Painting a Picture of San Antonio’s Old Highway 90
By Michael MInasi
SAN ANTONIO — In a world of seemingly ubiquitous chain stores and expanding online shopping, the 1.5-mile strip of Old Highway 90 in San Antonio has remained home to dozens of mom-and-pop businesses.
On Old Highway 90, customers can shop for music records or auto parts and get a plate of ribs or tacos, all while chatting with the second- and third-generation independent business owners who have managed to hold on to their family businesses through recessions, industry shifts and the construction of the new Highway 90, which rerouted traffic away from the area in the 1960s.
But would-be shoppers may be confused when they search for this eclectic commercial corridor, which was renamed Enrique M. Barrera Parkway in 2016 by the San Antonio City Council. Controversy has dogged the name change, which was introduced in 2015 as a plan by former Councilman Ray Lopez to help revitalize the area. A coalition of businesses along the highway has been batting against the change, insisting the original name is critical to their history, identity and branding.
In August, the city’s Office of Historic Preservation named Old Highway 90 as a Cultural Heritage District, the second of its kind in San Antonio. And in January, Del Bravo Record Shop, a cultural icon on the highway, was awarded the distinction of being the city’s first Legacy Business, a new program designed to recognize and sustain businesses that contribute to the authentic identity of the city.
For City Councilman Greg Brockhouse, who had expressed support for giving the community a voice in the name change, these are the first steps to potentially bringing back the highway’s former name.
Brockhouse plans to hold an election in January 2019 where residents will be able to vote on changing the corridor’s name back to Old Highway 90. Once the votes are tallied, he will present the findings to the rest of the council.
“We’ve got it culturally significant, got it designated by the city of San Antonio. People want it back — and now we quantify it through an actual vote,” Brockhouse said.
In November, Reporting Texas visited Old Highway 90 shop owners. Here are their stories.
Del Bravo Record Shop
Salome Gutierrez founded Del Bravo Record Shop in 1966 just across Old Highway 90 from the store’s present-day location. In the 1970s, Gutierrez’s family owned four record shops in West San Antonio. In 1982 the family consolidated the shops into one building, where they continue to sell vinyl records and CDs of all music genres. Del Bravo’s unique, specialized selection of Latino music, particularly Tejano and conjunto artists, has helped it stand out.
The record shop, now more than double its original size and painted a distinctive yellow, pink and lime, is woven into the history of the local Latino music scene. Music legend Lydia Mendoza’s 12-string guitar and show dresses, and dozens of other artifacts line the walls and shelves of the shop.
Though Gutierrez died in October 2016, his wife, Diamantina, and five of his eight children are still working in Del Bravo Record Shop, strategizing on how best to keep the shop and the history and culture enshrined within it alive.
“All of us worked through here at one time. Some of us moved on. A lot of us stayed. But the thing is, is there is a love for what my parents built. We could have walked away and gone somewhere else. Retired or made more money somewhere else. But you see the labor of love that was invested into here, and that’s why we stayed,” said Javier Gutierrez, a part owner of Del Bravo Record Shop.
De La Garza Fence & Supply
“You’re in your comfort zone here. Everybody has ties to everybody, and everyone is very close,” said Frank de la Garza, 68, owner of De La Garza Fence & Supply.
De la Garza’s father, Efrain de la Garza, was a police officer who patrolled the district along Old Highway 90 for two decades. In 1968 Efrain retired from police work and established De La Garza Fence & Supply in the same West San Antonio community where he raised his family. When his son Frank graduated from high school, he joined the family business, which he eventually took over.
The de la Garza family settled in the area about 80 years ago, drawn by the affordable property and the activity along the highway, which used to be the main thoroughfare between San Antonio and Kelly Air Force Base.
Ruiz and Sons, Inc.
Seven years after founding an auto shop in 1967 along Old Highway 90, Minesforo Ruiz evolved his business into a trucking and transportation company named Ruiz and Sons, Inc. Two years before his death in 1994, Ruiz divided the company between his two sons, Sergio and Nick Ruiz.
“There was an extreme appetite for prosperity. These parents were educating us to move up in the world. In their lifetime they were handicapped — education was very basic and financial ability was not to the extreme that it is now,” said Sergio Ruiz, 63, who now runs the administrative side of the trucking business while his brother Nick runs the maintenance and mechanical side.
The Ruiz brothers grew up in the majority Hispanic neighborhood near the highway, going to school and helping out with their father’s business. Now their sons are getting involved with the business, too.
One of the unique and binding characteristics of the area around Old Highway 90 is its diverse residents and rich culture, Sergio Ruiz said.
Perales Barber Shop
Jose Perales, 79, has been cutting hair for almost 40 years at Perales Barber Shop.
“For as long as I’ve been here, I’ve considered this my neighborhood, it’s my hood, as they say. Even though I don’t live in this area, I’ve been here 40 years, this is my neighborhood,” said Perales, who was drawn to Old Highway 90 by the affordable rent.
Hundreds of key chains hang along the wall opposite a set of classic barber chairs, and a “Save Old Highway 90” sign sits in the front window. The majority of Perales’ business comes from long-time regulars in the local neighborhood and from the military base.
“Almost everybody knows me. I go walking around, ‘hey Joe!’ — when I’m outside, ‘hey Joe!’ — there’s always somebody, and it makes you feel good,” Perales said.
4M Auto Supply
“Save Old Highway 90” signs hang on the walls both inside and outside of the 4M Auto Supply store. Michael Cooremans, 60, the store’s owner, is staunchly in favor of returning the highway to its original name.
“I think as soon as it gets back to the way it was, our lives can go back to normal,” Cooremans said.
Cooremans took over the business from his father Eugene Cooremans in 1999, expanding it by adding a custom automotive paint service and hydraulic hoses for fleet trucks. His father was an automotive salesman with dreams of owning his own store, and he eventually bought an auto parts store on San Antonio’s West Commerce Street in 1972. Five years later, in the summer of 1976, 4M Auto Supply moved to Old Highway 90. The building the Cooremans bought was originally a grocery store built prior to the 1950s named Foon’s Super Market.
4M Auto Supply was named for Eugene’s four sons: Michael, Mario, Mark and Martin.
“We’re not gonna let it go. We just can’t. When generations from now read about this, and this makes history, I want them to see the community came together. They fought back and they were just in their cause and they did it. They took their community back,” Cooremans said.