Sales tax revenue rising

'Unique' stores driving shoppers to San Benito

SAN BENITO — For two years, David and Stacey Garcia worked in their garage and kitchen to build their artisan shop.

When their home wasn’t big enough to handle their booming business, they picked the city’s downtown to open Vida Nueva Creations.

“It’s going pretty well,” David Garcia said yesterday. “We wanted to be on the main street in San Benito. That’s where all the traffic comes through.”

Across town, new businesses are popping up and San Benito’s sales tax collection apparently shows they are pumping money into city coffers.

Since the fiscal year opened last October, the city’s sales tax revenue has jumped by about $40,000 over last year’s $4.5 million collection, Rebeca Castillo, executive director of the San Benito Economic Development Corporation, said yesterday.

“San Benito is growing,” she said. “There are more people spending their dollars in San Benito.”

Since the start of the fiscal year, the city’s monthly sales tax collection has climbed from 3 to 7 percent, she said, adding March’s number dropped about 12 percent, in part of because Easter holiday sales revenue was collected in April.

At City Hall, officials are counting on sales tax revenue to surge

Along the resaca, the city’s biggest project in decades is projected to boost by about 25 percent, Castillo said.

In March, Varco Real Estate launched construction of a multimillion-dollar project to build a boardwalk featuring restaurants and retail shops off the resaca across from the Heavin Resaca Trail.

The project marks the first resaca-side commercial development in northern Cameron County.

With a Texas Regional Bank branch as its anchor, the development is expected to feature retail shops that could include Russo’s New York Pizzeria, Tropical Smoothie Café and Orangetheory Fitness, Benito De Leon, superintendent of OrigoWorks, Varco’s design and construction firm, has said.

The message is getting out — San Benito is open for business.

At City Hall, the EDC’s busy promoting local businesses, Castillo said.

In January, Castillo became the city’s first EDC director since 2016, when City Manager Manuel De La Rosa fired Solomon Torres after four years on the job.

“The EDC had been sort of dormant for several years,” she said. “There was not much activity. It has been steadily increasing.”

Now, Castillo is marketing the Resaca City across the state.

“We have put ourselves on the radar,” she said. “We’re trying to be business-friendly. We have an open-door policy. We’re being pro-active and customer-friendly.”

The city’s push to become a weekend entertainment mecca helps.

A series of outdoor concerts is drawing visitors who are shopping and dining here, Castillo said.

“We’ve been promoting community events,” she said.

Meanwhile, she said, the new San Benito Cultural and Heritage Museum is featuring rotating displays.

“There’s lots of art and exhibits they’re bringing in,” she said.

Last year, AEP Texas’ move to open its new service center here brought 135 employees.

“There’s more people shopping and dining,” Castillo said.

At San Benito’s new businesses, she said, shoppers are coming from all around.

In town, more residents are apparently getting the message — “Shop San Benito.”

“People are staying in the community to shop and dine,” Castillo said.

Meanwhile, she said, visitors including Winter Texans are behind 80 percent of sales.

Around town, Castillo wants businesses to offer visitors a defining niche.

“We’re trying to create diversity,” she said. “They’re looking for experiences others can’t offer — the small shops, the antique stores. There’s a demand for that now.”

At Vida Nueva Creations, Garcia and his wife offer woodwork, hand-made crafts and an art gallery.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work,” he said. “A lot of our customers are in the San Benito area. We have a strong connection with spirituality and we feel strongly this is where we were led to.”

For decades, rows of empty storefronts have lined brick buildings that stood during the city’s heyday as a business hub during the mid 20th century.

Now, there are signs the area is coming back to life.

“We’re getting a mix and diversity in terms of the development of downtown,” Castillo said.

At David and Stacey Garcia’s downtown shop, their rustic furniture, metal works and scented wood flowers are driving in customers.

“We put in a lot of creativity,” David Garcia said. “We make sure they’re as affordable as possible before we put the product out.”

At Vintage Crush Tea Room, a selection of deli specialties is drawing more shoppers to the downtown area, Castillo said.

“It’s uniqueness,” she said. “People are looking for something unique.”

At the corner of Sam Houston Boulevard and Stenger Street, she said, Main Street Boutique’s antiques and art along with a popular line of make-up is bringing new life to the downtown’s edge.

Along Business 77, Coco’s Mexican Restaurant’s culinary creations are drawing diners who often end up shopping in town, Castillo said.

And on Oscar Williams Road, Yo Mama Bubble Tea is turning into a popular haunt.

“They’re looking for the experience,” Castillo said. “The set-up is very different. It’s like a little coffee shop. It’s got the ambience of a hangout.”

Amid the buzz, big business might be coming to down.

Since Varco announced plans for its resaca-side boardwalk, the city has been courting “major” business prospects that could bring hundreds of jobs to town, Castillo said.

“They’re thinking, ‘If Varco did it, it must be a good investment area,’” Castillo said.