Katy’s Transformation: The ‘Small’ Big Issue

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Maddie Fossitt

 

Less than two decades ago, Katy was a small town that camped on the outskirts of Houston. When Houstonians heard the word Katy, flying geese, rice fields and Tiger football came to mind. Katy’s transformation into a booming city was unanticipated by the town’s natives who were under the impression that the tall grasses would protect them from the typical suburban lifestyle they eyed from afar. In the last ten years, these tall grasses have been chopped and mowed to make room for major businesses such as Academy Sports and Outdoors, Costco, J.C. Penney and hundreds of other recognizable corporations. As Katy continues to grow, an entity has been overlooked that is suffering from the town’s recent development: small businesses.

 

One drive down Katy Main Street is all an onlooker needs to understand the issue plaguing the community. Royce’s Deli and Catering, a local-owned deli that offered fresh subs, soup, salads and chili, closed its doors in January 2017.  About a block away, Katy’s Contemporary Art Museum, a small institution dedicated to presenting the ‘art of the time,’ shut down operations in February 2017. Multiple small business-owners have packed up their belongings and moved their businesses elsewhere in Houston. This leads the onlooker to ask, “Why are these local-business closing?” One more drive down Katy Main Street may divulge the answer.

 

‘Old Katy’ has been given a face-lift with new brick and mortar plazas, paved asphalt roads and a fresh coat of paint. Older buildings have been restored and even some farms have been completely bulldozed for new infrastructure. At last, the solution appears before the onlookers’ eyes: ‘Chick-fil-A coming soon in 2018.’ You, the reader, may be asking yourself why this is a problem? Rune Jonsvall, owner of Chuckwagon BBQ and Burgers, puts things in perspective.

 

“When I opened Chuckwagon, I was the first business in this plaza. I was making a profit simply because people did not have another place to find good BBQ and Burgers. Then the population grew, and more businesses popped-up around mine taking away a portion of my business,” said Jonsvall.

 

When Katy was a small town, natives had the opportunity to start-up their own businesses and make a fair profit to keep their pockets full. The rapid expansion of Katy has greatly hindered locals from opening or running a profitable business, because of the unprecedented amount of new competition. Now that major fast-food chains monopolize every corner, small-businesses in the food industry find it difficult to compete against the (in)famous Whopper and Big Mac.

 

“Because some of my business was taken away, I have had to cut costs in the most efficient way to save my business. For example, the southern-themed decor in the restaurant is all made by my wife. If my equipment breaks, I borrow a friends’ or another local-businesses’ for the time, instead of spending money to buy a new fryer,” said Jonsvall.

 

Any business tries to eliminate unnecessary costs as much as possible to save more money and have a larger return on their investment, but cutting costs can hurt the quality and even the reputation of the business. As a result, compromising the product to make a higher revenue puts small businesses in an even worse predicament. It is a cycle that can lead to bankruptcy or foreclosure simply because owners are trying to rescue their business from the ‘sharks’ they originally avoided by moving into a small town.

 

Jannet Howell, owner of Junk Street, a small business that sells antique-painted furniture and repurposed, handcrafted home decor, provides a solution to the competition.

 

“You have to market, sell and get your name around. There are a bunch of other furniture stores in Katy that serve the same purpose that we do, but we focus on what makes us unique and base the store around that,” said Howell.

 

Junk Street showcases 25 to 30 different craftsmen who rent out space in Howell’s store to advertise their handcrafted furniture. The pieces are hand-selected based on what Howell believes is unique and represents the southern identity of the store. Though the store usually has steady business, in the last two years they have seen a slight decline in their yearly earnings.

 

“The natives are leaving and moving toward Brookshire and Sealy. My consumers are the natives, so if they leave then I have to move my business,” said Howell.

 

Many Katy natives are abandoning this once quaint town for another further west of Houston. Not only have major corporations taken away smaller businesses’ customers, but the overall atmosphere of ‘Old Katy’ has changed due to its expansion and suburbanization. Despite seeing their businesses waver in the recent years, both owners enjoy running their respective businesses and interacting with their customers.

 

“It is a lot of hardwork and dedication, but it is worth it because you can be your own boss and meet customers from Venezuela to Norway,” said Jonsvall.