Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Independent Businesses in Austin

Dateline: 9:59 pm February 6, 2007 Filed under:

On a recent trip to Austin, Texas, I decided to check out the partially completed Second Street District redevelopment. It encompasees several blocks between the downtown core and Town Lake, and includes the new city hall and a seven-story apartment complex with ground floor retail.

I had most recently read about it in Big-Box Swindle, which I recommend, by the way. It discussed the redevelopment, and the fact that 17 of the 24 businesses are locally-owned. Anyone that pays attention to shiny new downtown development will notice that retail is often chain dominated.

Not that chains are evil, but some cities see virtue in local retailers, and part of the development agreement with the city of Austin is that the Second Street District will have 30% local businesses. So they have exceeded their mandate so far.

I checked out the district myself one cold sleeting day (yes, it was sleeting in Austin) and found Jo’s, a cool coffee shop, and the Royal Blue Grocery, a store that couldn’t be more than 1,000 square feet of floor space. It was tiny, but covered most needs, like wine and olive oil.

I briefly chatted with the cashier. They have been open for just a few months, and have a list of suggestions or requests. I took a look around and actually found most things I may need to be stocked – a little of everything. As an outsider I was impressed. Austin has made their decision, and in fact are the poster child for independent businesses. The Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA) is perhaps the most prominent independent business groups in the country. It seems to be working, and it isn’t just antique stores among the independent businesses, but grocers and other things that people need with more regularity.

And so on that cold sleety day I retired to the cozy warmth of the nearby Fado Irish Pub, yet another independent business in Austin, Texas, to sit by the fireplace with a pint of Guinness.

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