Old Town Spring’s reputation for catering to frolicsome shoppers and those seeking deep-fried Oreos is getting a makeover.
Long-standing businesses that have been open for decades now share the town with at least 17 new businesses that have opened in the last year, some of which carry a modish stamp.
The Italian Joint, which opened in May, offers imported soft mozzarella, and Mission Village Market and Coffee Shop, which opened in April, serves gourmet coffee with a conscience.
Yet, the shopping district’s former image still resonates. [polldaddy poll=9339656]
“Old Town Spring is known for festival and carnival food, which is a lot of deep-fried food,” said Joe Macri, who co-owns The Black Sheep Bistro and The Italian Joint with his wife, Maria Gagis. “We don’t have deep fryers in our restaurants.”
The couple chose Old Town Spring to open their first restaurant, Black Sheep Bistro, three years ago because they fell in love with the old town ambience.
“There’s no other town where people stop, park and walk around,” Macri said. “Everything else is a strip mall.”
The couple decided to to expand their footprint in Old Town Spring two years later, with The Italian Joint.
“The Black Sheep has been very successful, so we decided to open an Italian restaurant,” Macri said.
The Old Town Improvement District, formed in 2001 by area property owners and local merchants, promotes and develops commerce in the area. President Pam Golden said commerce in Old Town Spring is improving.
Much of the money that comes in through tax dollars to the improvement district is spent on advertising, said Seth Sanders, owner of Puffabelly’s Old Depot Restaurant and other properties.
“A bigger portion goes to improving the town—like the street lights and sidewalks,” he said.
Harris County is doing its part to help the shopping district as well.
Additionally, after years of using a septic system—which caused many Old Town Spring businesses to close early every day—the shopping community received an upgrade last year. Harris County Precinct 4 installed a new sewer system, adopted by businesses such as Ellen’s Cafe on Gentry Street and Moore Time, a clock shop located on Main Street.
“It’s created more of a nightlife [environment] out here. Before the sewer came, the restaurants were very limited with what they can do.”
– Kathy Moore, owner of Moore Time in Old Town Spring
Installed by Quadvest, a Magnolia-based water and wastewater utility company, the new sewer system includes 8,000 feet of lines and a water treatment plant. More restaurants have begun to use the new sewer system, which has increased the activity in Old Town Spring, Moore Time owner Kathy Moore said.
“It’s created more of a nightlife [environment] out here,” Moore said. “Before the sewer came, the restaurants were very limited with what they can do.”
Moore said Old Town Spring visitors would inquire about using the business restrooms, and shops with septic systems could not always accommodate those requests.
“I have a clock shop, and if I’m making a $6,000 sale, I don’t want to tell them they can’t use the bathroom,” she said. “It’s definitely been an improvement for us.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said sewer helps businesses to be better prepared for the growth in Spring.
“As a county commissioner my concern is the public health questions presented by antiquated septic systems,” he said.
Over the years, Gagis said she has seen business owners open shops on an whim—she calls them hobbyists. They have a more difficult time enduring than owners who take their businesses more seriously, she said.
“Hobbyist people come in and see this cute town, and people open with limited hours, and that doesn’t work,” she said.
Yvonne Denbina, who owns 11-year-old Garden of the Dragonfly Art Gallery on Main Street, said the challenges to opening a business are centered around having a proven product.
“The real error is to go into Old Town Spring and start a business without a plan,” she said. “What works is either to have a home business that you are ready to expand [or] that you have a proven product.”
Several aspiring business owners have failed because they have not considered that, while the rent is on the low end, utilities and marketing add to the overall expense, Denbina said.
Sanders said CorkScrew BBQ on Keith Street is an example of a proven product—the business started as a food truck off Budde Road—and has helped to attract newcomers to the area since moving to Old Town Spring in October.
Macri said that raising the cost of rent and mandating shops remain open in the evening would ward off the hobbyists and stimulate the economy.
“We’re getting there,” Gagis said. “My neighbors say they haven’t been to Old Town Spring in 10 years—now they’re coming back.”
Ebbs and flows
“We had the best Christmas season that we have ever had,” he said. “It was packed down here.”
However, some businesses were negatively affected by the fire at Wunsche Bros. Cafe and Saloon last March, said Shirley Clayton, owner of The Spotted Pony, which is located on Midway Street directly across from the shuttered restaurant. Sanders has seen an uptick in customers to his restaurant since the fire, but Clayton said her business has slowed.
Wunsche Bros. was a destination, and many of Clayton’s past customers noticed The Spotted Pony from Wunche Bros., she said.
“It’s affected my block greatly,” Clayton said. “[Wunsche Bros.] brought people out to the whole town. It’s sad that’s gone. We’re just hoping somebody will buy it and open it back up.”
The property at 103 Midway St. is still for sale, said Realty Executives broker Cameron Collins.