20 Businesses Houston Can't Afford to Lose

20 Businesses Houston Can't Afford to Lose
Photo by Houston Press

Houston isn’t exactly a bastion of historic preservation. In fact, you might say we are the exact opposite of a city that strives to protect its history. At least that has been the case for decades. But as more Houstonians embrace the need for saving iconic spaces and preserving historical landmarks, it only makes sense that we all start thinking about what is truly worth keeping.

In San Francisco, citizens there have begun a unique effort to help list and, hopefully, maintain “legacy” businesses they believe are part of the fabric of their city. If nothing else, it provides a fascinating look into what San Francisco considers its uniquely local businesses.

So, why not Houston?

The initial list we compiled – culled from crowdsourcing, historical business lists and personal knowledge – was extensive. There is no way we could put a list like this together and NOT leave something off. But, after implementing some basic rules (see at the bottom of this post), there were still a huge number of businesses on the list, particularly since we chose not to limit ourselves to food and drink as they have in San Francisco. Ultimately, we managed to weed it down to 20 (with honorable mentions, naturally).

Surfhouse on 34th Street serving surfers and skaters since 1967.
Surfhouse on 34th Street serving surfers and skaters since 1967.
Photo by Chris Lane

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20. Surfhouse

You’ve probably never heard of this place, but it has been the go-to shop for surfers in Houston since it opened in 1967. Wedged into an old strip mall in Oak Forest, it has also provided skaters with wheels and boards for decades.

The Houston music scene wouldn't exist without this gem.
The Houston music scene wouldn't exist without this gem.
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19. Rockin’ Robin Guitars and Music

Much like live music venues in Houston, it has been tough for independent music retailers to keep their doors open. Only a handful remain, including perhaps the most venerable, Rockin’ Robin. Crammed with gear, it remains THE place for musicians to buy, sell and trade guitars and instruments.

Tomatoes might not be native, but Buchanan's sells them too.
Tomatoes might not be native, but Buchanan's sells them too.
Photo by Robb Walsh

18. Buchanan’s Native Plants

One of the wonderful things about living in a rainforest-like climate is all the greenery. And when you want to stock up on plants that thrive in Houston, Buchanan’s can steer you in the right direction.

The iconic sign on Bellaire Boulevard.
The iconic sign on Bellaire Boulevard.
Photo by Jeff Balke

17. Moeller’s Bakery

The first food representative on the list is a bakery that has been around since the Great Depression. The Bellaire sweet shop should be immediately recognizable to area residents from its vintage yellow and brown sign.

Alice M Gatling, Nate Jones and Jason E. Carmichael in Sanctified.
Alice M Gatling, Nate Jones and Jason E. Carmichael in Sanctified.
Courtesy Ensemble Theatre

16. Ensemble Theatre

Despite what many outsiders may believe, Houston has a thriving cultural arts scene, punctuated by a particularly vibrant theater community. That includes the historic Ensemble Theatre, which features the works and experiences of African American artists.

Almost everything at Southland Hardware.
Almost everything at Southland Hardware.
Photo by Houston Press

15. Southland Hardware

Much like big box retailers, large home improvement centers have driven many mom and pop hardware stores into the ground. Not so for Montrose institution, Southland Hardware, however, which has been packed to the ceiling with do it yourself products since 1935.

Best in Houston at a place called Barbecue Inn.
Best in Houston at a place called Barbecue Inn.
Photo by Erika Ray

14. Barbecue Inn

With a bevvy of new joints focused almost exclusively on fried bird, it might be tempting to assume a family owned restaurant with barbecue in the name serving nearly the exact same menu for almost 70 years might be ready to cede the title of best fried chicken in Houston. Don’t bet on it. And the barbecue is damn good too.

Legendary noise musician Jandek upstairs at Rudyard's.
Legendary noise musician Jandek upstairs at Rudyard's.
Photo by Mark C. Austin

13. Rudyard’s British Pub

Billing itself as “the living room of Houston’s Montrose since 1978,” Rudz, as locals call it, has a bit of a split personality. A classic British Pub complete with ale, darts and killer grub, it also has one of the best live music rooms in the city (moved upstairs in the ‘90s after a remodel), complete with perhaps the best sound system in town.

Record Store Day at Cactus Music is a huge even every year.
Record Store Day at Cactus Music is a huge even every year.
Photo by Jack Gorman

12. Cactus Music

So few record stores have survived the MP3, but Cactus has adapted. From expanding its selection of music related products to capitalizing on the rebirth of vinyl, and, most importantly, turning itself into a music venue for local and traveling artists, Cactus is a survivor.

Brisket from B&W is a barbecue enthusiast's dream.
Brisket from B&W is a barbecue enthusiast's dream.
Photo by Jeff Balke

11. B&W Meat Market

The Friday before July 4 this year found the entire parking lot of B&W on North Shepherd full. It’s like that on many weekends, holiday or otherwise, as barbecue fans stop by to get their meat fix in the shadow of the giant steer sitting atop the sign out front.

Get some boots at Texas Junk.
Get some boots at Texas Junk.
Photo by Houston Press

10. Texas Junk Company

This is Texas and everyone needs a pair of boots. Problem is, a pair might set you back a few hundred bucks, unless you are shopping at Texas Junk. Technically, an antique store, Houstonians know it is mostly about the boots. Next time a yankee relative is in town for a visit, hit Texas Junk and send them home with a taste of Texas.

Mystery enthusiasts, welcome home.
Mystery enthusiasts, welcome home.
Photo by Marc Brubaker

9. Murder by the Book

Amazon may own the publishing industry, but there are still a few holdouts where you can get good advice on a new read and even meet your favorite author. MBTB is just such a place and home away from home for mystery novelists and enthusiasts alike.

That's how we do it in Houston at Lankford Grocery.
That's how we do it in Houston at Lankford Grocery.
Jeff Balke

8. Lankford Grocery

Houston is now recognized as one of the culinary capitals of America. And while there is plenty of wonderful gastronomic diversity here, one thing that has not changed is our ability to make a damn fine burger. Lankford is not only a great dive burger joint, but a local treasure in a city that loves its burgers.

Peter Murphy at Numbers.
Peter Murphy at Numbers.
Jef Rouner

7. Numbers

Nothing embodies the perseverance of underground music like Numbers. Since the ‘80s, it has been home to every music and fashion trend that confounded parents and delighted pale, pierced kids. Nevermind the fact that artists like Iggy Pop, the Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, Alanis Morissette, Ben Folds Five and Weezer have all graced the Numbers stage.

Catfish and grits at the Breakfast Klub.
Catfish and grits at the Breakfast Klub.
Robb Walsh

6. The Breakfast Klub

Drive past this legendary soul food breakfast restaurant any Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning and you’ll no doubt see a line of people around the block waiting for some fried catfish or chicken and waffles. Trust us, the food is worth it, but get there a little early and avoid the line.

If you want to get your drink on, this is definitely the place.
If you want to get your drink on, this is definitely the place.
Ginny Braud

5. Warren’s Inn

Warren’s makes up one half of the most notorious and historic pair of watering holes in the city (see No. 3 for the other half). It’s unpretentious, packed with big drinking regulars (including some prominent Houstonians) who like a seriously stiff one and filled with the music from one of the best jukeboxes in Houston.

More than just produce at Houston Farmer's Market.
More than just produce at Houston Farmer's Market.
Katharine Shilcutt

4. Houston Farmer’s Market at Canino Produce Company

Farmer’s markets have cropped up in cities across the country featuring farm-to-consumer offerings from local growers. In Houston, the market on Airline is the original and still the best. Seven days a week, farmers back up the open-air pavilion and offer produce, spices, herbs and stuff you probably won’t find anywhere else.

That machine doesn't take credit cards at La Carafe.
That machine doesn't take credit cards at La Carafe.
Steve Jansen

3. La Carafe

One of the oldest bars in Houston, La Carafe occupies the oldest building in the city in Market Square cattycorner across from Warren’s Inn. They serve only beer and wine, don’t take credit cards – the ancient cash register is a dead giveaway, but there’s an ATM crammed in the back if you need it – and have one of the best views of downtown from their upstairs balcony.

Fajitas may or may not have been born at Ninfa's, but they might be the best.
Fajitas may or may not have been born at Ninfa's, but they might be the best.
Robb Walsh

2. Ninfa’s on Navigation

With Tex-Mex restaurants opening in practically every corner of the city, it might be tough to pick just one if Ninfa’s didn’t exist. Arguably the birthplace of the fajita (it’s still up for debate), the original Navigation eatery is still churning out some of the best Tex-Mex in Houston.

One of the most important cultural venues in Houston despite its obscurity.
One of the most important cultural venues in Houston despite its obscurity.

1. Anderson Fair

This might come as a bit of a surprise to some. Many probably have never even heard of the tiny folk club in the Montrose. But a recent documentary and the who’s who list of artists born in this hippie dive (Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams), it is impossible to ignore the immense historical and cultural significance of Anderson Fair.

Honorable Mentions (including ones excluded by the rules below)

All Records
Arne’s
Baba Yega
Bering’s
Bobbitt Glass Company
Brazos Bookstore
The Briar Shoppe
Carter and Cooley
Cleburne Cafeteria
The Detering Company
Fitzgerald’s
Frenchy’s
Gallery Furniture
Guy’s Meat Market
Imperial Sugar
James Coney Island
Knapp Chevrolet
Last Concert Cafe
Lola’s Depot
Molina’s
Olshan Lumber
Pete’s Fine Meats
River Oaks Theater
Shipley's
Someburger
Spec’s
St. Arnold’s Brewery
Stages Repertory Theater
Star Furniture
Texas Art Supply
Three Brother’s Bakery
Tommie Vaughn Ford
Triple A
Wabash Feed Store

The Rules

The rules were as much about limiting the list as they were about setting some basic restrictions. The business must have been operating for at least 20 years. No schools, hospitals, churches, cemeteries or other public spaces. We were only looking for single location stores, so no chains. All must be brick and mortar spaces, no virtual or portable businesses. Generally, we preferred smaller businesses to large corporations and we favored retail over industrial. All stores should be located solely in Houston and cannot be owned by or affiliated directly with a larger company (car dealerships and theaters are good examples). Most importantly, all the businesses are the kind that will probably need saving at some point in the future.


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