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It’s up to all of us to keep downtown Boerne thriving

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CRYSTAL CLEAR

Although I don’t live in Boerne, it’s my job to learn all I can about the people who do. I’m one of the outsiders who comes into the city for work, and heads down a back road to go home every day.

It’s exactly one true crime podcast from my front door to the courthouse steps.

Boerne has always been an idyllic town that I tell my fellow Helotes Hill Country folks all about. It was just a few years ago I quit my job at a boutique PR firm in downtown San Antonio to start my own business. I still wanted to do PR, but I wanted to cater to small businesses, which is about the dumbest move for a PR rep because small businesses have big marketing needs, and exactly zero marketing dollars. But it was my heart.

I catered to clients in my own backyard, and I used to tell my small Helotes businesses that if they played their cards right, they could be Boerne. Old Town Helotes is a cluster of precious little locally owned businesses with that small-town Texas charm that, more often than not, struggle to keep the doors open.

There are some who do just fine. The Cracked Mug has a solid stream of customers coming in for the free WiFi and the jet fuel they call coffee. And a few of the other shops have good enough mornings on market days that they’re able to keep the lights on.

But the traffic through there isn’t a steady stream. And as far as I can tell, the economic development slogan in Helotes is “Eat More Chicken.” As if five chicken restaurants wasn’t enough, someone just bulldozed a beautiful Mexican food restaurant so they could erect a Raisin’ Canes.

Gag me with the tenders already.

Boerne might be begging for a Chick-fil-A, but I’m happy to cull our flock and donate a few pollo places if that’s what everyone wants.

Before I worked in Boerne, I’d heard about how dreamy the Hill Country Mile was, and when I finally made it out, what I found didn’t disappoint. Downtown Boerne is next level adorable. I drove in a few nights ago for a school board meeting, and my heart lit up when I saw all the gorgeous downtown twinkles.

All those shops on the Mile have made Boerne a legendary spot for small town Texas destination shopping. It’s the “new Fredericksburg” as far as I can tell.

So when I heard a few weeks ago that sales tax revenues in the city were up, I assumed it was due in large part from the legendary businesses lining that mile-long crowning glory. But that’s not what I found.

I first reached out to the city manager to find out why Boerne had a record-setting year for sales. He said the better part of the revenues came from the big box stores, which is great news for the city. Those big boys bring big dollars from Comfort, Fair Oaks Ranch and other surrounding cities, and they help to pay for all the infrastructure needed for the one of the fastest growing areas in the entire country.

But when I talked to local business owners they sang a different tune. While sales are slowly climbing, their rents are breathlessly sprinting. The more desirable Boerne becomes, the more property values soar, and the more the landlords charge for rent to cover the costs.

It’s not anyone’s fault. But I found it a little sad that one of the biggest draws to the city is one of the parts that’s taking the biggest hit as it grows.

I thought about my own buying habits. I order my groceries curbside, and I’m on a first-name basis with the UPS delivery guy. As someone who sees the importance of shopping small up close every day, I’m still guilty of opting for convenience when I can.

Even when I shop small, I’m guilty of strolling through and only buying a jar of salsa or a cute little coaster because I don’t want to lug my loot around town. But you can’t pay $4,000 rent with coaster sales.

You hear a lot of people talk about “Boerne gone forever,” and I hope they’re wrong. I think Boerne is an incredible, vibrant community.

But talking to those small shop owners made me realize that if I want the pleasure of strolling through cute shops rather than walking past empty buildings, it’s actually up to me to make the effort to support them.

I can still order curbside, and I’ll keep my Amazon app. But the holidays might be the perfect time for me to rethink my shopping habits. A little less Black Friday, and a little more Small Business Saturday seems more festive anyway.