Hanging in front of 1212 Main is a black and white sign in front of two glass doors framed by '90s art deco style art, almost similar to the flashy lettering found in the intro to the TV show In Living Color. The metro rail hums by and, as it passes, reveals the old two-story Forever 21 building across the street. The sign leads with the letters T and P combined in a circle followed by the words “The Tipping Point." The sociological term refers to when a group rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by adopting a previously rare practice. The unpopular or unknown becomes popular.
While many would be grabbed by the outside of the building and be inquisitive about what is going on inside, the glass doors beneath the black and white sign remain firmly locked. That is because this is not The Tipping Point.
“It’s kind of hurting us,” jokingly laughs Fabricio Saenz as he sits back in his chair and looks over at his business partner David Rodriguez who returns the look with question. “The sign down there at 1212 Main. They have never taken it down.”
What Saenz is referring to is the original sign for The Tipping Point, a clothing store and brand that has been providing Houston with street culture, art, and fashion for over a decade. The store, now located at 214 Travis is a hub for those in the art and entertainment world as well as those just keeping up with the latest in street culture. Now a symbiotic combination of the Rodriguez and Saenz’s vision, the store is broken down into separate parts, with Roundhouse Vintage in the front and The Tipping Point in the back.
Saenz and Rodriguez have been working in the Houston clothing scene for a while and now are able to look back on the city’s history and recognize how their ventures have helped create tipping points, not just in Houston’s fashion world, but also in their own lives.
Rodriguez nods in approval as he looks around the room of the current shop and listens to Saenz reminisce about the original sign. Clothing racks hug the exposed brick walls. A glass counter holds various items like skateboards and various figures. The two men sit in the center of the room behind a small coffee table that holds a few well-placed books on art and fashion. Rodriguez takes a quick pause before he leans back in his chair to speak.
“To be honest with you, every time I drive by that corner, I get sentimental. I was 21 when we started planning and 22 when we opened. That was our corner. Our logo is still there. Our sign is still there. There are still things from pop ups we did there. It’s very sentimental for me because we did a lot of great stuff there. We brought Common out there. We brought Nigel Sylvester out there. Plus, it was a great community space and a lot of artists from the city came through there. It allowed me to kind of put myself in a position where l am now. I met Fabricio through there and now we're business partners.”
Roundhouse Vintage and The Tipping Point are the result of that partnership. The Tipping Point was started by Rodriguez in 2007 with the mission of exposing customers to the goods that reflected his beliefs while also educating people on the history behind the products. It is a lofty mission for a clothing store but at its heart there is a simple goal. Provide a space to promote what Rodriguez likes and, more often than not, Rodriguez likes and is inspired by the work of his friends and those around him.
“From the beginning a lot of guys that hung out here and continue to hang out here are my friends. The original idea was to provide as space for my friends to do whatever the hell they want to do. Whether it’s designing, drawing, painting, DJing, whatever. You name it and it happens here. The space just kind of became a creative hub.”
It is a creative hub that has attracted a variety of artists like Fat Tony, Doeman, Donkeeboy, Tobe and Le$. It also attracted Saenz who had started a vintage clothing company that would eventually find its home at the back of The Tipping Point.
“Roundhouse started off about five years ago as a little vintage venture with myself and my son. About three years ago David approached saying he liked what we were doing. We had known each other forever and he had a room available in his store. He asked would I be interested in using it and of course I was.”
“Even though I’m in the retail game I typically wear a lot of old stuff,” Rodrigues explains. “I’m a fan of old stuff from my house to motorcycles, to clothing. I feel it has a deeper meaning if it's old. I saw what Fabricio was doing, and I was already planning on opening a resale shop here. When that deal went sideways, I reached out to him. We just started the partnership and now he’s basically family.”
“I had been waiting on him to ask,” laughs Saenz. “We opened up back here because of David starting off as only '90s vintage and then started expanding into true vintage.”
The further expansion into vintage coincided with the store's expansion and as Roundhouse grew it eventually made more sense to the partners to bring the vintage store to the front and have the Tipping Point occupy the back of the building. It's not the only major change that has occurred in the space. The entrance of the store is now a dedicated coffee shop supplying downtown with gourmet coffees from here and abroad.
“I’m a chef by trade. I cooked for 16 years,” explains Rodriguez. “A lot of people don’t know this but in countries like Mexico kids start drinking coffee early on. In my case it was because we were so poor that we couldn’t afford milk. People would boil a big pot of coffee and then add a splash of milk so that everyone could get a taste. Milk was more expensive than coffee so coffee became a big part of my life. When I opened this place, I wanted to separate myself from the big chains by offering an experience. The coffee is to help bring in more community.”
The coffee, along with the overall feeling brought about by the two stores has worked in attracting a community of artists, DJ’s, writers, photographers, podcasters, directors, sneakerheads, and more. Groups like Ok Art & Coffee and Reading With A Rapper have brought guests to the store to speak about success in their various industries and try to inspire others. Whether it’s a CEO from Finish Line, a successful author with a recent book deal, or a video director fresh from his most recent creation, people from all walks of life have come to share their stories with others and speak about their own tipping points. The community has become that much more important given the last two years.
“This past year with COVID forced us to make a lot of adjustments,” says Rodriguez as he motions around the store. “The coffee business stayed open because it was essential, but we had to close down the clothing stores for a period. The moves we're making now are adjustments for everything that is going on around us. We’re doing it though. You don’t survive as long as we have in this business without learning how to adjust to the changes.”
It’s that ability to adjust to change that has helped a kid coming from Mexico to the United States. A kid that looked different from those around him and, instead of trying to blend in decided to stand out. It helped build his confidence and eventually start up a store where he could provide a place for others to stand out and not blend in. It’s that spirit, started over ten years ago by Rodriguez, and continuing with his partnership with Saenz, that has kept The Tipping Point as a hub for culture in Houston.
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