Monday, April 12, 2021

Where is my Disney Park?

Wharton, nor a town around it, has a Bloomingdales. Have you noticed? You can search high and low, too, for a Disney theme park, and you won't find that, either.

However, Wharton, does have the potential for growth in travel and business. Really! That is due to its unique rural character, business climate, and transportation access. It won't get a Bloomingdales or a theme park any time soon, but it is likely to get more economic activity, jobs, rooftops and visitors.

Why hasn't this economic activity already happened? Affixing blame is a national sport. But I'll give you a real reason: Mother Nature mostly. 

We are flat as a pancake. And we have this Colorado River as unpredictable as me trying to cook a pancake worth eating.

Covid has not helped. But the long-time threat has always been the natural barriers to development. Some 40 percent of Wharton is flood prone. And the floods are just gaining in frequency.

It means that anyone who wants to build or improve property may have to raise the foundation level  costing lots of money. Some $1 million was spent to raise the land for Buc-ee's, for instance.

This $72 million flood reduction project, which has been in the works for more than two decades, will change all that. When it is done, it will reduce residential and business construction prices with a real impact, and it will open the city to business and residential development and quality of life improvements.

The extension of FM 1301 is also a game changer.  Some 17,000 vehicles per day pass through 1301 in Wharton; just imagine what will happen when 1301 reaches U.S. 59, which carries 30,000 vehicles per day. We will be much more connected to the traveling public and ourselves.

Critics may blast away, but a change in people's thinking will have to occur.
This quote comes to mind: "Players win games, but teams win championships."


Monday, April 5, 2021

Finding Fulfillment with Tik Tok


As a teenager, Briana Valdez found a career that could have lasted a lifetime. Then she abandoned it. 

And then she really found her calling: entrepreneur.

Briana has become a candy maven*.  She is a Tik Tok maven, too. 

From her shop in Wharton Texas, a block off Monterey Square, she sells candy via Tik Tok, and lots of it. Less than a third of her business is foot traffic; the rest is shipped across the country and even oversees. She captures it all on video.

First, she became a licensed cosmetologist at age 18. She may go back to it part-time someday, she says, but she soon realized it was not for her, day in and day out.

"One day, I said I do not want to do this," she said. 

"I got my job. I quit my job, and I turned my life upside down."

At age 22, she opened The Sweet Spot, 246 W. Milam St. That was just last December. Her mother, Ruth Gutierrez, occupies the front half of the storefront. Mother's women clothing business is establishing its own niche. 

Savvy runs in the family.

Let's go back to Briana.

Briana doesn't just box the order and ship it. She is performance art. You must witness her fulfilling an order — the music, the glitz. Her customers love it. They ask that she make a video as part of the order. They watch on Tik Tok. Really.

Briana started very basic, just the Hershey's and bubblegum stuff. But her eyes and ears were open.

"What I did was I listened to everyone's opinion. People said I should do this or that, and I do try."

She tries pretty good, I think. Wharton Proud.

Briana will be a presenter at the next Business Breakfast sponsored by the Wharton Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture and the Wharton Economic Development Corp. It is set for 8 am Thursday, May 6, at 9ers Grill. Amy Morales, president of Kapeesh Marketing, will also be a presenter on the topic, "Marketing Like You Mean It"

*Maven. Some of you may not be familiar with the word. Originating from Yiddish, Maven means someone who is an expert in a particular field or subject.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Wharton County Farmers Market is Stronger Than Ever


Yes, I am now using soap made from goats. And yes, I will be buying non-peanut brittle that's pecan brittle. And I need more pickles, too. All at the Farmers Market.

The Wharton County Farmers Market's new season will continue to set an example of Wharton's future as a visitor destination.

The last time I was there was the fall-winter market.  I was overwhelmed — lots and lots and lots of unique handmade products for sale, in an atmosphere of enthusiastic friends and neighbors and visitors — and live music. It was a great, memorable experience. 

It became clear to me that the Farmers Market is an integral part of our future as a destination. There are many successful destinations that relied on a similar formula.

What does it take for a town to become a "destination" for visitors? It has to leave the visitors with a  unique, satisfying experience built right there at home. It must be an experience that leaves an impression that he or she will share by word of mouth. 

It is not just seeing and buying. It is meeting the people and hearing the stories behind these things you see and buy — all available at the Wharton County Farmers Market.

The Farmers Market is unique. It is organic. It is us. And leads by example. This is how travel destinations are built step by step.

However, all of Wharton has to work together. Like the saying goes, players win games, but teams win championships.

The new Farmers Market season will be 9 am to noon each Saturday, April 3 through June 19, at Guffey Park, 255 W. Caney St., Wharton.




Monday, March 22, 2021

You can help grow business activity

Here is an easy way to stir up business: reviews. 

I encourage you to post on-line reviews for Wharton businesses at which you shop or restaurants at which you dine. 

It's simple: just google the name of the business or restaurant. And you will find links to give a short review. You might see it on google maps, or Yelp. Click a button that says something like "leave a review." Then click on those stars to rate them, and write briefly about your experience.

Say the good stuff, of course. And offer constructive criticism if needed. Business and restaurant owners and managers like to hear from you.

And, moreover, they appreciate that you communicating good stuff with other or would-be customers. It encourages business. It encourages excellence. And it encourages us to to take stock in what we have.

Businesses and restaurants have their job to do — they should earn good reviews. And they should reply to each review with appreciation, kindness, professionalism and care.

And they also should ask customers — those who have not done so — to leave reviews. There are lots of creative ways to do so.

It is easy for you to find businesses and restaurants on line. But managers or owners should make sure they are listed with Yelp, Google, and others. (For how-to, try going to business.yelp.com and google.com/business, or seek the help of a professional social media expert.)

You will not find a more creative and courageous group of people than than those who risk their own money with starting, maintaining and growing a business. Let's say thanks to them. It's easy.



Monday, March 15, 2021

Wharton County Courthouse Tours go on Regular Schedule

Guided tours of the Wharton County Courthouse will be offered on a regular schedule starting next month, thanks to the Wharton Historical Commission and the Wharton Chamber of Commerce.

The tours will be the first Saturday of each month starting Saturday, April 3. The tours will last about 45 minutes. The first tour will begin at 10 am and a second will follow at 11 am.

This is the first time we can remember having courthouse tours on a fixed schedule. It is a long time in the making.

Jeffrey Blair will serve as the primary tour guide. Jeffrey was instrumental in the restoration of the county courthouse.

You do not need to pre-register. Just show up. There is no fee, but donations will be accepted to help cover expenses.

Both the historical commission and the chamber want to thank County Judge Phillip Spenrath and Sheriff Shannon Srubar for their help in establishing this tour program.

The history of the courthouse, and the stories behind it, will give you a new perspective on the miracle of its full restoration. Spread the word!

Thank you.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” 





Thursday, February 25, 2021

For Black History Month, a tale of the Wharton County Courthouse cornerstone

A century ago, no such thing as Black History Month existed. However in Wharton, it might have been called Erase Black History Month if there was one then.

I will tell you a dismal tale, but it was followed by an act of redemption one century later. It has to do with the stately Wharton County Courthouse, erected in 1889. 

The names of two county commissioners disappeared from the building's original cornerstone. Julie Freeman, in her 2015 master's thesis, writes: 

The original stone bore the names of the county’s first two black county commissioners, who were elected during Reconstruction. They resigned amid racial tensions after the White Man’s Union Association took political control of Wharton. The story is told that the original cornerstone was dropped and its pieces dumped into the Colorado River during the 1935 renovation to obscure the significance of blacks in Wharton’s history. 

That excerpt is from "Up She Rises: The Birth and Legacy of the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program," published by Baylor University, 2015. 

I covered the debate over whether to save, restore, or demolish the county courthouse from the day I became a reporter in September 1982 until the day I left for the chamber in June 2007. If walls could talk. 

The year 2007 was same year as the dedication of the fully restored county courthouse, a miracle, considering the roller coaster ride of politics that got us there. But there was another miracle: a huge, one. 

Freeman writes: 

Even the courthouse cornerstone was recreated. ... (T)he county’s true history was restored along with a cornerstone that had been duplicated, down to the very font used in the original inscription. 

The two Black county commissioners that returned to the cornerstone were R.H. Tisdale and A.D. Speaker. Tidwell's and Speaker's descendants were invited and came to the courthouse rededication on Aug. 4, 2007. The descendants were given front row seats. 

I remember it was hot that day, with a large crowd

on the Houston Street-side of the county courthouse. The story of how we got there was told. The people involved were thanked. And the building's cornerstone, corrected as it should have been all these years, was unveiled. 

Does this story have a happy ending? It's a chapter, not a book, however. Let's agree, at the very least, that it gives a person hope. 

God bless you all. 

Correction: This ceremony took place on April 16, 2005.

Special thanks go to Patricia Blair, president of the Wharton County Historical Commission. Her husband, Jeffrey, should also be thank — he was instrumental in the drive for the complete restoration of the courthouse and was the master of ceremonies on Aug. 4, 2007.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Our water problems could have been more worse

Residents of the city of Wharton, at least, had slightly less to worry about than some others. During the freeze, Wharton residents did not have to boil their water. The city water system did not fail. There is lots to be upset about, frozen pipes, busted pipes, no power. But it's not bad that Wharton did not have the additional hurt of a water system collapsing. It might not seem like much, but it is something. Things don't always have to get more worse. It is a credit to the folks who lead the city and work for the city to not add more suffering. The lessons that can be learned are glaring. It is the human condition. But better government and better public policy is hard work and not a blame game. The things that go wrong in any crisis did not stop the front-line folks from doing their jobs to their own personal risk. In an entire year of hurt, it's our firefighters, our medical personnel, our EMTs, our police officers, our emergency management and emergency support staff, and all the neighbors who helped their neighbors. We will be judged by what we do when no one is looking. Don't get mad, say thank you. I am a broken record from my memories. During the days of building a Boys and Girls Club, Dwight King taught a small group of people a mantra that Got 'Er Done: "Make It Better".

Where is my Disney Park?

Wharton, nor a town around it, has a Bloomingdales. Have you noticed? You can search high and low, too, for a Disney theme park, and you won...