restored homes. But First Friday, the area’s most prominent art-centric event, has also become a flash point for disagreement between business operators and residents of the upscale community. In the beginning, live music flowed, vendors hawked freely, and food was sold and consumed street fair-style. But eventually, the intense popularity of “the weed that grew flowers,” as Cuellar calls it, reached a crisis point.

When the noise and the public drinking finally became too much for the neighbors, whose homes back up against South Alamo, there was a crackdown. In 2005, and again in 2008, the Current reported on the specter of hysteria surrounding First Friday, regarding “gang activity,” underage drinking, and public urination. “There were helicopters and cameras everywhere,” Cuellar said.

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