The Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) detailed a pilot program Wednesday to highlight San Antonio businesses that contribute to the authentic identity of the city. Part of the program is aimed at sustaining longtime businesses near the historic Missions in the Southside.

The Legacy Business program will recognize longtime businesses throughout the city whose antiquity, architecture, historical, or cultural significance make them a notable part of San Antonio’s cultural landscape. Categories may include performance, traditions, financial institutions, ice houses, cantinas, saloons, bars, and restaurants.

First discussed in 2016 during a series of symposia held following the World Heritage inscription, the Legacy Business concept is also intended to help preserve the culture and authenticity of the World Heritage Buffer Area surrounding the Missions.

“So we began to look at best practices around the world, and legacy business programs were a major focus when we created the agency for the Living Heritage Symposium which was held in September,” said Shanon Miller, director of OHP, who briefed the pilot program to City Council on Wednesday. “We brought in people from other countries, and also from San Francisco, which has a very successful legacy business registry program.”

The Legacy Business program will be part of OHP’s ScoutSA work which encourages citizens to get out and explore San Antonio. Among the benefits of being a Legacy Business are marketing and promotion opportunities through OHP and being included on print and digital maps showing their location for visitors to the area.

For those businesses located in the World Heritage Buffer Area and a two-mile radius of Missions Concepción, San José, San Juan, or Espada, there’s another benefit.

The World Heritage Legacy Business Grant Pilot Program will provide up to $10,000 in matching grants to “encourage the stability and preservation of registered Legacy Businesses that sustain local traditions and identity,” according to a program description.

OHP officials presented the city’s very first Legacy Business designation last Saturday to Javier Gutierrez and his family members.

Gutierrez owns Del Bravo Record Store, 554 W. Old Highway 90, with two sisters, Irma and Diane, two brothers, Sergio and Rudy, and his 83-year-old mother Diamantina, who still works in the store every day as she has since starting the business with her husband 52 years ago.

“We’ve been part of the Westside fabric for long time,” Gutierrez said. “We had our good times when vinyl was strong, when CDs were strong. But today, with technology, you try to survive and we’ve always found a niche for surviving and staying afloat. I think [this award] will bring a little more recognition that we are here.”

In return for being acknowledged as a Legacy Business, an enterprise that makes the list agrees to perpetuate the business, its historic name and the historic service it provides. Miller said her office will be seeking nominations from the public and will be working with City Council members to identify legacy businesses as well.

To be eligible, a business must meet at least two of the following criteria, and can be self-nominated, nominated by the community at large or identified by OHP.

  • A business that has existed for 20 years or more.
  • A business that has been owned and operated by successive generations of the same family.
  • A business that perpetuates San Antonio’s authenticity through the goods or services it provides. Examples: piñata makers, fruterias, bootmakers, saddle makers, music venues.
  • A business that cultivates and sustains traditions and culture through instruction, education and handing down of traditional ways of knowledge. Examples: botanicas, folk dance instructors, song instruction.
  • Its location in a designated San Antonio Landmark, historic district.
  • Its location in a property eligible to be designated and willingness to landmark the property.

Funding in the amount of $100,000 for the World Heritage Area Legacy Business Grant Pilot Program will come from the Inner City Incentive Fund.

The grants would be made for eligible business owners to make improvements to their establishment’s façade, landscaping, signage and parking lots, and must be matched dollar for dollar by the applicant. Low-interest loans may be available for the interior infrastructure of the building they occupy, from partner organizations. Grants can be layered with funds from Operation Facelift as provided by Housing and Urban Development.

Colleen Swain, director of the City’s World Heritage Office, said her office and OHP have already completed an inventory of businesses within the World Heritage Buffer Area and two-mile radius to identify businesses that might qualify as Legacy Businesses.

That inventory includes places like Little’s Boot Company, Bolner’s Meat Market, Little Red Barn, Casa Rio, Daniel’s Café, and others.

Legacy businesses applying for grants will be required to complete three business capacity-building courses via the Southside First Echale’s Gas Program, Launch SA, or other approved business development program, prior to receiving the last reimbursement payment.

City Council will consider the World Heritage Legacy Business Grant program at their Feb. 8 meeting.

“This is a pilot so if we prove to be very successful, then we can hopefully implement this citywide,” Swain said.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) said the program would put a focus on “gems” in the community.

“It really is just a point of pride that we can all highlight these legacy businesses,” Viagran said. “And when it comes to people visiting San Antonio or just locals trying to find other local spots in other parts of the city, this is a great way to do it, through the Legacy Business program. And I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to start in the World Heritage area since we’re already doing so much with the work plan, but also … for this economic mobility and potential to be reached in our World Heritage area.”

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.