The Heights has been known for its diversity, richness in community, and local businesses. And now it is also known for its artisan donuts, local coffee shops, vegan ice cream, gourmet popsicles, fusion foods, street art, and pop culture. Those of us who have been in the Heights for decades have noticed the change, as washaterias have become Pure Barre studios and gourmet popsicle shops, and many local businesses have seen a flourish of activity.
The “trendification” of various inner loop neighborhoods, such as the Heights, Montrose, and even Brooke Smith, have not only attracted new local businesses from near and far but have attracted a lot of tourism and attention from curious neighbors. Locals in these areas have seen more events in recent years, from White Linen Night to the monthly Sip & Stroll events—and soon, a Houston Zombie Walk, taking place right on 19th Street. More art has come up too, with a larger interest in the First Saturday Arts Market, art being sold at new local farmer’s markets, and art installations on Heights Boulevard. The increased attention is bringing a lot of business and a strong desire to live in this walkable community, creating a competitive buyer’s market for the Heights.
But what has caused the popularity—did the home values increase and attract new businesses, or did the new businesses increase home values?
The Chicken Or The Egg?
Real Estate professional and broker/owner of Circa Real Estate, Mary Wassef says that the primary driver in the increasing “trendification” of the Heights and similar neighborhoods is housing.
Houston is an ever-growing city, with a more stable economy than most other cities thanks in a large part to the oil and gas industry. The Heights is not only one of the oldest communities in Houston, but it is on higher ground (safe from most floods), is inner loop (close to most jobs), and has a lot of historic architecture (Boulevard mansions, bungalows).
“For the Heights, it was the appeal of historic homes that neighborhoods like this were gentrifying throughout the country,” Mary Wassef explains. “The housing started it, and then you began to see improvements on 19th street with new business on Yale and Studewood. For the Heights, housing changes really started the ball rolling here.”
I think usually housing comes first, then those businesses have a reason to go there,” Mary says. “They aren’t going to be at the forefront of making a community become a trend-setting tourist attraction.”
Quick change can cause growing pains for many in communities, though the bright side of business development is an increase in opportunities for local business owners. These local businesses have been able to reach more customers and drive more money into the community than ever before.
A Local Business Owner’s Perspective
The owner of CrossFit Revoke, Nicholas Brunson, is a great example. Nicholas is a Heights resident, having lived in the Heights for years and working in the oil and gas industry. In 2014, Nicholas decided to open up his own business in the Heights, where the demographics are diverse, growing, and a perfect space for local business owners to realize their dream.
“There are several reasons why the Heights was the only place I was interested in opening Revoke,” Nicholas says. “For one, I live in the Heights. I knew there was an opportunity to reach a lot of people in a small area and help them achieve their fitness and health goals. I know the spirit of the Heights and the support for small businesses in the area is very strong.”
There is also a diverse demographic in the Heights. That was important because CrossFit truly is for everyone and I wanted to prove that by attracting a wide range of clients.”
Often nicknamed “Town in the City,” the Heights is more often than not an area of neighbor comradery.
Trendy businesses that rely on community involvement and support thrive when they are located within niche areas of the city because the community feeling isn’t unusual, Nicholas says.
The Greater Heights Area Chamber Grows
The Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce, the central group of companies and community leaders that help the neighborhood grow, has been adding local businesses to its member list every month.
“The Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce creates a sense of cohesiveness among Heights businesses,” Mary says. “It has worked for years to see residents and local businesses connect with each other.”
Some of the most popular businesses include a gas-station-turned whiskey bar (Eight Row Flint), warehouse-turned brewery (Platypus Brewing), empty-storefront-turned coffee shop (A 2nd Cup), antique-store-turned burger joint (Bernie’s Burger Bus), Washateria-turned barber shop (Birds Barbershop), and auto-shop-turned gym (CrossFit Revoke).
“The Heights is full of some amazing small businesses,” Nicholas says. “The Chamber is a great opportunity to network with these companies, learn from them, and collaborate with them to continue to grow my business and improve what we offer to our members,” Nick says. “The Chamber is also committed to giving back through scholarships and partnerships in the area.”
For many small business owners operating in niche markets, the Heights is a perfect home.
And for more Where The Heart Is.