Why Keep The Heights Dry?

It's not just about HEB.

 We love HEB. They are a beloved regional brand and a great community partner to many neighborhoods. The H. E. Butt Foundation gives generously to an array of causes that benefit the Houston area. They offer great products at great prices, and we welcome them to the neighborhood. For that reason, we regret that HEB's involvement in modifying the dry area implies that they will only move forward with the location at N. Shepherd and 23rd St. if they are able to sell beer and wine. We aren’t telling HEB we don’t want them—they’re telling us they don’t want us, unless we vote to change the fabric of our neighborhood.


We  believe that changing a 104-year-old tradition that has been instrumental in creating the neighborhood we know and love as The Heights so that one commercial player can enter the market is short-sighted and will have  logical consequences that could irreversibly change the character and commercial development of The Heights.


If HEB is committed to investing in the Heights, we simply ask why they cannot adhere to the same tradition as other grocery stores in our area by either not offering beer and wine and/or by selling it at a separate off-site location outside of the dry area, as Fiesta did when located at the site previously. 

 

We have and can continue to have "nice grocery stores" here.

First, so many of us are excited about the 365 by Whole Foods concept to be located at the 610 Loop and Yale, just one mile from the proposed HEB. It is official and in the works, and will likely be completed before this HEB location.


Once again, we would love to have an HEB. We just want them to choose to call the Houston Heights home for the same reasons we do—its uniqueness, historic character, and amazing quality of life. From HEB’s standpoint, it has been easier to simply throw money at a turnkey political campaign (applied in dozens of other cities by HEB, Walmart and others) to convince Heights residents that changing the dry area is in their best interest than to examine how this seemingly minor law has been one of the biggest factors in creating the look and feel of the Heights and working within it. We risk changing the fabric of our beloved neighborhood simply to help their bottom line.

Plus, many of us who live in the dry area already enjoy the grocery options we have...

  1. We have two Krogers nearby. One is a Kroger "Signature" flagship concept that is outside of the dry area and sells beer & wine. The other location on W. 20th St. could not in fact sell alcohol even if it weren't in the dry area since it's too close to a church/school per Texas Alcohol Beverage Code Section 109.33.
  2. For great locavore dairy and deli, we have Revival Market at Heights Blvd. & 6th/White Oak.
  3. We also have Sprouts just on the other side of I-10.
 

It would just be the beginning. 

 Our biggest concern is that allowing the sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption will make it easier for large regional or national operators to come in and apply a “one-size-fits-all” model that is currently anomalous in the Heights dry area.

Our opposition is not moral (we love to drink), and our only commercial interest is in maintaining the conditions that already encourage small, local business ownership and operation. How?
 

The Heights is a patchwork of properties with and without deed restrictions, which is why currently streets like Heights Boulevard and Yale are heavily mixed with residential and commercial use. Because of other restrictions like the historic district designation and the dry area, the highest and best use for most of the non deed-restricted property is a small business that is in keeping with the historic architectural style and does not have a business model whose margins rely heavily on alcohol sales. Historically this has created a barrier to entry for both medium and large retailers and restaurants. For a lot of large chains, their margins don’t tolerate a deviation from what they would do at all of their other locations. Even though there is the private club loophole for on-premises consumption by restaurants, that in itself has obviously been a barrier to entry for large restaurant chains even though there is a lot of demand for restaurants in the Heights. Incidentally, the dining scene here is a unique mix of medium regional chains like Becks Prime and small restaurant groups that are owned and operated locally like Lee’s Fried Chicken & Donuts and Coltivare. That has definitely contributed to the high quality of life and the high property values of the Heights (because of demand). Changing the dry area eliminates one of those barriers to entry and makes it so that the highest and best use for many pieces of property in the Heights becomes a retailer that makes its money selling beer and wine. This would range from big-box retailers to small convenience stores. That would without a doubt change the look and feel of the Heights.

A few key sites in Houston Heights, then, become vulnerable to precisely the sort of commercial development that changes the feel of the neighborhood from quaint and quirky to cookie-cutter (think Costco, Sam's Club, Valero, CVS, Walgreens, Beverage Barns). These large operators have the money to buy not only these sites but also surrounding properties and turn them into parking lots where buildings that once contributed to the neighborhood's character used to be, all while diverting business from locally owned shops.

Particularly vulnerable sites are those large deed unrestricted sites with no contributing historic structures and high traffic:

  • Most of Heights Blvd. (especially where 6th/White Oak & Heights meet)
  • W. 4th St. & Yale (currently National Tree & Shrub)
  • E. 10th St. & Heights Blvd. (currently a chiropractic office)
  • W. 14th & Heights Blvd. (currently a convenience store and Pink's Pizza)
  • W. 14th & Yale (currently a local car wash and small collection of local shops)
  • W. 11th & Yale (currently Heights favorite Eight Row Flint and a local dry cleaners)
  • W. 24th St. between Ashland & Rutland (currently vacant)


We also believe that this election, which is  misrepresented as a purely constituent-led effort, sets a precedent to eventually do away with the limits on selling alcohol in the dry area altogether, which would then pave the way for national or large regional restaurant chains to forcefully enter this market, threatening our prized dining scene currently composed of small, local business owners and local restaurant groups with strong community ties. 

In reality, HEB is using large sums of money to convince our community that we need to get with the times or that this is in our best interest. The Heights is with the times: it is a model neighborhood for Houston, with unparalleled quality of life, amazing property values, and a distinct culture. If HEB thinks the Heights is so great and wants our business, why can’t they simply adhere to a small rule that has had a big impact on what makes the Heights so great?


More from those of us from within the Heights dry area: