An “x” with a heart in the middle marks the spot where visitors to West 19th Street are encouraged to share an embrace.
The “Hug Here” box is located on the sidewalk in front of AG Antiques, 313 W. 19th St., inside one of the rainbow arches painted on the pathway. Store co-owner Debbie Greenbaum said it’s been “so cute” to see how many customers and passersby follow the instructions and stop to hug someone they’re with.
Among the participants have been Gina Lucas and her son, Wren. The residents of Golden, Colorado, walked up and down a rainbow-laden 19th Street on the afternoon of June 3, when they were in Houston visiting family.
“We were following (the rainbows), and me and my son hugged,” Lucas said. “We love it.”
The new decorations on 19th Street, which has long been a colorful and vibrant part of the Heights, are getting love from visitors while expressing love and support for the LGBTQ community. In recognition of Pride Month, AG Antiques and a few other businesses on 19th commissioned Houston artist Jen Moore Payne to paint rainbows and rainbow pathways in front of their shops and restaurants.
The other participating businesses are Shandy’s Café, which is next door to AG Antiques, along with Circa Real Estate; Emerson Rose; Harold’s Restaurant, Bar & Rooftop Terrace; Jubilee; and Torchy’s Tacos.
Coryne Rich of the 19th Street Merchants Association likened the sidewalk art to a “rainbow road.”
“It not only supports the artist, but it supports diversity in the neighborhood and it looks pretty,” Harold’s owner Alli Jarrett said. “Who doesn’t like a pretty rainbow on the sidewalk?”
Payne said she “jumped” at the opportunity to create the sidewalk art, which initially was extended to her mother. Loida Wexler is a longtime Houston artist who sells her work at AG Antiques and has done monthly decorations on the storefront, but she moved to Kansas City about four months ago to take care of her parents, according to Payne.
So the 19th Street businesses enlisted Payne, a budding, 30-year-old muralist who has done work outside Sawyer Ice House in the Sawyer Yards area. She said the business owners wanted the look and temporary nature of chalk art but also wanted images that would remain throughout the month of June, so Payne used a washable paint made by Crayola to create the series of rainbows in a retro-looking, striped style.
The work was created June 1, and Payne said she is periodically freshening up the paint at night.
“It’s just going to get bigger and brighter,” she said.
Greenbaum, Jarrett and Emerson Rose owner Bonnie Knott said they have not encountered any negative feedback about the Pride Month artwork. Greenbaum said it’s “hugely important” for her and co-owner Cynthia Anhalt to create an inclusive environment and show support for the LGBTQ community.
Knott echoed that sentiment, adding that it’s been a “lot of fun” to spruce up the street, which is a popular destination for shoppers and diners.
April Mooney, who works in the Heights and recently dined on the front patio at Shandy’s, said the artwork creates a “happy vibe.” It also got the approval of Timbergrove resident Roy Hankins, who walked down 19th after having lunch at Shandy’s and said, “It makes you feel comfortable.”
And in many cases, it makes 19th Street visitors feel like giving or getting a hug.
“We saw so many people stopping and hugging in the box,” Greenbaum said of a recent day on 19th. “People were really responsive. The vendor who was outside could not believe how many people stopped to hug in that box.”
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