Race Street is quiet on a Tuesday afternoon. Quieter than business owners would like. 

The city of Fort Worth, along with developers and neighborhood advocates, have been working for years to redevelop the stretch of Race Street that runs from Oakhurst Scenic Drive to E. Belknap Street. 

The city has spent $5.6 million on the area, known as the Six Points Urban Village, along Race Street with bond funds and federal grants. 

Those funds went to improving traffic, sidewalks and landscaping in an effort to revitalize the area 2 miles northeast of downtown. The hope was it would become the next trendy destination in Fort Worth.

Now branded as River East or the River Arts District, the street is lined with several large apartment complexes, local shops and restaurants. Dallas-based Criterion Development Partners bought plots of land and turned it into townhomes and a more than 300,000 square-foot apartment and retail space.

But some small businesses have struggled to gain a strong footing. And some owners have closed their doors a few years after opening them. 

Two restaurants closed along the street in April. Zonk Burger, a vegan burger restaurant at 2919 Race St. closed April 2. The restaurant was rated in a list of top vegan restaurants in Culturemap Fort Worth in 2022. 

Not far away at 2905 Race St., La Onda, closed April 17.  Bon Appétit’ named La Onda one of the top 50 best new restaurants in the country in 2022.

The Fort Worth Report counted five vacant spaces along the street. At least one established Fort Worth restaurant plans to open a spinoff on Race Street, hoping to spur more business.

Many business owners along the street say they’ve seen businesses come and go over the years. Among the reasons include a lack of foot traffic along the street and inconsistent business hours. 

Erin Hahn, co-founder of the now-closed Zonk Burger, said other destinations, such as Magnolia Avenue, have an established pattern of foot traffic. Many people eat and then walk elsewhere. That’s not the case for Race Street. 

“We don’t have enough of a critical mass I think on (Race Street) to make it a destination like that,”she said. 

She doesn’t think there’s more business owners moving in and out of Race Street than other areas. It’s just how retail real estate works, Hahn said. Plus, running a business is risky.

“I think it’s just a hard time, even independent of the location,” Hahn said.

“People with dreams come and go”

Henry Vasquez, owner of Born Late Records at 2920 Race St., stands behind the front counter of his store April 18. Vasquez opened his store in 2015. (Seth Bodine | Fort Worth Report)

Running Born Late Records at 2920 Race St. hasn’t been easy for owner Henry Vasquez. To get by, he sells records at conventions such as the Dallas Guitar Show and Austin Record Show alongside running his storefront. 

Vasquez moved into his store in 2015, and he’s seen the street evolve from biker bars and kicked-in windows to renovated streets and new buildings. He’s noticed the changes in businesses, too. 

“I’ve seen a million businesses and people with dreams come and go,” he said. 

Maintaining a business is a full-time job, Vasquez said. One key factor of his success is keeping regular business hours. While many of the businesses along the street are closed on certain days, he keeps his shop open seven days a week from noon to 8 p.m. He passes cards at events and does what he can to promote his business. 

“I see the dreams and I see everybody coming in with some sort of game plan,” Vasquez said. “I’m like, unless you’re willing to tough it out and bite the bullet half the time you’re not going to make it.”

Linda Wise, owner of Race Street Barber shop, cuts hair on April 18, 2023. Wise moved the shop to Race Street in 2007 after working on the West side of Fort Worth. (Seth Bodine | Fort Worth Report)

Linda Wise, owner of Race Street Barber Shop, said there’s not a lot of foot traffic. She said she doesn’t need it. Wise has been cutting some of her customer’s hair for more than 20 years. Wise moved into the location at 2921 Race St. in 2007.

Success along the street depends on the type of business, she said. Another factor to consider, she said, is the street’s new design. Wise isn’t a fan of the parking spaces, which require drivers to back in.

“I just think that they did a poor job of designing the street,” she said.

Wise said her rent at her shop is affordable. When the shop’s lease comes up for renewal, she anticipates the price may rise. She might decide to retire once that happens, she said. 

‘I have to do the work to create a community’

Cecilia Navarro, owner of Creatively Beaut Goods, sits in her shop on April 19, 2023. Navarro, opened the shop in July 2020, and said she survived by hosting outside markets. (Seth Bodine | Fort Worth Report)

Cecilia Navarro, owner of Creatively Beaut Goods, has been in survival mode since opening her own location in July 2020. Hosting outdoor markets helped her survive the first two years of the pandemic, she said.

“I have to do the work to create community that will repeatedly come back to my events, and workshops or whenever I promote new items on social media,” Navarro said. “The building of community in the past few years is what’s helped me survive on Race Street.” 

Navarro works at her business Wednesday through Saturday. As a single mother, having flexible hours is ideal, she said.

Navarro thinks Race Street could benefit from an organization that curates events. The street has some events, but they are organized by individual businesses, she said.

“Sometimes we have to take a step back from doing that community work as a team on Race Street because we have to prioritize our own business first, in order to even continue doing that,” Navarro said. 

Over the past three years, Navarro said she has seen six to eight businesses close. For the first two years, she lived in the apartment complex at her retail location. 

“I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to live and work here for the first two years to set the foundation to be able to stay and kind of grow roots here,” she said. “Without that opportunity, I think I would have been one of those businesses to have gone. I know I would have been one of those businesses.”

What’s next for Race Street? 

Some vacant spaces are being filled along the street. The owner of The Bearded Lady is opening a spinoff restaurant and bar called Tropic Lady at 2719 Race St., replacing Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, which closed.

Laurie Carter, senior adviser at Trinity Advisers, said the restaurant will make the surrounding area more attractive. She has four interested tenants next to Tropic Lady. 

“I feel like there’s a new sense of energy, coming to … Race Street,” Carter said. “And I feel like once the restaurant gets in, and some of these other spaces get built, it will be more lively down there for sure.”

Advocates like Debby Stein, who has worked in the area for years and organizes arts events in the area, believes in Race Street. During an interview with the Fort Worth Report, she wore a “Straight Outta Riverside” button on her shirt. 

Soon, Stein is planning to form a nonprofit organization to manage the area and plan projects like placing wayfinding signs.

Revitalizing the area is similar to organizing community theater, Stein said. 

“We’re the cast members, the tech crew,” Stein said. “We’re going to make it happen and then we’re going to invite the audience.” 

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120

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Seth BodineBusiness Reporter

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....