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Canino’s planning to close in Heights farmers market

January 2, 2019

More than a year after a local investment group purchased the farmers market on Airline Drive, its most prominent tenant is planning to close.

Canino Produce Co., which opened in the Heights-area market in 1958, is expected to shutter in late January, according to the property owner. Lawrence Pilkinton, whose family owns Canino’s, said the closing date is uncertain.

“We’ve got to get rid of product first before we do anything,” Pilkinton said. “I don’t ever cross a bridge till I get there.”

Houston-based MLB Capital Partners purchased nearly 18-acre property at 2520 Airline in May 2017 and later announced plans to transform it into a high-end retail destination with local fishmongers, dairy makers and bakers operating in air-conditioned buildings alongside an open-air produce pavilion.

The company hired a slate of architects, engineers and consultants to reimagine the market as a place where Houstonians would go for wine tastings and chef demonstrations. They said they wanted it to become a better place to visit, while maintaining its culture.

“The goal is not to homogenize it, but make it flow a little better and have a diversity of offerings,” landscape architect Sheila Condon said at the time.

LISTEN: Will the Heights farmers market get ‘hipsterized?’

Pilkinton this week expressed frustration over proposals to change the property. He said the new owners wanted to Canino’s to move into a tent in the parking lot while they constructed a new building. And while Canino’s rent hasn’t gone up, Pilkinton imagines it will.

The economics of the business are already strained.

The farmers market started in 1942 as a co-op of local farmers. It incorporated in the late 1980s, and its shareholders were the original farmers or their descendants.

Most of the local and regional farms that used to sell there are no longer around. Over time, the market became a place where produce was shipped and trucked in from places like Mexico and elsewhere, as it is to grocery stores.

The property, however, has skyrocketed in value. It was appraised at $11.8 at the beginning of 2018 by Harris County, up 66 percent from 2014, when the value was $7.1 million.

WATCH: Owner unveils visions for Heights farmers market

nancy.sarnoff@chron.com

twitter.com/nsarnoff

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