Elsa Fernandez, founder of Eye Candy Boutique, sells plus-size clothing for women and statement jewelry. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Elsa Fernandez, founder of Eye Candy Boutique, sells plus-size clothing for women and statement jewelry. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Our first OPEN Downtown Pop Up Shops experience took place during December 2014. Vacant store fronts on Houston and Travis streets were illuminated for the holiday season with gorgeous new interiors and a fresh stock of items. This year, OPEN has four shops on East Commerce Street in St. Paul Square, located just east of I-37.

These temporary shops will be open through Thursday, May 28. Monday through Friday they’ll be open 5-9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Special events including yoga, a Sunday Brunch, and musical performances can all be found on the OPEN calendar here.

In each store front, at least two different retailers have set up shop, creating an intimate shopping experience as most of the shop owners were there in person to answer questions about their handmade or hand-picked merchandise. With goods ranging from dog treats to art to men’s shoes, OPEN is bringing commerce back to the largely forgotten block of Commerce Street. There are several commercial spaces for lease on the block, even beyond those participating in the OPEN program.

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OPEN is an initiative to bring life to vacant properties in downtown San Antonio through temporary retail stores. The Center City Development and Operations Department (CCDO) partnered with property owners and retailers to create a vibrant, urban space for locals to enjoy. We see OPEN as a window into what the future might hold for St. Paul Square and the Eastside as a whole.

Jacqueline and I pulled into a parking spot at 5:51 p.m. on a recent weekday and walked less than a quarter of a block on E. Commerce Street before we hit the first pop up shop appropriately titled “Culture” located at 1167 E. Commerce. Here, we found:

E & C Designs: fine goods imported from Mexico including handmade silver jewelry, home décor and textiles.

Sweet Craft Jewelry: handmade polymer clay jewelry that looks like various – and delicious – food items.

Scarlette Dove: handmade Mexican folk art.

HERNÁN: packaged Mexican chocolate, Mexican hot chocolate and mole sauces with prep tools.

(Click here to see a full list of vendors.)

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I wanted to buy everything for my familia. The art, the jewelry, and the sculptures were gorgeous representations of Mexican culture.

Vietnamese Cuisine food truck in St. Paul Square. Photo by Jacqueline Fierro.
Vietnamese Cuisine food truck in St. Paul Square. Photo by Jacqueline Fierro.

Right outside of the first OPEN shop were two food trucks – Mars and Vietnamese Cuisine. Other food trucks rotate in throughout the week. Food and shopping in St. Paul Square? Beyond the two sports bars (which are usually closed during the day) this was a very different block.

Next was the “Pet Store,” located at 1142 E. Commerce, with PAWsitively Sweet Bakery & Boutique, an all-natural and handcrafted pet products store. If you’re looking for a new pair of shoes, shirt or bow for your pup, this is the place to go. Jacqueline didn’t have her dog, Cooper, with her, so the free dog treats stayed in the bowl.

Animal Care Services will set up shop in the back on Saturday and Sunday, just in case you’d like to adopt a pup that you can shower with gifts.

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Downstairs was AME Collaborative, a space for local emerging artists, makers, and craftspeople. If you visit the OPEN shops, we hope you’ll make the trip downstairs. There was no signage when we attended, but the art should not be skipped.

Personally, I was the most excited when I saw our next stop – “Her” – for obvious reasons. Located at 1160 E. Commerce, “Her” featured:

Kandi Factory Boutique: clothing for plus size women.

Bonjour Biqui: local handmade fashion from designer Blanquita Sullivan.

Adam’s Gift: organic exfoliating body scrubs and gift baskets.

Gathers no Moss: plants in recycled, repurposed and restored containers.

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Immediately after walking inside this store, I knew I had to keep my head parallel with my finances because the fashion was unique and modern and I wanted to buy at least 10 different dresses, five different miniature gardens and a couple of delicious-smelling body scrubs.

Jacqueline and I walked onto the back patio for some fresh air (and to Tweet, Insta and Snap) and discovered a garden area with foliage and stone tables. I could hardly believe this oasis existed behind one of the vacant stores on East Commerce.

Can you guess what store we visited next? “Him.” Located at 1170 E. Commerce, this shop featured:

M. Andrews Satorial Luxury Collection: custom Menswear and ready to wear including handmade Italian leather shoes, handmade silk ties, and cufflinks.

Gonzalez Handmade: handmade leather goods.

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Handmade silk ties and handmade leather notebooks and wooden combs, a combination you don’t usually find, but meshed perfectly together. Whatever your style is, chances are good that you can find something at OPEN.

Today was the first time I walked the streets of East Commerce in the daylight (I frequent the location for the 13th Floor Haunted House for Halloween) and the stores, the signs, the whole facade of St. Paul Square is inspiring and brings light to a part of downtown many people neglect to venture to, mainly because of the lack of attractions. Through OPEN, Jacqueline and I both hope and encourage people to come explore St. Paul Square and support local artists and businesses. This is our time to show the city we want new retail shops and more local businesses to succeed in the core of our city. It’s time to take the leap.

We want to know, how do you feel about the OPEN initiative? Leave your thoughts and comments below.

Managing Editor Iris Dimmick contributed to this story. 

*Featured/top image: Elsa Fernandez, founder of Eye Candy Boutique, sells plus-size clothing for women and statement jewelry. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Twenty Something SA depicts the exploration of two twenty something year olds, Jacqueline Fierro and Alyssa Walker, in San Antonio. Jacqueline is a Texas Tech alumna. Her favorite things are photography,...