The immigrant dollar: a driving force at Gulfgate
Customers step up to spend as center builds on success
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
After plunking down $70 in cash for groceries, Mexican immigrant JosÃ© Escobedo waited outside the H-E-B store while his son shopped at other retailers in the Gulfgate Center.
Gulfgate has come a long way since Escobedo arrived in Houston five years ago. Back then, he had to travel several miles from his home to shop for groceries, and his visits to the 1950s-era Gulfgate Mall were few.
Now that the mall has been demolished and replaced with the modern Gulfgate Center, Escobedo comes more often. He has more reason to, he said, ticking off a list of the open-air shopping center’s stores that he frequents: H-E-B, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Old Navy, T-Mobile.
Shoppers such as Escobedo and his family are what led to the rebirth of Gulfgate Center. And it’s shoppers like them whom developers are counting on to keep the center going strong as they complete the 675,000-square-foot complex that is now two-thirds built.
So far, developers’ expectations are being met.
The center is now 99 percent occupied, according to market research firm O’Connor & Associates. On weekends, stores are jammed with customers, and most merchants report strong sales.
The Gulfgate branch of Washington Mutual, for example, is the Seattle-based company’s busiest in Texas. It does about half its business with people carrying matricula cards, IDs issued by Latin American governments out of their consulates in the U.S. And the 85,000-square-foot H-E-B is one of the grocer’s busiest locations in Houston.
More than just a story about the rebirth of what was once a blighted area wedged between the 610 Loop and Interstate 45, Gulfgate Center is a concrete example of the contribution the immigrant dollar has made in Houston.
Researchers examined utility payments, automobile registrations and immigration data, finding 16 percent more people than the census did.
They also found that the area generated $758 million in annual household income, $121 million of that in cash that typically doesn’t turn up in traditional surveys.