Harlingen Arts District 

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If a destination is, by definition, a place people will make a special trip to visit, then Jackson Street in downtown Harlingen is the epitome of a destination. Needless to say, Saturdays are the busiest shopping days.

It all began approximately 30 years ago with the first antique mall and some brave entrepreneurs with a vision. The Emporium is, to this day, going strong — despite the COVID-19 lockdowns. The Emporium is located on the corner of Jackson and Second streets. It offers a never-ending supply of antiques, collectibles, and vendors. Shannon Ramirez, the manager, is an absolute ray of sunshine and is ready to help with knowledge and a personality that won’t quit. 

Another major draw on Jackson Street is Market Days, an event held the first Saturday of every month. Its beginnings were small, starting with a handful of vendors. Now, it has grown to approximately 200 vendors. All in all, they encompass eight blocks of antiques, art, artisans’ works, food vendors, live music, a farmer’s market, and an ambiance that is hard to surpass. Following the lockdown, it will once again be operational the first Saturday of May. For the record, the food vendors offer a variety of menus, such as brisket plates, chicken, corn dogs, cold drinks, and other delights. 

If you sincerely wish to step back in time and experience a historical odyssey, visiting Down Home Market on First and Jackson streets will provide just that. The aura and setting strum several emotional chords not only with the array of outstanding antiques and collectibles but also the aroma of scented candles permeating the atmosphere. Classical music is constantly playing throughout the immaculately clean and properly displayed inventory. Shoppers can expect warm greetings from all the staff, an array of merchandise that includes historical pieces made with love and meticulous craftsmanship, rare and highly collectible estate jewelry, and much more. Often, you will hear remarks from customers such as: “I remember my grandmother used to have one of these,” or “I have to come back because there is so much to see.” Down Home Market offers the chance to take home a piece of history.

Since art is not necessarily confined to canvases and paint, a working gallery worthy of recognition is Hand of Man, a stained glass shop which offers almost every item that one needs to create a masterpiece of your own. As you enter, your eyes will feast on incredible works of stained glass, obviously meticulously made with imagination and precision. Although not located precisely in the downtown area, it is on Jackson Street and has been owned and operated for 44 years by the same visionary named Jerry. This gallery is another destination to explore, purchase, custom order, or produce your own object of pride and beauty. 

For more art that can’t be contained in a frame hanging on a gallery wall, all you have to do is take a look around while you’re walking downtown. Harlingen’s vibrant murals are masterpieces in their own right. Located on the east wall surrounding the property of West Monroe Street is a dynamic mural, very appropriately named Tropical Rio Grande Valley. The mural depicts special aspects of the border region, which include the relentless Texas sun, Red Crowned parrots, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and an accordionist. The commendable work of art that tells our story in large detail and powerful colors was created by artists Benjamin D. Varela and Celeste de Luna in 2007.

Harlingen Art Night is also a delightful outing held on the first Friday of each month. Art galleries and other willing participants open their doors to new and regular visitors. If you are fortunate and the weather cooperates, you may see small groups of musicians sharing their gift for playing music or singing in the moonlight. 

Another noteworthy pillar in downtown Harlingen is the New York Deli Restaurant, located at 122 North A Street. It first opened its doors in Brownsville in 1989. In 2000, a second location opened in Harlingen. The deli strives to bring the taste of the Big Apple to the Valley. The decor includes wall-to-wall pictures and posters of the Fabulous Four: the Beatles. It is quite an unusual setting accompanied by delicious soup and sandwich meals — and superb service. Lunch hours are packed with regulars on a constant basis. It will not disappoint you if you have yet to try it.

Jackson Street continues to thrive despite the pandemic, lockdowns,and setbacks. Now more than ever is the time to support the small business owners everywhere who were hit hard but persist.

Alma Guerrero Barham