Friday, March 13, 2015

A Look At What Just Sprouted on Yale

Arizona-based Sprouts Farmers Market opened it's new location on Yale this week. The store, just south of the I-10 feeder, announced their grand opening with a flyer celebrating their "Heights Location." Well, sort of. Regardless of their actual geography, the neighborhood has been buzzing about having an option closer and/or more affordable than Whole Foods, that isn't Kroger.


The first thing I noticed when I walked in is how small it is. When you compare it to any of the other supermarkets in the area, it's practically minuscule. Having never been to a Sprouts before, I am unsure if this was a choice specific to this location, or if all of their markets are roughly this size? It kind of reminded me of the conversation I had at holiday party once with a regional manager from Target. I mentioned I live in the Heights and he told me the Taylor location is the 2nd highest earning Target in greater Houston, with the first being a huge super store in Katy. Everyone at Target corporate was shocked when this came to be. It was largely because they built it based on the demographics from 2000, which didn't reflect any of the growth that had happened in the Heights or Washington corridor between the census and the development. This was why they didn't build it as a Super Target and subsequently reconfigured the space to cram food in there, as well as to bring in more merchandise across all departments. Knowing this story, I am left to wonder if Sprouts under-estimates how much business they will actually do, or if a smaller store is their m.o.?

Either way, the store size has its pros and cons. I like a smaller, easy to navigate store. I like to get in and out quickly and know where everything is. That said, inventory has to suffer based on space limitations. After my walk through and small shopping trip, I think this store will do very well and satisfy the needs of many in the communities around it. Here is a look inside the store at 195 Yale:

When you enter through the southern door, you will find a large vitamin/supplement section, plus some health and beauty. The north door takes you in to their bread and bakery section. It was small, yet solid; not overwhelming but you'll find most of what you want. Muffins and other breakfast pastries, breads ranging from Mrs Baird's White to Ezekiel Sprouted in your normal price ranges. Some pies and cookies, but not as much as you see at either WF or Kroger. There is also a large case of chilled, natural sodas for individual purchase here, in close proximity to the prepared foods.



The prepared foods case is small with mostly salads, but also some pasta casseroles and other items to bake that look suited for 1 very hungry or 2 not as hungry people. Not huge and probably best suited to "it's late and I need to grab anything for dinner" for my family.


When the Sprouts was first announced, everyone who had been in one before raved about their bulk selection and how it blows our usual supermarkets away. I rarely ever buy from bulk bins so I can't comment from experience, but they did have a nice selection and I bought yogurt covered raisins, happy to buy just as much as I think my five year old should have access to.




With two small kids at home, crackers are a staple. We love the Annie's bunnies and the Back to Nature version of wheat thins. The prices were comparable to Whole Foods and less than Kroger's natural foods section. However, if you want something like basic Triscuits or cheap saltines, you'll be out of luck at Sprouts.

Cereal was the same way. Lots of organic variety but no Cheerios.


Small "ethnic"selection of Asian and Latino pantry items.



There were definitely ample Gluten-Free options sprinkled through out the store, including several quinoa pastas. The overall pasta selection was small, but the sauce variety was surprisingly wide, with their house brand organic sauce on special for $2.00/jar. This is a great deal (as long as it tastes good, which I can't verify at this point). Even the regular price of $3.49 is good for a decent organic sauce.


Good dairy selection- plenty of yogurt and the basic sour cream/butter/cottage cheese. Mostly organic but they did also have some non-organic milk. Prices were normal, but specials were really good! Note that if you come in the south door (on your left when facing the store), and go straight back to dairy, you won't find cheese. The cheese selection, including slices, shredded, and blocks, is over by the bread department.


The produce was a sight to behold-- so pretty! Now, common sense might suggest to you that the store just opened, so of course the produce looked great. Those of us who went to the Broger on Studewood when it first opened know this isn't always the case though. You might remember, I found multiple bags of rotten lettuce on their first day open. Anyway, the produce at Sprouts looked gorgeous. Their veggies are everyday basics, not a lot of exotic or unusual items. I think for most people this is ok, but if you are, say, looking at a recipe that calls for something not-so-basic, you may want to save yourself two trips and head straight to Whole Foods or Central Market.



I neglected to scope out the percentage of organic versus conventional, so when my friend Kat went, she posted some pics on THL's Facebook page of the wide variety of organic veg, including this celery at an amazingly low price:


Thanks, Kat!




Wine and beer selection is very small, but there are at least a couple things any wine or beer snob can throw in their cart for dinner at home or to carry to a BYOB restaurant.


Meat case looked great. My husband is all about a variety of sausages, so this will please him.



Bacon, hotdogs, and other meats of that variety are pretty much all organic and uncured versions.


Meat loaf and stuffed peppers looked really good! Glad I saw these outside of the other prepared foods selection.


Fish looked nice. Cheaper than Whole Foods; not dried out and old-looking like Kroger's.


Sushi.


Cashiers were nice and helpful, although they did not know (or just didn't bother to) pack my cold items together and pack other like-items together. I worked at a grocery store in college and we were trained very specifically on how to bag. Because that  made me somewhat neurotic about bagging, I always put things on the belt in the order I prefer them bagged. Whole Foods always gets it right.  Kroger will put a bottle of bleach in with your produce and a half pint of ice cream with your dry goods. Like most other aspects of comparing the three, Sprouts still has some work to do, leaving them firmly in the middle. 

Generally, though, it was a very pleasant experience. Prices are average and the specials are really good. Sadly, I will still not be able to buy all the things my family eats on a weekly basis in one store. That said, I am glad this is here and can replace Kroger for a lot of the "I just need an onion, some milk, and tortillas" trips I find I take. And certainly there are a lot of people in and around the Heights who will welcome this as their new, primary food shopping destination. It's not an HEB, but it's something...


P.S. You can access their sale flyer and store coupons on their website.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Heights Happenings: Blue Line Bike Lab to raise funds for MS 150

Just a simple C&P from the press release for your consideration:

Blue Line Chili Bowl at Ladybird’s Bar
Benefiting Blue Line Bike Lab MS150 Team

The third annual Blue Line Chili Bowl benefiting the Blue Line Bike Lab MS 150 Team is set for Saturday, Feb 7, starting at noon at Ladybird’s Bar.  Ladybird’s is located at 5519 Allen St. at TC Jester near Washington Ave.  Chili teams are invited to sign up for this festive event that attracted over 20 teams and 300 attendees in 2014, raising just over $5,000.

The BP MS 150 is the top fundraising ride for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Nationwide; there are 100 Bike MS rides. 
Team Blue Line has set their highest goal in their five-year history of riding in the MS 150. The team is made up of riders that have friends and family who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis. With funds generated by the Chili Bowl, the goal of raising $75,000 is more attainable.
Fund-raising organizer Kevin Chenevert says, “Events like this give us an opportunity as a team to raise money above and beyond the $400 minimum required by the MS Society.”  This will be the third year teaming up with Charles Bishop and his establishments.  “Charles and I have a good relationship and with his people and our volunteers we always pull off a fantastic event ” 
Chenevert continues, “This year, we will again be aiming for 30 teams and the competition will be decided by a host of local celebrities and chefs.”
In addition to $10 tasting bowls, attendees can purchase raffle tickets for a shot at a large and varied selection of items from many local area businesses.  There will also be a silent auction featuring pieces from local artist’s and other desirable items.
Expect entertaining MC work from John “Mills” McCoin and diverse eclectic live music from bands Poor Pilate, Tommy Lynch Band, Grisbee and Cavern Hymnal.
The BP MS 150 starts in Houston on Saturday, April 18, and finishes in front of the Bob Bullock Museum near the State Capitol in Austin on Sunday, April 19, following an overnight celebration in La Grange. 
For additional details and to sign up your chili team, contact Ladybird’s at (713) 393-7647, by email at charles@ladybirdsbar.com or visit the website ladybirdsbar.com. Updates are posted at facebook.com/ladybirdsbar.

Here is the Facebook event, as well: https://www.facebook.com/events/363929383788521/

Sunday, January 11, 2015

226 Recordings: A 2nd Look at Studio Life on 19th Street

Back in 2010, I was invited to an open house at a new recording studio in the Heights. I couldn't make the event, so I was invited by the studio owner for a private tour instead. What resulted was not only a blog story (This Neighborhood Is Being Recorded)  but a wonderful friendship. 

It is a funny "small world" kind of story. As Mairi Cox, whose husband Paul is the audio engineer who runs the studio, gave me a tour and talked about the studio, their then 18 month old daughter Clara toured with us. I also had a toddler around the same age and conversation flowed between studio business, living in the Heights, and parenting. Eventually my younger son went to school with her daughter. In a real small world twist, Mairi's mother ended up teaching both of my sons at the Montessori school they attend; one that Mairi, herself, also attended as a child. Us meeting- it was all kind of meant to be.

After the tour, Mairi invited me to see their home behind the studio. I met her dog, Telly, whose fluffy, Samoyed hair was appropriately caked with some mac'n'cheese (appropriate when you have a toddler, that is). We talked a lot about the Heights and living on/ raising kids in a business dominated area, which I was totally fascinated by. I love living in my little Historic District- tidy bungalows all in a row. It was hard to imagine living in the heart of the 19th Street shopping district! 
I asked Mairi what it was like living on 19th Street in the middle of a commercial district. I kind of expected an "it is what it is" answer, but that is not what I got. She referred to the store owners as her "neighbors" and said they all drown Clara with attention. She said "When you live in a [residential area], you can't just walk outside and in to your neighbors house," but she can. The merchants on her block were totally supportive, even when construction of the building took up Gen's parking lot. She likes the fact that it's kind of the "opposite of a neighborhood" by being full of activity during the day and then totally quiet at night. Of course, it suits the work they do as well. "Bands can hang out in the [front courtyard] and not disturb anyone." She also loves how she can walk so many places. That, she says, is a "Heights thing."

Now it's almost five years later. Mairi and Paul have added to their family- another Samoyed, Sampson, and also had another child, Georgia, who is affectionately known to everyone on 19th Street as "Peach." The Cox family has grown and the demands of their recording studio have grown, as well. They are currently working to meet the growing desire for their studio by reconfiguring current space to add a second studio. They have also added an education component with a program for people who are interested in becoming Audio Engineers.

An Audio Engineering class in progress at 226 Recordings on 19th Street
The years since they put up their metal building have brought a lot of changes to the Heights and 19th Street, as well. Having the shopping district as their front yard gives the Coxes a unique perspective on the neighborhood. I asked Mairi if she still has the same feelings about living in our own, little downtown.

"We absolutely love being in the Heights. And we love living on 19th Street. We actually bought the lot in early 2008 and definitely noticed the neighborhood changing. Sometimes we walk our dogs down the street and try to remember the histories of all the storefronts.  It’s actually hard to keep track of all the changes, even though we’ve been here for just a small fraction of the street’s history.  Of course, we were sad to see some great neighbors go, like Tansu, Young at Art, and Balinska’s."

Paul Cox, left, was as an audio engineer in LA, working with the likes of Macy Gray,  Stanley Clarke,  Ernie Watts, and more. Home in Houston, Cox records local musicians at his 19th Street studio and offers classes in Audio Engineering. 

Cox has a positive outlook for the recent wave of businesses, though. There are some tough losses (Harold's comes to mind), but she sees "there are also new businesses with a lot of momentum."   And as far as the future, Cox says "more than anything, the sense of community among the merchants seems to be solidifying more and more, which is great.  There are some really motivated new businesses and everyone’s attitude is really positive."

As the Heights has grown in popularity, it's hard to imagine it could do anything but help 226 Recordings to be in the heart of one of Houston's most popular communities. This has been especially true for the Audio Engineering program they added. The new program is a unique opportunity to learn the craft of audio engineering school right inside their Heights recording studio. While they get students from nearby areas like Garden Oaks, Oak Forest, Near Northside, and, of course, from right here in the Heights, they also draw a lot of future engineers as far away as Katy, The Woodlands, and Pearland. 

It's worth the commute for a lot of people. 226 has created "an intense" and hands-on 16-week program, which consists of instruction during three 3-hour classes and one 4-hour lab per week, which prepares students to be audio engineers, not just assistants. They also go beyond instruction, to help with client development for their students.



And often, the supportive environment plus great, local vibe of our neighborhood wins them over. "More than a few students that lived in the suburbs have moved to The Heights after getting to know the area by attending our class," Cox says.

A commissioned art piece for the studio by local artist Chad Landry
"Our students and clients definitely take advantage of our location.  We love giving clients and students recommendations on places to shop, eat, or drink.  We are very proud to be where we are and really enjoy sharing all the area has to offer with our guests. Down House, Carter & Cooley, and Alli’s Pizzaria are places we always recommend to anyone looking to grab a bite. I can’t tell you how many times a client or student has called and said they’re just grabbing some Boomtown and will be right over.  Or after a session or class, they head over to Vinal Edge to shop for records."

The Coxes are rabid supporters of local businesses, too. I can go with Mairi to pretty much any store in the Heights, not just on 19th Street, and they know her. This is because their shopping philosophy is "to pretty much to look for whatever we need from one of our neighbors first."
This great 48x36 painting hangs in the living room of Paul and Mairi Cox's home on 19th Street. It is from their 19th Street neighbor, Gallery M Squared.

This shows in their home and their studio. "Many pieces of our furniture are from Gen’s Antiques, and probably all of our picture frames and lamps we own are from Bliss on 19th.  And of course our kids are taking advantage of Big Blue Whale being right across the street.  Thread and Man Ready are also pretty well represented in our house.  All of our art is from Gallery M Squared or directly from a local artist." The art part is key for Mairi. 

Another painting in the Cox home, purchased from one of my favorite Heights stores, Hello-Lucky.

"I think having local art in the studio is especially important.  Even though we don’t create visual art, we definitely feel proud to help recording artists fulfill their visions.  We know how hard it is to make artistic dreams a reality, so it’s important to us to support local artists regardless of their medium. " This local-centric behavior has made a difference in surprising ways. This year one of their engineering students actually decided to forgo the Galleria at Christmas and do all his shopping on 19th. He lives in Katy, so Mairi thinks it says a lot about what the neighborhood has to offer.  And I'm sure her leading by example had an impact as well. She was impressed with his dedication to this community and, like many of us, ended her thoughts with "I wish some of our residential neighbors cared as much about our unique local businesses as he does." Me, too.

This piece from Gallery M Squared hangs in the studio at 226 19th Street.


If you or someone you know is interested in sound engineering, 226 Recordings' 16 Week program begins each year in January and September. They also offer a more intense summer program that begins in June and ends in August. Students can also earn credit for an internship related to a traditional degree. Learn all about the studio, the curriculum, pricing, and registration here: 226Recordings.com

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Opportunities for Giving in the Heights #GivingTuesday

Today is what has become known as #GivingTuesday in the social media world. From GivingTuesday.org
What is #GivingTuesday?We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.
There are so many opportunities to give in the Heights, both for #GivingTuesday, and all through the Holidays. Actually, the organizations that help our community could use help all year round. In the spirit of the season and the day, though, here are some local, greater Heights area organizations that would appreciate your support:

AIDS Housing Coalition Houston

Located in the Heights, AHCH has been assisting those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS for over 20 years. Gifts donated to this organization will be used to house, feed and otherwise educate people living with the HIV virus and AIDS progression. AHCH-inc. has also served guests Cancer and other immune system chronic diseases.

They need donations of winter clothing, volunteer hours, and many other resources. Please visit this How You Can Help Page link to donate.

Heights Interfaith Ministries Food Pantry

This small pantry, opened in 2009, is 100% volunteer based. It was started by a consortium of Heights Faith communities to serve families in our local zip codes (77007, 77008, 77009, and 77022).  With so many families suffering from food insecurity in a growing neighborhood, the help of the community is so necessary so the HIMFP can serve the needs of our neighbors.


Donating is so easy! You can Feed Frank at the HIM building, 3525 Beauchamp, 24/7. Frank would love to be filled with non-perishable foods and diapers (larger than newborn size). This time of year, Frank also graciously welcomes new and lightly used toys for client parents to gift their kids at Christmas. You can also give funds via their PayPal link.


Founded in 1904, Wesley Community Center has helped generations of Houstonian's in the Near North Side community and beyond. Offering everything from early childhood education to care for needy seniors to job training, this community service agency is truly full service. Their missions statement reads: Helping people help themselves and each other. And they do! Their amazing Financial Opportunity Center helps people struggling to get out of poverty by teaching them how to change their spending behavior and make long term financial goals. Read more about the FOC here.

Wesley can use help with everything from tending their gardens (which provide fresh produce for needy families) to office help. Like most non-profits, though, they can also use financial and in-kind support. They accept non perishables for their food pantry, have an on-going wish list for materials,  and also gladly take financial donations via their giving page link.


Support our local schools

Texas is 46th in the nation for per capita spending on public schools. Our schools, especially those with high rates of poverty, depend on the community to help them provide a proper education for their students. When kids can learn and thrive, we all benefit! Here are several projects to help build stronger schools and raise smarter kids in our community:

Jefferson Elementary

Jefferson Elementary is a high poverty school in 77009, just across 45 from the Heights. They currently have four projects on DonorsChoose.org including a couple of basic necessities lists for things like paper, dry erase markers, and folders.
This link will take you to all of their projects: 
http://www.donorschoose.org/school/jefferson-elementary-school/17337/?teachers=true

Browning Elementary

Browning is a high poverty school, with 65% of students qualifying for free lunch. They are a Title 1 school in Monte Beach with a great need for access to arts and technology. They only have one small project- to buy a new iPod. It has received $0 so far and only has a couple weeks left until the project expires. This should be such an easy wish for our community to grant!
Help buy a new iPod and bring joy to the little ones at this school here: http://www.donorschoose.org/project/please-help-replace-our-old-orange-ipod/1388249/#materialsList 

Love Elementary

Many of you probably remember when HISD wanted to shut down Love a few years ago. The parents and community fought back, and now they continue to fight for the best education for their students. Love needs a lot of basics and their amazon.com wish list gives you the opportunity to help by sending everything from tempera paint to uniform pants for students in need.


Field Elementary

Field, perhaps the cutest school in all of the greater Heights, is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. The Friends of Field group has not only donated time, talent, and money to making the school better; they have actually enrolled their kids there! Still, this small group of parents wants to help the whole school community. Their big goal for this year is to stock the library with all the great books elementary schools need to fuel the learning and imaginations of their students. This project, if completed, would add 3000 books to the schools library.
Help buy books by simply buying off their Amazon wish list and they'll be sent directly to the school: http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/1D67XYE243S98/ref=cm_sw_su_w

Roosevelt Elementary

Roosevelt, in Oak Forest area, is another Title 1, high needs school. This school caters to many kids whose first language is Spanish. They have projects that include listening stations, so students can hear books read to them in English to increase fluency, and just generally providing books for the student population.

They have seven projects on DonorsChoose.org. You can select one to help here: http://www.donorschoose.org/school/roosevelt-elementary-school/16576/?active=true

I know there are ample other opportunities to give in the greater Heights, so please do share info and links in the comments if you have other organizations that also need our support!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Go crazy? Don't mind if I do....

Hey, all!

I've gotten quite a few emails lately asking if I have quit blogging here. Well, as I have been known to say, sometimes my real life gets in the way of The Heights Life. It's been a crazy few months; I've spent a lot of time feeling a little like this:


Fear not, though! I have some stories about Heights businesses on the way- small, local companies that you don't hear about in most of the Houston social news. I look forward to sharing that information with you after the holidays are over. Until then, you can always dig through old posts and, of course, we are having a great time on the The Heights Life Facebook page and Instagram.

Thanks for visiting! Hope to see you around the Heights.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Instacart Launches, an early review & a Discount for you guys!

Instacart (www.Instacart.com), the only service that can deliver groceries from multiple local stores within an hour, launched Houston’s first one-hour grocery delivery service today. You probably read about it here, and here, or saw the story here

See last paragraph for discount code

Starting today, Instacart customers in Houston can order groceries from both Whole Foods Market and H-E-B. Additional stores will be added in the coming weeks, and customers can combine items from multiple stores into one order. All this and it will be delivered to your door.

"Originally launched in San Francisco and since expanded into many other major cities, Instacart has disrupted the traditional grocery delivery space with its crowdsourced labor force dubbed "Personal Shoppers" who shop for and deliver grocery orders providing their own transportation in as little as one hour. This eliminates the need for costly infrastructure such as inventory, warehouses, trucks and full-time drivers." It kind of reminds me of Uber, but with groceries. 

Instacart will initially serve the areas of downtown Houston and inside the loop, west of downtown, including the neighborhoods of Montrose, The Heights, River Oaks, West U, Rice Military, Memorial Park, The Galleria, Bellaire, Briargrove, Memorial Villages, Midtown, Washington Ave, Upper Kirby and the Museum District.  A map of Instacart’s coverage areas can be found at www.instacart.com/locations.

Houston customers who order TODAY August 27 will receive a free month of deliveries.

While Houston City Launcher Matt O’Connor is looking at "the proportion of young professionals who work long hours is very high in Houston and we expect the convenience of Instacart for grocery delivery to resonate with them," I also see tons of families with two working parents in the Hieghts. I think those people are ready, willing, and able to pay for this convenience as it means one less errand and more time together. 

Customers can open an account at www.Instacart.com, and get free delivery on their first order of $10 or more. Instacart also offers an Amazon-Prime like service called Instacart Express -- an annual membership that eliminates delivery fees for all orders of $35 or more. The cost is just $99. Customers can sign up for a free two-week trial at www.instacart.com/express. They have also offered an exclusive $10 off free grocery promotion code for The Heights Life readers and followers: HEIGHTSLIFE Also, if you order TODAY (Sept 27, launch day) you get a month of Express service for free.

A friend of mine in Woodland Heights was eager to try the service. She ordered early this morning and had this to say about the experience: 


Today was about convenience. I needed to get to work on a project, so knew I’d be at my desk and could wait for a delivery. I used my desktop computer to shop, not the app.
 Creating your order is fairly easy. It helps to know the brand name—searching “Bob’s Red Mill Oat” got me the oatmeal I wanted.
 I didn’t try to order anything that required a special description. I did order one produce item I’m fussy about—bell peppers. I wanted to see what I’d get.
 At check-out, it showed the list of recommended substitutions for each item, and I had three options: yes, swap it for the recommended one; yes, but substitute a different item than the one suggested (and then I could search to find my preferred sub); or, don’t get a substitute if what I want isn’t available. You should hover over the suggested substitute to check the price and avoid surprises– the $3.49 hummus had a $7+ recommended substitute, which I declined to accept because I could make a gallon of hummus for that much money.
 The prices were a bit higher, which is how the delivery fee stays low, for sure. Today, I was willing to pay for the convenience. I’d want to check to see just how much higher, and I wonder if the company pass along any special store pricing, or if they buy at the sale price but sell to the user at the regular one.
 I placed my order at 10:41.
 The shopper called from the store to double-check the substitutions. Online, I only had the option to select organic cauliflower; she wanted to be sure I would be OK with conventionally-grown.
 I got a text at 11:13 saying my order was on the way, with an estimated delivery time of 11:50. The actual delivery was at 11:35ish. By 11:44, I had a text from Instacart allowing me to rate the experience.
 The peppers passed my inspection. The eggs arrives safely, too.
 I’d do it again, especially if I were ordering my staples and cleaning supplies. I wonder if the app allows you to scan barcodes to create a favorites list?
Nina delivered the groceries
Crowd sourcing allows for quick delivery





Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In The Zone: Zone 9 Tropicals

Growing up in Louisiana, Wayne DuPont lived with a mom and two sisters who loved plants. He was surrounded by the houseplants they would grow and grew to love plants as well. After his sisters left home, he took on their roles of resident plant grower, learning the many lessons it takes to successfully propagate and grow plants. His first lesson in household horticulture came along with his first "greenhouse," his sisters' unused doll house. Without enough light, his plants died. Lesson learned.


Around the 8th grade, DuPont's interest in engineering (he's now a pipeline engineer) started to surface, and he once again decided he needed to engineer a greenhouse. A real one. Again, at the age of 13, he learned a valuable lesson: 7' is not enough height to manage temperature in a green house. Plants- fried. Lesson- learned.

For the next few years, DuPont would continue to tinker with house plants and dabble in propagation, the process of creating new plants from seeds, cuttings, bulbs, and other plant parts. When he went off to college, he got ... busy... and kept a couple houseplants but generally left the cultivation hobby behind.

A variety of tropicals in different stages of growth in the "propagation room."

In 1990, Wayne DuPont bought an original bungalow at 1015 Arlington in the Houston Heights neighborhood. The house had your usual St Augustine front yard. The back yard was "largely empty, low lying, and flood prone." There were a few trash trees and a long driveway along the south side of the house. With space to use, the itch to work with plants resurfaced. He used the back of the long driveway to build a greenhouse; this time, one that was functional for real cultivation. DuPont started working with tropical plants, suited to the heat and humidity of Houston. He collected different plants and propagated them, soon filling up his greenhouse. And then outgrowing it. He was good at what he was doing, and his hobby had become very successful, a bit more than he needed for himself. DuPont figured he should move some of the plants out so he could continue growing more. He started Zone 9 Tropicals as a way to do this, and maybe make some money to support the habit, plus share wonderful, unique plants with others who enjoy them. DuPont started offering his plants online at Zone9Tropicals.com and quietly hosting "open garden days" 2 weekends a month at his Arlington Street home. 


The back of the main greenhouse
When you walk under the sun-faded Zone 9 banner, it's hard to imagine what you're going to see. A narrow driveway has been transformed in a greenhouse bursting with amazing plants, many taller than an average man. Rows and rows and rows of smaller pots cover shelves. Pots sit on pedestals and the ground. It is hot and damp and vivid green and amazing flowers. As you reach the back side of the greenhouse, you might think that's it. After all, it's amazing enough. A doorway appears and leads to another green house, full of smaller plant rooms, some for shopping, other for propagation, and a dry room for certain varieties of plants that need a slightly different climate. Zone 9's administrator Randy Judd has noticed locals love exploring these nooks. The small rooms have a "certain Heights character," says Judd. While Zone 9 continues to have strong internet sales, local sales have started to surpass online receipts. 


Plant lovers benefit from stopping by the greenhouse. Because it's labor intensive to keep plants at an appropriate size for shipping and, because there are additional steps that must be taken to mail a plant, the cost of the process is added to the price of the plant, plus the cost to ship. Locally, shoppers get lower prices and more variety. DuPont is proud of the unique selection of plants he can offer thanks to his independent propagation and growing. Larger, local nurseries and local suppliers make their money selling bedding plants, so it's not in their best interest to sell tropicals. Roughly 75% of what DuPont sells is unique to Zone 9, not for profit but for the sheer pleasure of growing and owning these varieties of plants. DuPont knows that "people care that it's local." They appreciate that the plants are well cared for and "get excited to have the one [plant] they want that they can't find elsewhere."


If you are interested in tropicals or plants different from what you've seen at the bigger nurseries, you can pre-shop on the website, keeping in mind that your local price will be lower. There are also a number of plants that aren't offered on line, i.e. items that can't be kept in small pots or generally wouldn't ship well. A visit during open garden weekends will allow you to browse a greater variety, including tropical fruit trees and spice plants.


As Zone 9 Tropicals has gained a strong, local following, Wayne DuPont has figured out that he wants to do more. His love of plants is bigger than his residential yard on Arlington. DuPont and Judd, the admin, are excited to have purchased six acres in the nearby Independence Heights neighborhood. They are planning multiple greenhouses and much more room. As a full nursery, they'll also be able to be open regular hours. 



Until then, you can still visit Zone 9 Tropicals on Arlington Street and see what they have to suit your plant fancy. They are open the 1st and 3rd weekend of month during the growing season; Saturdays 9am -5pm, Sundays 1pm-5pm (although Sundays are packing/shipping days so you might catch them there on off weekends, too).

Zone 9 Tropicals
1015 Arlington (parking on street)