Hidden Gems

The Backbone of Bayou City’s Warehouse District

Shop founder and owner Courtney Blackmore of Black's Bodega, a neighborhood fixture and community hub, is on the brink of a significant shift.

By Amarie Gipson Photography by Michael Starghill Published in the Summer 2022 issue of Houstonia Magazine

On any given day in New York City, in any given borough, you might walk almost daily inside a bodega, Spanish for "storeroom," and be drenched in the sounds of bachata or merengue. It’s the go-to shop for all of your essentials—toilet paper, batteries, a six-pack of beer for the weekend. Bodegas are an East Coast staple that provide more than mere convenience; they're where community is nurtured and maintained.

Nestled in a century-old building holding down the corner of Sterrett and William streets in Houston’s Downtown Warehouse District is Black’s Bodega, one of the city’s most treasured hidden gems. Having launched just two months after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Black’s has worked to keep the ever-changing Warehouse District supplied and connected since Day One. 

Pictured, left to right: Annie Gonzales and Courtney Blackmore

“Since the ’70s, this nine-block square has been a refuge for weirdos and artists, nightlife, and people wanting to express themselves,” says Courtney Blackmore, the shop’s founder and owner. “We’re here in the name of keeping this neighborhood what it’s always been: funky, awesome, and really special.”

Blackmore grew up north of Houston and moved to the city in 2001 to work as a chef. She spent two decades hanging out in the Warehouse District before working at the now-defunct Bayou City Brews & Vintage. When a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came her way, Blackmore took over the old store just two months after she started and transformed it into Black’s Bodega in November 2017. The shop welcomes a melange of people and personalities, all of whom Blackmore greets and serves with a warm smile. She stands proudly behind the counter as the mother of the block. 

“I just felt like the neighborhood needed this. We’ve been through so much together already,” Blackmore says. “You see people on their good days and their bad days. I never thought we’d be so entwined in people's lives.” 

From its artisan stamped floor to the decorated ceiling, the shop is brimming with character, and its unique focus on retail sets it apart from a traditional NYC bodega. In 2019, Blackmore hired her first employee—the store’s manager, Annie Gonzales—who came on board with a passion for design and years of retail management experience from brands like PUMA and Houston’s original Buffalo Exchange. Gonzales helped Blackmore fuse the ease and utility of a convenience store with the charm of a vintage clothing shop, thus creating the Black’s Bodega of today: one side stocked with every snack you can imagine, shelves of Swisher Sweets and Backwoods, candy, coolers of beer,  and a variety of wines and mixers; and the other brimming with sunglasses, vintage jewelry, clothes, and other handpicked trinkets.

Blackmore and her four-person team have watched the Warehouse District evolve for almost five years. Lately, the neighborhood has faced its fair share of tragedy and disaster, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the February freeze in 2021. Black’s has weathered it all. 

“We don’t have a ton of stuff like this anymore. All the mom-and-pop places go by the wayside,” Gonzales says. “We’re important because we’re showing people that you can still compete with the big guys and have a local business in your town.”

An old furniture depot is being converted into a four-story loft building next door, which means a potential influx of traffic and a substantial change in the neighborhood’s character. Blackmore and her team remain optimistic about the future despite these unprecedented hardships and new developments continuing to barrel through the area. “I know it’s going to stay cool,” Blackmore says. “New people discover us every day, and it’s been pretty life-changing for me. We have a lot of big plans.” 

Black’s Bodega, 1401 Sterrett St, (832) 831-9966

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