SAN BENITO — For decades, community leaders have dreamed of ways to revive Robertson Street, the city’s original town site that’s home to some of San Benito’s most historic landmarks.
For four years, Iris Garcia pushed to launch Market Days along the resaca-side stretch flanked by the iconic Aztec Building and the majestic San Benito Bank & Trust building, whose glistening golden domes stand at the corner of Sam Houston Boulevard.
“We saw Robertson Street just fading away,” Garcia, owner of the Shop with a Little Bit of Everything, said yesterday. “Robertson is a jewel of the city. There’s so much history. If we didn’t do something, we’re going to lose this area.”
Since September, Robertson Street’s been bustling on the third Saturday of the month, when hundreds of shoppers descend on La Villita, the legendary dance hall where organizers are holding Market Days.
“It’s different — it’s held indoors in an iconic dance hall,” Garcia said of the city’s revamped version of Market Days.
Today, organizers plan to request city commissioners to close Robertson Street from Travis to Bowie Streets between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the third Saturday of December, January and February.
With the streets closed off, organizers plan to expand Market Days to make room for more vendors.
“We want to bring in more — it’s the holidays,” Garcia said. “We have a waiting list of people but we don’t have enough space in La Villita.”
On Market Days, as many as 500 shoppers are spilling out of the dance hall.
“Before we knew it, we had a full house — 25 vendors in La Villita,” Garcia said. “It’s turning out to be something bigger than we anticipated.”
City leaders are counting on the wave of customers to help revive the area’s business district.
“I’m excited. Hopefully it will continue to grow to bring more business to San Benito,” Megan Treviño, executive director of the San Benito Chamber of Commerce, said.
“It’s downtown so that helps downtown businesses. It can kind of revive that because there are still some empty stores,” she said. “It is the historic town site. It goes hand in hand with the history.”
La Villita’s draw
It’s the dance hall that helps drive shoppers into downtown, Garcia said.
In the mid 20th century, La Villita helped turn Robertson’s five-block stretch into one of the Rio Grande Valley’s most popular night stops, drawing fans to dance to the hits of conjunto music’s pioneers.
“La Villita is an historic dance hall so people have their memories,” Garcia said.
Along the banks of the resaca, the Aztec Building featured open-air dances on its famed roof-top during the city’s heyday about 80 years ago.
Today, Garcia’s shop stands at the site of her father-in-law’s popular pool hall near the corner of Robertson and Travis Street.
For decades, her father-in-law Emilio Garcia owned a cluster of businesses there, including a thriving family-owned grocery store.
“There’s just so much character in these old buildings,” Garcia said. “They’ve stood the test of time and they’re standing strong.”
Garcia said vendors are coming from the across the Valley to the city’s new Market Days.
Inside La Villita, vendors are showing off everything from homemade crafts to organic skin care products.
“We have vendors from the Upper Valley, Port Isabel and Los Fresnos,” she said. “We see a lot coming from McAllen.”
Business is booming.
“It’s going strong,” Garcia said. “According to our vendors, their sales have gone up. They’re very, very happy.”
Across Robertson Street, Garcia and other shop owners are also counting on new customers to help revive the area.
“It’s helping them,” she said. “It’s drawing new customers.”
During Market Days, Lali’s Café & Restaurant even ran out of food, she said.
Market Days’ shoppers, she said, are also spilling into downtown shops along Sam Houston Boulevard.
“Some of the businesses on Sam Houston are seeing more customers,” she said. “So Market Days is bringing new shoppers to San Benito.”
Down the street, La Especial remains one of the area’s most popular bakeries.
“It’s a big draw in the area,” Garcia said of the bakery whose customers come from across the Valley.
At La Villita, live music is turning Market Days into a party.
“It’s putting some excitement into San Benito,” Miguel Diaz, the dance hall’s owner, said. “The vendors love it.”
Now, Diaz is counting on the crowds to bring the dance hall new customers, too.
“We have a lot of locals, like the younger generation, who had never stepped in here before,” he said.
What’s on Robertson Street?
• San Benito Bank and Trust building
• Aztec Building
• La Villita Dance Hall
• La Especial bakery