May 30, 2024 - News

Austin's South Congress stalwarts continue exodus

Illustration of a hand holding gold shopping bags.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

South Congress, the trendy strip, is getting a little more corporate.

Why it matters: The commercial area is shifting from bohemian, one-of-a-kind spots to high-end chain stores that can absorb higher rents.

  • Nike, Hermès, Parachute Home, Lululemon, Reformation and Warby Parker have opened on the street in recent years.

Driving the news: The emporium Mi Casa posted on its website that the South Congress store closed after 28 years at the location and has reopened in Johnson City under the name Camino.

  • Relative newcomers Sunroom and The Good Company's owners told KVUE they were forced to close after their rent increased by more than 500%.

Flashback: Maya Star, the nearly three-decade-old South Congress boutique, closed its doors in December, with high-end bootmaker Lucchese appearing to be a likely next tenant for the space; South Congress Books closed in January 2023 after 11 years on South Congress and relocated to Kerbey Lane; and 38-year-old costume store Lucy in Disguise shuttered in 2022 and will be replaced by Swiss running shoe company On.

  • After 28 years on this part of Congress, Twomey Auto Works moved farther south in 2018 and was replaced by the high-end office and restaurant tenants at the Music Lane mixed-use development.
  • Hill Country Weavers left its longtime home on South Congress in 2017 for a spot on Menchaca Road, and was replaced by Kendra Scott's flagship store.
  • That year Uncommon Objects left its South Congress spot for a space further south, by Ben White Boulevard — its former space is now home to hat shop Maufrais.

The big picture: Despite turbulence in the housing market, the retail real estate sector remains strong.

  • Total occupancy in central Austin was 93.1% in Q1 2024, generally holding steady over the last few years, per a recent report from real estate firm CBRE.

What they're saying: South Congress Merchants Association president Brandon Hodge, who also owns Big Top Candy Shop and Monkey See Monkey Do, told KVUE that roughly a third of businesses that were on South Congress in 2020 are gone.

  • About 65% are still locally owned, he said.

💭 Asher's thought bubble: I've lived off South Congress long enough to remember when merchants leaned on First Thursday to drum up business, serving free keg beer, hiring musicians and keeping their shops open late.

  • Now it feels impossibly crowded walking down the strip on a weekend afternoon.

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