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San Antonio’s Oscar de la Tienda corner store fuels Alta Vista with art, music, community, sandwiches

Character and community have a way of coming together at Oscar de la Tienda, an eclectic convenience store in the Alta Vista neighborhood that’s become quite the cool little hotspot for arts, culture and fellowship in San Antonio. Take a recent sweltering Saturday afternoon at the corner shop at West Russell Place and North Flores Street. As conjunto music piped out from speakers at the back of the store, the smell of toasted bread from the…

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Oscar de la Tienda, an eclectic convenience store in San Antonio’s Alta Vista neighborhood, has become a hotspot for the arts, culture, and community in the city.

Look no further than the corner store on West Russell Place and North Flores Street on a recent hot Saturday afternoon. The smell of toasted bread from the Wicked Wich sandwich shop inside greeted customers as they walked through the door as conjunto music played from speakers at the back of the store. At the end of the steel shelves, which were topped with potted plants and stocked with cans of food, there were paintings by local artists on display.

Oscar’s owner, Cynthia Gomez, has created a modern take on the classic general store, or tienda (she prefers not to use the term “bodega”), where everyone from baby boomers to millennials can get their groceries, show off their artistic abilities, or simply catch up.

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The result is an extended stay for an art party or an open mic night of jazz poetry, rather than a quick snack. Or, in a milk crate next to a vending machine Gomez’s son Zy Mazza designed to sell Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon cards, selling prints and paintings by local artists. or by renting out counter space to local San Antonio business owners selling bicycle repair parts and skateboard gear.

As for the customers, they’re just as diverse as the goods on display. Many of the store’s older regulars stop by for a cold beer and some friendly conversation, while tattooed young adults and parents with children frequently stop by for a quick bite from Wicked Wich or some CBD gummies.

Gomez’s Instagram feed, @oscardelatiendasatx, is a visual representation of the store’s diverse customer base. And it was plain to see at Oscar’s on that scorching Saturday afternoon.

You have families like the Cassidys, who ate Wicked Wich subs outside of the store in their Tesla while parked outside. Their two young daughters kept cool in the backseat while Tony and his wife Danielle sang the store’s praises between bites.

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‘It’s very old school, but I like old school,’ said Tony.

Stu Stypula was walking through Oscar’s with his 3-year-old daughter Delaney while holding her hand. Oscar’s has become a regular haunt for the anesthesiologist, who lives just outside Wurzbach Parkway and U.S. 281.

According to Stypula, “I like supporting the local economy, and I love the sandwiches, and I enjoy shopping at [the store]. “San Pedro Park is just a short walk away. There is nothing better than getting out of the house.”

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Then there are the well-known faces from across the street and through the ages. Having lived in Alta Vista for 50 years, Rogelio Sanchez said in Spanish that Oscar’s corner store has the best ice-cold beer he’s ever had because it actually sits in an ice bin.

Vito Rizo-Patron, a younger regular, frequently cycles by to get an energy drink and reconnect with the neighborhood he grew up in. Rizo-Patron said, “You see all kinds of characters come through.” “I think I ran into an old friend from six or seven years ago the second time I went into the store.” This is where I figured out that this was a good place to be.”

As a child, Olivia Vargas lived just a few doors down from Oscar’s old convenience store, Little Sam. Before leaving the store, she said she was pleased to see that the old store’s spirit had been revived in this new form.

The owners of Little Sam were “always super-friendly and I’d always see the regulars come,” Vargas said. Despite the difference in concept, “(Oscar’s) has that same vibe.”

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To buy food for her mother, Gomez would walk to the village corner store in Tamaulipas, Mexico, where she was raised in the village of El Limón.

As a tribute to Oscar de la Renta, the late fashion designer known for his vibrant evening gowns for women, Gomez named her restaurant Oscar’s after her father, who died in 2011. When Gomez was on her way to pick up the store’s keys, she found a stray pup in the road and rescued him.

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Oscar’s offers a wide range of services that extend beyond the realm of traditional retail. As Gomez pointed out, she’s helped a number of people flee domestic violence. Oscar’s is also a haven for those in need of protection from the elements, be it cold or hot.

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Gomez also has a worn notebook of IOUs from customers who are short on cash. Most of them pay her back, she said. Customer paid with a drawing of her dog Oscar that Gomez keeps on display at the register after the transaction was completed.

For Gomez, “it’s less a shop and more a ministry at this point.” Even if it didn’t save anyone’s life, the doors are now open. There are times when you need someone to lean on.

Gomez joked that after almost a year, Oscar de la Tienda remains a work in progress. She’s still sprucing up the adjacent back space, which was formerly a laundromat, in order to host art-related events like screenings of independent films and live music performances. Moreover, she’d like to turn all of Oscar’s customers’ Instagram photos into tiles for the store’s exterior.

Gomez said, “I have a vision for the building.” To build community, I wanted it to be a place where people could gather.” This is the case, as well.

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Rguzman@express-news.net or @reneguzman on Twitter

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