A Century of Change

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A Century of Change

Barrera’s Supply mid-century with gas pumps and operating as an auto parts and hardware store.
Barrera’s Supply mid-century with gas pumps and operating as an auto parts and hardware store.

Sam Olivarez marks off the decades in his 100-year-old building by tapping lines on the concrete floor.

“Here’s where the building originally ended,” he said, stepping on a line where Barrera’s Supply Co. started in the hardware and auto parts business. 

Sam Olivarez shows one of the thousands of industrial components in his Mission business.
Sam Olivarez shows one of the thousands of industrial components in his Mission business.

That line marks the first 50 or so years of Barrera’s on north Conway Avenue in the heart of Mission. It was the starting era which began in 1918 when Barrera was into hardware and auto with gas pumps out front. The times would change, as they always do. Barrera would add space to its building and gradually change its inventory.

It would become a business that warehoused and sold industrial supplies. Bearings, belts, valves and fittings began to define the next 50 years of the Barrera business. There’s another line on the concrete floor. Here Olivarez said the business added space to accommodate customers outside of its hardware and auto parts base.

“We call it flexibility,” said Olivarez, the president of Barrera’s Supply. “You have to refocus yourself to what the customer needs.”

The evolution of Barrera’s Supply Co.

Olivarez is the grandson of the founder of the business. His father drove it forward for decades before Olivarez returned from college as a Texas A&M graduate to help run the business. Olivarez has now spent over 30 years in the business and speaks of the larger-than-life image his father Miguel had in running Barrera Supply.

“He was very aggressive on how he ran the business,” Olivarez said of his father, who dreamed of being a doctor but had to return from college in Austin to run the business after his own father died. “He was very autocratic, a yo mando type of guy.”

Olivarez would help guide his father into newer technologies. It would take Barrera from gas pumps and hardware to supplying industries of all sorts. An emphasis began on maquiladora plants. 

Shelves of industrial components.
Shelves of industrial components.

“We do engineered sales,” Olivarez said. “We help our customers and determine what component and parts they need, and then assemble it into a kit for them.”

A tour of the Barrera building is like taking a walk through the different eras of Barrera. There are 150,000 part numbers in stock as well as modern-day machinery to assemble what industrial customers request. There are also memories of the past. World War II era metal shelves are reminiscent of the days when major auto manufacturers partnered with main street businesses to provide the public with parts while they focused on the military needs of a nation at war.

Barrera once had 29 employees. Today it has six. The hydraulic and fluid-powered components it specializes in are giving way to computer controls and electronic valves.

“That’s one of the dilemmas we’re going through,” Olivarez said. “Are we going to be able to make that transition?”

Barrera Supply has been through a century of changes. More hurdles are surely on the way. 

“Everyday is still a learning experience,” he said.

Ricardo D. Cavazos is a journalist and business executive who has over 30 years of experience as a reporter, editor and publisher and is currently managing allied health schools in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo. Working for Freedom Communications, Cavazos served as editor of The Monitor for eight years and was publisher of The Brownsville Herald for 14 years. He also served as publisher of the Valley Morning Star for one year and launched two Spanish-language publications - El Nuevo Heraldo and El Extra. He is an Edinburg native currrently living in Harlingen.

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