HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Samir Becic has been visiting Rice Village since he emigrated to the U.S., sometimes four times a week. He loves the atmosphere but lately, he's seen some things he doesn't really love right across the street from where he often sits.
"That place I bought the first clothes for my baby when my baby was born five years ago," said fitness expert Becic. "I bought fifty percent of my stuff from that place. That’s why seeing it empty makes me sad."
Becic is referring to the store named Giggle, which recently closed. It is not the only one. There are a lot of empty storefronts throughout Rice Village lately, causing concern for longtime shoppers.
"I'm afraid a lot of the little shops are going," said Gretchen Hesse, who has been shopping in the district for 42 years. "Eye Gallery, the rent got so expensive. It wasn’t worth it to stay here. I'm afraid they're going to get rid of some of these."
Several store owners and managers spoke with FOX 26 News but they didn’t want to speak on camera for fear of retaliation but they do say that rent rates are increasing. Every time a lease comes up for renewal, the landlords jack up the amount of money they want. Is this part of a conspiracy? Probably not as all of the buildings have different owners and property managers.
But shoppers tell FOX 26 it is those small independently-owned businesses that makes Rice Village a shopping destination. If it gets packed with chains that can afford higher rents, the shoppers say they will just head to the mall. Then there's the matter of the recently-installed parking meters. Some shoppers say they're annoying and discouraging to customers.
"I certainly can afford it. It's just the inconvenience."
But other owners, who also didn't want to go on camera, said the businesses that have folded have failed because they weren't a good fit, not because of high rent. They said those meters some call annoying have actually opened up spaces in front of their stores.
But everyone on both sides agree that it’s important to keep Rice Village's "shop local feel" as long as possible and not kill the "golden goose."