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A decades-old false front to the onetime Ben’s Western Wear store on Front Street in downtown Cotulla has been removed, exposing the building’s original upper-floor windows; brickwork has been repaired and sealed; and the building has been given a fresh coat of paint as part of an extensive restoration project undertaken by its owner, Leighton Storey. Bright blue paint typical of the original architectural style of downtown business frontage has been applied, and wooden shopfront and window frames have been returned to the ground floor. Storey’s property comprises three structures, including the former clothing store in the center; a one-story facade to the south (Photo below), behind which an open-air patio has been built to accommodate outdoor events and foodservice; and the former Ben’s Western Wear Hat Museum building to the north, which has also been restored and will house a retail store. The two-story building was originally home to the Gaddis Pharmacy before it was converted to a clothier’s, and many features of the first business remain, including penny-tile flooring inlaid with the company name. Upstairs rooms still bear some fixtures of a doctor’s office suite and dispensary. The historic buildings stand at the heart of Cotulla’s Main Street Program preservation district and represent some of the commercial sites that played critical roles in the community’s commerce during the first half of the 20th century, a business hub that faced the San Antonio-Laredo railroad line. In later years, Ben’s Western Wear was one of La Salle County’s most successful businesses and survived into the information technology age, shipping clothes, boots and accessories to customers around the world. The downtown area at the intersection of Front Street and Hwy 97 is also designated as historic for being the point at which the ancient Camino Real from the Gulf Coast to the Spanish Missions of early Texas intersected with a vital trade route from Mexico.
(CURRENT Photo: Marc Robertson)