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TWITC: Sad confirmation on local retailers and parking

This story is kind of sad, but also a bit of an I-told-you-so moment. I've expressed in other forums (comments, mostly) that local businesses around here have sadly not been prepared to adapt to a more urban environment - ref among others the locally-owned businesses around Northcross in pedestrian-hostile parking-loving strip centers protesting against a slightly-more-urban and slightly-less-hostile-to-pedestrians Northcross redesign, and don't forget Karen McGraw's shenanigans in Hyde Park. And now, from 2nd street:

Speaking confidentially, other tenants are concerned that there's no interest in keeping them in business and that the lack of parking in the area makes life as a retailer virtually impossible.

(Of course, an anonymous commenter has already said that they think shopowners/employees were hogging the few curbside spaces that existed - hard to verify, but wouldn't surprise me). The idea that you can't have retail without free nearby parking is a suburban mindset - which is the most clear indication that these people weren't prepared for urban retail.

Here's a clue: Don't move downtown if you can't figure out a way to attract customers who arrive by any means other than the private automobile parked right in front of your store. Sadly, there are a lot of national retailers who DO know how to do this - and we're probably better off with a pedestrian-oriented national business than a local business that doesn't know how to play in an urban center. That's going to result in a lot of backlash from the paleoliberals, and I won't be thrilled either, but I don't see any other way forward.

This might get worse before it gets better - transit ACCESS downtown is good, but competitiveness is poor, unless you have to pay to park. People who have free parking at their offices in the suburbs aren't going to enjoy paying to park to shop - so again, these businesses need to not rely on that type of customer to survive, but the other type of customer - the local (urban) resident - may not exist in large enough numbers (yet) to make up for a retailer that doesn't have a lot of experience marketing to those urbanites.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , I Told You So , This Week In The Chronicle , Urban Design


Plenty of retailers are doing fine on Second Street. The fact that it isn't working out for every one of them is no condemnation of the urban model. Most small businesses fail (urban or suburban). Plus, the urban/walk-up model is different from the suburban/drive-up model, so it is no surprise that people expecting the latter have a hard time dealing with the former. Personally, I doubt that most of the businesses that are failing on Second would have done better anywhere else. Businesses may come and go, but I think the area will continue to be successful (I don't think we will be seeing many vacant storefronts) and I think it will be substantially better when a few more condo buildings open in the area. The W, AMLI II, Austonian and Altavida are all opening in the next few years within a few blocks. I expect this retail space to be very popular, although I think (and hope) that the more frivolous stores will close and stores catering to the needs of people living there will open.

Yes, expressed better than I did - the vanity businesses that opened there just to have the address are going to do poorly until critical downtown mass is achieved - in the meantime basics would be a better sell (what about a small drugstore like you see every 5th block in NYC, for instance?)

Or even the three Starbucks on Congress between 4th and 11th?

Ugh. Thankfully, more people living downtown means a better chance to get away from a Starbucks on every corner.

Another factor: A good part of the failure of some of the 2nd street businesses may be a result of the (lack of) business relationship between the commercial leasing entity at the AMLI and the early tenants. Specifically, the handling of shared utility bills that allegedly (depending whom you believe) caught tenants off guard.

All in all, it seems more likely that failure to account for costs, including steep rent and utilities, is probably as much or more of a factor as parking. I'm optimistic that, as you mention, with a larger critical mass of residents, a second generation of retailers that's more in tune with the downtown need will do well.

I read that article too, and got really sad afterwards, but then I basically came up with the same points as everyone else. I'm glad those retailers down there were/are pioneers, but I think it's still too early. It's a work in progress, and the fact that they were/are all upscale boutiques that sold/sell $300 sweaters and would probably have done really well in the godforsaken Domain doesn't help matters any. Jo's is packed any time of day, and I think once some of the retailers down there become a little more functional so that it _is_ actually possible to live downtown and not have to drive and leave downtown whenever you need anything practical (like the drugstore you mentioned) is when it will really flower. But I think it's really going to be another 5-10 years before we start seeing the kind of of "urban environment" downtown that everyone seems to think will sprout overnight. Rome wasn't built in a day, as they say. Until then, I expect it will change and fluctuate a lot.

Isn't this just the natural churn of businesses? Ditto what Shilli said.

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