When Sears announced in April 2016 it would be closing its store in Brazos Mall, the public expressed its displeasure at the decision. The store had been one of the mall’s original tenants and they hated to see it go.
The reaction for that closure wasn’t nearly as strong as that for the loss of El Chico, which serves food for the last time this week, but the sentiment is similar. People’s didn’t want to see a longtime business disappear, even if they weren’t regulars there.
We have done our best to honor the loss of the Lake Jackson restaurant, which for more than four decades hosted family meals and special celebrations. We understand the special place it holds for many area residents and their unhappiness — even hostility — at having it taken away.
But we must accept the things over which we have no control, and that certainly applies to business decisions.
Over the last year, we have seen change manifest itself in many ways. Rooftops are replacing pastureland along Highway 288. The halls where we held hands with our high school sweeties have been reduced to rubble. Other longtime business have closed for good.
But on the flip side, buildings that have been vacant for years now have tenants or have been bulldozed to make way for something new. Redeveloped shopping centers are bustling with people anxious to visit bakeries, coffee shops or boutiques that weren’t there a year ago. In those cases, change is positive.
People who are vowing never to set foot in Brazos Mall again because of ownership canceling El Chico’s lease need to look at the larger picture.
When Sears closed, those same owners spent $20 million to demolish its space and build a new wing to the mall that now houses Ulta, Homegoods, TJ Maxx and Ashley Furniture. They built a new entrance straight off Highway 288. The former Dillard Men’s Store space gave way to Urban Air, answering residents’ calls for new attractions for kids and families.
Mall owners say their decision to relocate several smaller tenants and eliminate the restaurant space held by El Chico is being done for the same reason. Cavender’s is among the brand-name retailers shoppers have wanted instead of having to go out of town for that type of merchandise. It’s not the type of store everyone wants to shop at, but it is one expected to bring more people into the mall, which is good for the other businesses there.
Over time, El Chico will join other places in “remember when?” conversations by longtime residents. Some people will struggle to remember its name, others will quickly recall a special moment that happened there. The loss of a building won’t take those memories away after the grieving eases.
For the workers at El Chico, some of whom dedicated decades of their lives to serving meals with warmth and a sense of family, we can pay no greater tribute than to appreciate them today and remember them years from now.
The restaurant will be symbolic of an area forced to give up a bit of its longtime past to make way for a better future, a sacrifice made at the expense of some to please others. That is usually what happens when change out of our control happens.