Texas needed food and rest after a brutal storm. As usual, they got it in HEB.

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    Austin, Texas – Last week was a nightmare. A winter storm, the worst to hit Texas in a generation, Lanita robbed electricity, heat and water in her home. The food he kept in his fridge and freezer was spoiled. She The last five bottles of water were under.

    One copywriter said, “I’ve never felt so powerless.”

    But on Sunday, as the sun shines and the snow melts in Austin, Ms. Janus did the same thing as many Texans in urgent need of food, water and normalcy: She Went to HEB.

    “They’ve been great,” she said, adding with just a touch of hyperbole: “If it hadn’t been for bread and peanut butter, I would have died in my apartment.”

    HEB is a grocery store chain. But it is also more than that. People buy T-shirts that say, “HEB for President”, and they post a video to Tiktok proclaiming their love, as if the woman holds a small bouquet of flowers handed to her by an employee: “I wish I had a boyfriend like HEB. Always there. Gives me flowers. Feeds me.”

    The storm and its catastrophe have tested a notion of independence that is deeply ingrained in Texas, a feeling that Texas and their businesses can handle things on their own without the barrage of outsiders intrusions or regulation.

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    Credit …Christopher Lee for The New York Times

    It is an ideology in Texas’ decision to have its own power grid, which was razed by the storm and a source of nuisance because millions of people were left without electricity during the unsettled conditions.

    But for many Texans, the HEB reflected the ways that the state’s masculine spirit could thrive: reliable for regular visits, but especially in times of disaster, and a belief that the family owned chain – the state With the vast majority of more than 340 locations inside. The pattern – to remain inherent to the idea of ​​being a good neighbor has made a conscious choice.

    “It’s like the HEB is the moral center of Texas,” said Stephen Harrigan, a novelist and journalist based in Austin. “There is a lack of real leadership in our state, a lack of real efficiency at the political level. But at the business level, when it comes to the grocery store, all those things have their place. “

    As frustration arose among residents trapped in their homes without electricity or water, some people half-jokingly started saying that HEB should catch the bus. The chain is known for its logistic skills – in response to coronovirus epidemics and hurricanes, with water reserves and ready to deploy emergency supplies. “San Francisco Express-News business editor Greg Jefferson wrote in his column,” So many Texans see the HEB as an almost real arm of government.

    Grocery workers in general have also gained a new level of recognition as their jobs have shown themselves to be all the more necessary during the epidemic.

    The HEB issued a statement on Sunday saying its focus was on operations after the storm, noting that the weather was “incredibly difficult” for its staff as well as the rest of the state.

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    Credit …Christopher Lee for The New York Times

    “We have seen tremendous actions taken by HEB partners to keep our operations running so that we can make them available to our customers and those most vulnerable,” the statement said. And worked with local authorities. “We are particularly grateful to the utility employees in Texas who worked bravely and diligently through the storm to restore water and electricity to Texas.”

    Loyalty to brands is often about more than the product; They can be a proxy for consumers to reverse their stance on political or social issues. Yet the HEB indicates another kind of virtue, one that often supports race, class, religion, gender, or sexual orientation: a display of Texan identity.

    The HEB falls into a class of companies that immediately identify their state in the way Texas transfers commerce, especially to out-of-state migrants. Whataburger is, fast food chain; Blue Bell Ice Cream; And Book-AE’s supersized convenience stores. A New York City-based Texan has spotted an orange-striped bag from Junior’s cheesecake and thought someone would step on the e-train with Wahberger.

    HEB – Its name was founder’s son, Howard E. Named after Butt Sr. – Celebrating Celina has been able to connect herself with customers by selling limited-edition tot bags, the Tejano singer still mourns 25 years after her death, and the Texas-sized tortilla Chips that ask to be sent back to Texan relatives abroad

    But some contenders – gush, actually – that affection for HEB is more than that. It has sprouted from bonds that have been nurtured as stores have become established fixtures of their customers’ lives and communities, providing affordable prices, good jobs and support for school programs and food banks.

    “They know their customers and who are rewarded,” he said, adding that Leig McAlester, a marketing professor at the University of Texas, is the author of the book “Kiran Revolution” and one of HE-B’s upscale Central Market stores in Austin Are regular customers. . “It seems like when I go to a HEB store, they are trying to figure out how to make my life amazing.”

    Professor McAllister said, “This is what we hope for the HEB.” “It is from the heart and they are good at logistics. If their Texas needs water, they can get it, because it is what is ours Texans who are thirsty. “

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    Credit …Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

    As it grew, its footprint expanded, with HEB becoming deeply rooted, almost entirely within state lines. (The chain has a few stores in Mexico.) The company, which was founded in 1905 as a small grocery businessman in the Hill Country town of Kerrville, now has 100,000 employees. The series is capable of creating a tough business season and holds its own competitors, such as Walmart and Kroger encroaching on their turf.

    “It’s local, and I’m local,” said 74-year-old Juan Morales as he loaded the bag onto the back seat of his Chevy Impala in San Antonio. His wife, Josie, noted that the couple are shopping at H.E.B., By the time they got married: it’s been 50 years.

    61-year-old Gina Loera rode on a bike with her dog Sandy in a basket wearing sunglasses at a store near the city in San Antonio with her bike. “It’s a Texas institution,” she said.

    Her husband said, he works in a HEB warehouse, loading trucks. “They do so much for people in Texas,” Ms. Loera said. “They are also good for their employees, they take good care, have good health care. They also have their own doctors. They have their own clinics in the city.”

    Brock Soule said that he came to the store according to the price. “I’m homeless, so it’s hard to buy food items,” said 43-year-old Mr. Sol. “It is easy for us to buy open items, lots of pop tops. I don’t like going to convenience stores because they are so expensive. “

    Nevertheless, it has become harder to relax after the storm.

    Robert Diaz, 64, said, “You had to come early and come again and again. “They kept stocking up in the store as soon as the trucks arrived. People took everything.”

    The shelves in many stores were light on inventory, if not completely bare, especially for water. In a store full of customers in San Antonio’s Las Palmas neighborhood, the notice warned that people could only carry two gallons of water. One sign said, “The boundaries are temporary and necessary to find the products you and your neighbors need.”

    Lala Bearamov showed up at the shop in desperate search for a cake for her son’s first birthday. “Right now, I’m just looking for any cake,” she said as she walked through the parking lot.

    A few minutes later, she walked out with one. It was small and plain, with just white frosting. But this was what he needed.

    David montgomery Reported from Austin, Rick rojas From Nashville, and Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio From San Antonio. James dobins Contributed reporting from San Antonio.

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