A new era for older businesses

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By Jacob Reyes

Downtown El Paso is an area filled with people and businesses that flourish with unique culture and history. One of those businesses is Star Western Wear with its shelves stacked with blue jeans and rows of cowboy hats that line the wall of the massive Downtown store. A store rooted in West-loving customers knows a successful future is embedded in change.

Edie Zuvanich, marketing director at Star Western Wear’s downtown location, has seen this shift occur firsthand.

“A lot of El Pasoans really didn’t know very much about Downtown and they had a specific mindset about Downtown. Now with all the revitalization, people are opening their eyes to the fact that there’s a lot more downtown,” Zuvanich said. “Downtown is enjoyable, and downtown is a part of people’s lives.”

Photo by Jacob Reyes for Journalism in July

Photo by Jacob Reyes for Journalism in July

The crush of shops in central El Paso continues to attract Mexican and American consumers. But longtime retail mecca for affordable clothing and sometimes cheap knock off charms is undergoing major facelift.

New restaurants and businesses have bolstered Downtown’s economy. Still, the fresh round of investments and changes to the city’s infrastructure have forced many longstanding shops to shift gears to reach their customers. Others have had to grapple with traffic-straining construction projects.

The owner of Dave’s Pawn Shop, Clay Baron, has watched his family-owned storefront adjust to the city outside its front door on El Paso Street. Though his curious-minded clientele is serially drawn to view the shop’s oddities, which range from Pancho Villa’s trigger finder to decades-old daggers, Baron said the shop has worked to overcome some revitalization projects.

“When they changed the bus routes, the hub used to be in San Jacinto Plaza and the bus would come right up to El Paso Street and stop right in front and a lot of people would stop by,” Baron said. “When they moved the bus terminal down by the bridge we actually saw a pretty steep decline in pedestrian traffic.

The construction in Downtown has also affected businesses owners with some having to shut down, including owner Frank Mares of La Morena.

“We did get a lot of customers from other parts of the city and stop Downtown and eat,” Mares said. “With all the construction, they stopped going Downtown because it was hard to find a parking place and it was hard to get around.”

The rapid rise of technology also has changed commerce. Businesses and companies have changed their market strategies, with some starting online shops, advertising on the web and reaching out to customers through social media.

For many of these businesses, the transition is not a negative one. They may be forced to part with remnants of their store front’s past, but the adjustment often brings in an entirely new market of customers from online.

“A lot of times we think (technology) makes things harder, but really it makes things easier for us, especially for shopping online,” Zuvanich said. “It also allows us to cross borders without crossing the border, making it easier for people to visit our store.”

Increased commerce Downtown also has grown activity for leisure-seekers. Outdoor movie screenings, festivals and charity runs have become commonplace in the shadows of El Paso’s high-rise buildings. It’s a change that attracts all El Pasoans.

“I’ve been to other places where downtown was kind of a concrete jungle, and this is really not the concrete jungle,” Zuvanich said. “This is the people’s downtown- it’s not just the rich people’s downtown, or a certain type of people’s downtown, this is El Paso’s downtown, and and our neighbors downtown, everybody in this region, this is a downtown for every person.”

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