by VERONICA GORDON
H-E-B celebrated the grand re-opening of its San Marcos store last Friday with live music, free samples and special guests including Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, Batman and, of course, H-E-Buddy, the store’s grocery bag mascot.
H-E-B opened its first San Marcos store in 1955, and the original ads from that era were on display at the entrance of the remodeled grocery section.
Irene Luna, a regular shopper at the H-E-B in San Marcos for more than 20 years, said the only downside of the recent renovations and improvements is that it took her a while to find everything.
Otherwise, Luna said the newly expanded store was “very nice.”
Niederwald resident Bruce Schneider, unit director for the store, said the changes were in response to the needs of the community.
Schneider, a 40-year veteran with the company, has been at the San Marcos location for nine years, and the changes came from lots of customer feedback, he said.
“A lot of what we did was based on what we heard from our customers,” Schneider said. “They wanted a bigger deli and more organic produce.”
Tamara Jones, H-E-B spokesperson, said each H-E-B store is tailored to the neighborhood locale.
“Unit directors like Bruce Schneider listen to customer requests,” she said. “He wanted a Healthy Living (bulk food) section and some of our internal consultants felt it wouldn’t do well with the demographics at that store. But he said, ‘I want to try it.’ And it’s doing really well.”
The expansion includes several new departments, from a True Texas Brews on Tap program offering six draft beers from craft breweries around the state to expanded Healthy Living and floral departments.
The store is the only retailer in Hays County offering “growlers” (beer on tap for take out). Schneider said the store will maintain a rotating selection of premium Texas micro brewed beers.
In addition, new food departments and options include Flaming Birds (marinated chicken prepared over a flaming grill), sushi, My Fit Foods and pizza.
The store now carries 126 types of organic produce products, Schneider said, as well as freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice and freshly made guacamole.
Schneider said offering the various new foods all at the same location is kind of a test market to see how well they perform.
“You don’t normally see all of these offerings at the same store,” he said.
Schneider also said people who live in the middle of Kyle and San Marcos now have different options for their grocery shopping needs.
“The Kyle store has different departments and specialties. They have outdoor items and electronics and we have Growlers and Flaming Birds,” he said.
During the several month-long construction phase, Schneider said he knew some of his customers were driving to the Kyle H-E-B Plus because of the traffic issues outside the store.
“But our customer count has come up again,” he said. “I have talked to folks who said they’re coming back to this store now that the construction is complete.”
The store has 380 employees. With the new additions, the company hired 40 employees, some in lead positions, specifically in the deli and scratch bakery; as well as a specialist for the cheese department.
“Half of the employees are Texas State University students who transfer from their hometown H-E-B,” Schneider said. “And when they leave after finishing school it creates another job opening.”
Additional enhancements to the store include outdoor seating, with music, kids activities and free Wifi in the café.
In honor of the grand re-opening, H-E-B donated a meal to the Hays County Food Bank for every meal purchased in the café, worth up to $3,000.
Kim Hilsenbeck contributed to this report