Some of Navasota’s newest residents might be surprised to learn that in the not too distant past, this quaint charming town was known to many as “Nastysota.” The scuttlebutt is that some old timers wore that tacky moniker as a badge of honor, but I can assure you that when spoken by outsiders, it was NOT used as a term of endearment. Well, no one calls it Nastysota anymore and we have retiring City Manager Brad Stafford to thank for that!
I became a property owner in Grimes County in 1994, a fulltime resident of Bedias in 1999 and Navasota in 2009. My late husband and I were introduced to Navasota in 1997 by longtime friends J.D. and Laura Hodges who moved here only as a compromise between her work location and his. Immediately, I liked its small town feel but it lacked something. To be honest, Navasota was merely a stop in the road to join my friend on our way to a REAL destination place – Brenham!
From what I’ve learned over the years interviewing Navasota’s mom and pop businesses downtown, the central business district took a big hit when Walmart came to town. By the time I came along in the mid-90s, Navasota had its share of empty buildings and some storefronts lacked curb appeal. In fact, there were only two places in Navasota that I cared to spend my discretionary money back then.
First was Pookie’s Past and Present, a wonderful little gift shop, and second was Must Be Heaven. Yes! Navasota actually had a Must Be Heaven on Washington Avenue – just like in Brenham with Bluebell, Dutch Apple Pie, salads and sandwiches and that cute, country decor! Sadly, Pookie left for greener pastures and Navasota just wasn’t ready for Must Be Heaven. I was told there weren’t enough local or tourist dollars to keep it viable like its sister operation 25 miles to the west.
Another problem with Navasota was the transiency of business establishments. Yes, there were some firmly entrenched downtown businesses like One Stop Cleaners, Noto’s Hardware and P. Nemir but you never knew what restaurant would be in business from one visit to the next.
For instance, the building where Herrera’s is now has served multiple cuisines over the years, even seafood. The uncertainty was enough to discourage us from driving on dangerous, shoulder less roads to eat in Navasota. However, moving here in 2009 as outsiders looking in, we could tell that change was in the air!
Fast forward to 2021, I’m happy to report that Pookie is back and you’ll find her working at Wrapped in Grace alongside her daughter and granddaughter, its owners and operators. Pookie’s former gift shop is occupied by Leeann and Tim Smith’s Stonecroft Marketplace. Every time I peruse their purses on that shelf, I can’t help but remember Pookie’s Yankee Candles displayed there.
During its tenure here in Navasota, Must Be Heaven occupied what is now Cotton + Oak. Spurred by Navasota’s steadily increasing potential as a destination place, thanks to Stafford’s vision, Mayor Bert Miller took the plunge to bring a much-needed food venue back to Washington Avenue by opening Classic Rock Coffee Co. & Kitchen.
I think sometimes citizens, like homeowners, become blind to the wear and tear on their community. For instance, all it takes for me is a visit to someone else’s house to come home and see the fingerprints around my light switches that I didn’t see before I left. I think it’s much easier for someone with fresh eyes to see the potential in the bones and what needs fixing, whether it’s a home or a city.
My heartfelt thanks go to those 2005 council members who hired Brad Stafford. He saw Navasota’s potential and he had the skillset to fix what was broken internally and externally. He knew how to motivate city staff and he paved the way for people to WANT to invest in Navasota. Brad Stafford knew how to meld his vision with that of city council to make Navasota the special place it is today.
Connie Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.