SAN BENITO — For two years, Nancy Silva’s organic garden-fresh delicacies have driven customers to her shop off Sam Houston Boulevard.
On the edge of the downtown area’s rows of empty storefronts, Silva has found her niche.
“It’s going great,” she said Friday after the lunchtime rush. “We’re growing.”
Inside her Vintage Crush Tea Room & Boutique, the menu features crisp garden-fresh salads and soups along with choice sandwiches ranging from homemade chicken salad to slow-cooked brisket.
Specialties include sun-brewed tea, hot tea and tea infused with fresh vine-ripened fruit.
“Our food is homemade — made fresh,” she said. “Our mixed greens are all organic. I love to serve people. I make sure what they want is up to par.”
Along the city’s downtown, 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, new businesses are not only drawing out-of-town shoppers but luring local residents, too.
At City Hall, officials believe businesses like Silva’s shop are helping drive record-high sales tax collections.
This month, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa is counting on sales tax revenue to hit $5 million — “a record for us.”
Last month, the year’s collections climbed to $4.568 million — a notch higher than last year’s total of $4.565 million.
“Our numbers have steadily been going up,” Rebeca Castillo, executive director of the San Benito Economic Development Corporation, said. “There’s a lot more development happening downtown.”
Silva feels the zeal.
A new spirit of entrepreneurship is driving more residents to open businesses here, she said.
For five years, Iris Garcia has helped new businesses start up in her shop.
Today, with 20 vendors selling everything from artisan woodcuts to organic skin products, her track record likens her Shop with a Little Bit of Everything to a hometown business incubator on Robertson Street.
Inside her shop, she helped Silva launch her Vintage Crush Tea Room.
“One of the things I know I’m gifted in is encouragement,” Garcia said. “They already had what it takes to run their businesses. They just needed that encouragement. I feel very privileged and humbled to see all of this unfold. It’s rewarding for me to see they’re successful.”
Garcia also helped David and Stacey Garcia open Vida Nueva Creations at 844 N. Sam Houston. The city’s new shops offer “uniqueness,” Castillo has said.
Shoppers, she said, are searching “for something unique.”
Inside their artisan shop, David and Stacey Garcia offer rustic furniture, metal works and scented wood flowers that are driving in customers.
“It’s passion and perseverance and just the heart of not giving up — because there are better things coming,” Silva said. “I see the same perseverance in other entrepreneurs. It has a lot to do with personality. We have to have passion.”
Along the city’s downtown, Silva and other shop owners are working together to draw customers.
“We send people to each other,” she said. “It’s a growing community of entrepreneurs.”
Bigger things to come
Next year, city officials are counting on sales tax revenue to surge.
Along the resaca, the city’s biggest project in decades is projected to boost sales tax revenue by about 25 percent, Castillo said in an earlier interview.
In March, Varco Real Estate launched construction of a multimillion-dollar project to build a boardwalk featuring restaurants and retail shops along 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.
“It’s created a synergy that there’s opportunity in San Benito,” Castillo said, referring to Varco’s project.
Open for business
At City Hall, officials are helping merchants open up new businesses.
“We started sending the message out that San Benito is open for business and we’re trying to be business-friendly,” Castillo said.
As part of a program, the EDC is offering grants of up to $10,000 to match downtown businesses’ investments aimed at sprucing up storefronts.
Another program offers subsidized rents for as long as six months.
Officials are also helping merchants develop business plans while offering customer service training, Castillo said.
“The city is stepping up and helping out,” Silva said. “There’s financial help.”
Meanwhile, the new businesses are luring more local shoppers.
“I encourage our citizens to shop in San Benito,” De La Rosa stated. “You are helping our merchants stay in business, keeping more money in our community and generating revenues that the city can use for projects, therefore keeping the (property) tax rate low.”
San Benito annual sales tax collections:
2018 — $4.56 million
2017 — $4.49 million
2016 — $4.29 million
2015 — $4.21 million
2014 — $3.94 million