The allure of 19th Street rests in its colorful signs and storefronts, an eclectic cast of characters and a downhome friendliness unique to an urban locale.
A group of entrepreneurial women is largely responsible for the charm of the Heights thoroughfare, which is popular to people from all over Houston.
According to Cody White of Half-Moon Media, a marketing company that represents a few 19th Street businesses, the majority of them are owned or co-owned by women. She said that applies to 35 of the 50 businesses between Beall Street to the west and Heights Boulevard to the east, which includes a mix of boutiques, salons, professional services and places that provide food and drink.
“I think that if you didn’t have women running these restaurants and businesses on the street, you would not have the diversity and the delight and the creativity that people put into a store or a shop or a restaurant,” said Kelly Contello, owner of The Lift bookstore. “I don’t think it’s an accident.”
About 25 of the female business owners gathered Monday night on the patio at Harold’s Restaurant & Tap Room, which overlooks 19th Street and is owned by Alli Jarrett. They mingled while enjoying cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and celebrated themselves and their accomplishments, with each business owner addressing the group and sharing her story.
Among the other attendees were three candidates for the District C seat on the Houston City Council – Abbie Kamin, Shelley Kennedy and Daphne Scarbrough – along with mayoral candidate Derrick Broze. Michele Leal, who is running for the District 148 seat in the Texas House of Representatives, also was there.
The event was organized by White on behalf of Jarrett and Circa Real Estate owner Mary Wassef.
“I was worried that some of the women business owners wouldn’t step up and say something, because it’s hard for them to be their own advocates,” White said. “I don’t know if it’s a gender thing or a community thing, but they’re really shy about themselves. So it was great seeing other women saying, ‘No, get them up to the front.’ It went really well.”
While breaking down some of their personal barriers, the influential women commemorated a barrier-breaking event for the entire country. Their event was held on the 45th anniversary of the enactment of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which made it illegal for creditors to discriminate against applicants on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, marital status or age.
Before the law was passed, many American women could not obtain credit cards without having a man co-sign for them.
“I’m proud, and I’m sure everyone else is proud,” said Pam Pellegrino, owner of vintage clothing store Retropolis. “There’s new people coming on the street every day, because of the growth of this neighborhood, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Jarrett, who grew up in a small town in South Carolina, said 19th Street has a similar feel. She likened it to a Main Street without a courthouse.
The women who lead the few-block stretch held court Monday night, offering advice and support for each other.
“I think it’s a pretty big deal, and I think it’s a testament to everybody that works together and shares knowledge,” Jarrett said. “Whether we’re in similar businesses or not, we all are helping each other, and I think that’s important in business and in life.”