Today, the Kress building downtown is empty, lifeless, dark. But once, it was full of life. Growing up in the late 50s and early 60s, my mama and I frequented el centro para pagar los biles. Back in those days, we took the bus downtown, walked to the electric company and the water company and La Popular, the city's most historic and popular department store. Although the trip was always tiring, I knew at the end of our visit, we would go to el Kress and sit at the diner and eat burritos. They were the best burritos I ever had. After our burritos, we'd wait at the Plaza de los Lagartos, catch our bus and head home. It was a monthly treat I enjoyed until I entered first grade.
In the 1980s, I'd relive those times, going with my partner Frances and our son to el Kress, walking through the aisles and aisles of chincho and having a great time. Eating burritos. The last time we were there was during the Christmas season in 1990. I remember it clearly because a month later, she committed suicide. The following year, el Kress closed.
I've loved el Kress my whole life. Many people feel the same. It was such a profitable store that it was part of the reason the Kress Foundation donated 58 pieces of art to the El Paso Museum of Art. It is a story that probably few people know. The thousands of Mexican shoppers who visited el Kress helped the museum acquire a beautiful collection of Renaissance and Baroque art. It's part of the invisible history of how Mexicans built this city.
After the store closed, small businesses opened, serving the countless people who waited for buses at la Plaza de los Lagartos. The little stores seemed to be overflowing from the doors of el Kress. When the City moved the bus terminal south, the small businesses around la Plaza closed.The chair and lock announce no more small businesses catering to Mexican shoppers. The City's plan is to de-Mexicanize our downtown and turn it into a place of expensive small restaurants and trendy bars owned by El Paso's elite. I wonder if we'll end up with a beautiful and expensive donation of art based on the number of margaritas they drink or fancy appetizers they eat.