Amid growth, Old Town Spring refines its image

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Founded by German immigrants in the 19th century, Old Town Spring has transformed from a booming town with a mill and saloon to a quaint shopping village known for boutiques and comfort food.

Shop owners said the next step for the community is to take advantage of its location near three major highways to build its night-life appeal and expand its shopping and dining options to attract a wider audience.

“The community needs a place where they can come and enjoy the day or the evening and bring the kids and feel like they’re safe,” said Brian Fowler, president of the Old Town Spring Preservation League, a nonprofit organization made up of several dozen shop owners.

Additional patronage is expected to flow from road improvements in the area, from Old Town Spring Business Park—planned to open this fall north of Riley Fuzzel Road—and from expansion at a nearby water park. Shop owners said the retail community must improve its offerings, hours and appearance to grow.

“I think with the right attitudes … we can be one of those communities where people want to come spend the day and spend some of their money,” Fowler said.

Diverse offerings

Shop owners are pursuing a range of different approaches to attract customers later in the day, with evening events as well as offerings designed to appeal to men, art lovers and festivalgoers in addition to its core daytime shopping base.

Two new locations in town offer cigars and evening drinks, while Fowler opened his gun shop, Advanced Shooting Solutions on Main Street, last year near the main entrance to the town.

The Provisioner’s Tale, a restaurant which opened in 2016 on Gentry Street, reopened at a new location in May as part of the OTS Border Haus complex. The Border Haus, located at 26510 Border St., also includes the Haus Pour bar and BlackHouse Cigars.

BlackHouse Cigars owner Bradley Morrow said he saw an opportunity for businesses that could cater to the husbands and boyfriends who were not as interested in shopping as their partners.

“If you don’t like shopping, come to my place and relax, have your cigar and a drink,” Morrow said.

Brad and Effie Stees, owners of Gentry Street’s Envy Wine Room, opened Prohibition Texas on Preston Avenue in March to offer spirits, cigars and music.

“It’s kind of the perfect location,” Brad Stees said of Old Town Spring. “Most people don’t expect to come [to Old Town Spring]seeing stuff being handcrafted right in front of you; they just automatically drive to the craft bars downtown. Getting people to realize that it’s here is the hardest part of the whole thing.”

The community’s reputation as a destination for art lovers is also growing, said Ramona Harper, co-owner of Adam and Madam, an art gallery and cafe that opened in 2017 in a building that was renovated after a fire in 2016. The gallery shows work by 25 local artists and plans to hold events like film noir nights on Fridays in the summer.

“We feed your stomach, your body, your spirit, and I think those are things that are important in a community,” Harper said of Old Town Spring.

Art walk nights are held on the third Saturday of each month, said Bryan Melton, owner of Sedona Joe’s, a framing, art and gift shop on Main Street. Businesses and restaurants are invited to stay open until 9 p.m. for these events, he said, to encourage customers to shop later in the evening.

Another business damaged by fire, Wunsche Bros. Café and Saloon on Midway Street, could see new life soon. The building first opened in 1902 as a hotel and saloon, and it was designated as a historic structure in 1984 by the state of Texas. The restaurant closed in 2015 after a fire, the cause of which was undetermined, according to the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office.

Last year, Casey Kosh, owner of Amerigo’s Grille restaurant in The Woodlands, purchased the property. Kosh said a reopening date has not yet been set, although originally the owners had hoped to open this spring. The work needed to restore the building includes razing and rebuilding an addition from the 1980s as well as restoring the original appearance of the main building. However, the menu will be similar to what the restaurant offered before, he said.

“Obviously, we have our own touches, but it’s not going to be far away from what it used to be,” Kosh said.

Groups with a common goal

Two organizations—a nonprofit and a governmental agency—use different means to promote and maintain Old Town Spring, but both are working to market the town and improve its appeal, members said.

The nonprofit, Old Town Spring Preservation League, wants to boost the town’s reputation through strong marketing, a varied selection of businesses and events with later hours and well-maintained public facilities, Fowler said.

“We need to promote ourselves better as a destination—not as individual store owners,” Fowler said. “We need to make sure when we do that, that it’s aesthetically ready for people to come see what we have.”

OTSPL raises money through festivals and annual membership dues of $400 per business. In addition to marketing the shops through signage and advertising, it maintains Preservation Park in Old Town Spring as an entertainment and recreation area, said Alling, who is a board member. Annual festivals include the Texas Crawfish and Music Festival, held in late April, which features two days of live performances and food vendors at the park.

Another entity, the Old Town Spring Improvement District, is a governmental body that provides services by collecting a portion of sales tax in the area.

Fowler said the two organizations work together with similar goals.

“We don’t always see eye to eye, but when it comes down to it, we work well with them and they work well with us,” Fowler said.

OTSID was formed 15 years ago and collects 1 percent of sales tax in the immediate Old Town Spring area between Riley Fuzzel Road on the north and East Louetta Road on the south, OTSID President Seth Sanders said. The district’s annual budget is around $300,000, he said. Sanders is also owner of Puffabelly’s Old Depot Restaurant on Main Street and several other properties.

OTSID primarily uses its budget for maintenance. It will install a new public restroom on the east end of the town this year, Sanders said.  OTSID also began setting aside a portion for advertising last year, which Sanders said has helped businesses attract customers.

Infrastructure fuels growth

Located near I-45, Hardy Toll Road and the Grand Parkway, Old Town Spring is accessible for Greater Houston area travelers. That location, combined with planned improvements to remove sharp turns on Riley Fuzzel Road next year, prompted the developers for Old Town Spring Business Park to choose a location off West Hardy Road for a 196,000-square-foot complex that will open this fall, said Lisa Nickel, a sales agent with Ryoak Real Estate Group, which brokered the deal.

Although the business park project is not within the OTSID area, Nickel said the developers—Giddy Up Development—were drawn by the location and ability to hook into sewer lines.

Harris County installed the sewer lines in the Old Town Spring area in 2015. A total of 76 customers­­—including businesses and residents—have tied into the system, which is maintained by Magnolia-based Quadvest, a county spokesperson said.

Shop owners could potentially see an uptick in traffic from workers in the business park, Fowler said.

“I think any business within 2 miles of here is going to help us,” he said.

Planned expansion at Wet ’n’ Wild SplashTown, the water park located about a mile from Old Town Spring, could also drive business to the shops, he said. Premiere Parks, the water park’s owners, said the park will expand by as much as 30 acres in the next few years.

Shop owners said it is especially important for businesses to work together during the summer months—when the water park is open—to create an experience to attract visitors, because many shoppers do not want to walk outside in the summer heat.

“Old Town Spring creates the experience,” Melton said. “Maybe they’re not getting the full destination experience with me, but [they are]with all of us combined.”

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Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of the paper in March 2017.
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