The countdown to the holidays has begun—do you know where your presents are? If you didn’t get your shopping done over the Black Friday weekend, never fear, there are plenty of department store alternatives to check out right here in Austin.
Shopping local is the gift that keeps on giving, so here are some local artisans to keep in mind.
Willinglee Gift Boxes—1412 E. 37th St.
For the recipient who has it all, give them the unexpected with a carefully curated gift box for any occasion. From the “Autumn Indulgence” package that includes beer caramel candies and a massage candle to the “Cozy Cottage” package that includes upcycled tea towels and a California poppy grow kit, you’ll find new local goodies to get them hooked on.
Moonthyme—2015 Manor Rd.
For your local homebody, get them some upscale home goods to enhance their cozy abode. Moonthyme, whose slogan is “thoughtful provisions to inspire,” deals out ceramic spice jars, handwoven decorative baskets, luxurious bath products and everything in between to keep your home looking comfy even in the cold weather.
Yarrow and Sage ATX—701 E 53rd St.
For the one who is counting the seconds until the next spooky season, Yarrow and Sage ATX has all the crystals, potions and bulk incense galore. The store sells all the astrological curios an enthusiast could dream of from pendulums, pipes and tarot cards to really lean into the witchy vibe.
TOYS & GAMES
Austin Nature Works—2389 Stratford Dr.
Who’s to say that toys can’t be pretty? Not only are the toys from Austin Nature Works an aesthetic choice for young learners, but they’re also sustainably made and will plant a tree for every purchase made.
Tanuki Games—6929 Airport Blvd.
For all your tabletop needs, Tanuki Games is taking family game night to the next level with hard-to-find games from all over the world. Try out Dune: House Secrets, which coincides with the new film, Machi Koro 2, a Japanese Monopoly-esque game, or the elusive Game of Cat & Mouth.
Toy Joy—403 W 2nd St. and 4631 Airport Blvd.
So popular among Austinites, local toy retailer Toy Joy even has a location inside the Austin Bergstrom-International Airport. From mainstream toys that you’ve seen on TV to potato clock kits, models of the “This is Fine” meme, to DIY models, you might even find some whimsical gifts for the adults in your life.
Faraday's Kitchen Store—12918 Shops Pkwy
In a land where food is king, get the chef in your life the tools to make magic happen in the kitchen. Located in the Galleria, Faraday’s Kitchen Store carries cookware for indoor, outdoor, baking and electronics. Plus, if you want to send a well-intentioned hint, Faraday also offers cooking classes.
Give the gift of good eating this holiday season with Farmhouse Delivery, a local company that brings the goodies of your local farmer's market right to your door. From meats, produce, baked goods or ready-prepared meal kits, you can most likely get it local and delivered to wherever you need.
For your favorite tea lover, why not challenge their palate this holiday season with a custom-made tea-filled gift box. Local female-founded tea curator Sips By will send out a box of four news teas every month to your herbal-obsessed loved ones.
Black Pearl Books—4803 Burnet Road
Sweeping the nation with its T-Pain and Normani mini-film for Black-owned Friday, Black Pearl Books is founded on a principle of keeping local dollars in the community and welcoming all in its store. It’s not all books either—grab a Lizzo coloring book, merch, puzzles and cookbooks as well in-store.
BookWoman—5501 N. Lamar Blvd.
The female-run book store set up shop 45 years ago and has been running ever since with stocked shelves by women and a passion for uplifting marginalized voices. Check out BookWoman’s staff picks because it is never too late to inspire a love of reading.
Austin Creative Reuse—2005 Wheless Ln.
If you’re looking to foster the creative spirit this holiday season, head to Austin Creative Reuse, where you can find lightly-used bulk craft and school supplies for a fraction of the new price. You might have to do some digging but imagine the look of a handmade craft basket under the tree!
For that special someone who always brings a pop of color to the room, consider gifting them a new handmade accessory to don. Lys Santamaria’s unique beaded designs are made with love and honor the world around us with beaded earrings inspired by Winter Storm Uri, magic eyes and statement accessories.
Austin is revitalized in WatercolorATX’s dreamy portraits of scenes familiar to Hill Country dwellers. You can have a custom watercolor done of your favorite place, person or pet, or choose from already-painted originals or prints.
CLOTHING & JEWELRY
The Verde Store—506 Congress Ave. and 10414 McKalla Place
Team spirit lasts all year long, even when fútbol season is over, so grab the Austin FC die-hard you know some quality merch. Inside the Verde Store you’ll find the signature shade of Verde and options for all types of fans.
Vinca—1800 E. 4th St.
These quirky little accessories aren’t for the faint of heart but they are guaranteed to catch some eyes. Doling out chainsaw earrings, stabbed heart brooches, alien tractor beams and sea critter jewelry, Vinca’s accessories will make for an… unforgettable gift.
Viva La Silk
Hand-dyed, sewn and styled in Austin, Viva La Silk’s silk accessories are made with versatility and sustainability in mind. The scarves, robes, tops, pants, veils and more are made from 100% reclaimed silk, so the “wearable art” pieces are affordable and comfy.
There are hundreds of local businesses to support—even if it isn't on this list, you can probably get it local.
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Austin homebuyers have been through the wringer in the past year—tales of offers well over asking price, sales in under an hour, and months-long supply chain shortages have become commonplace in the city's cutthroat housing market. So it's perhaps no surprise that many homebuyers are looking for greener pastures as they stake out large empty lots along the city's outskirts.
After casually searching for a home for years, Austin influencer and blogger Jane Ko experienced the pandemic housing surge firsthand when she found an empty lot near the airport in the summer of 2020. Stretched thin by high demand and limited supply, Austin's median home prices had already reached a then-record of $435,000 in August of that year, while new inventory grew by just 0.1% in that month.
Due to seemingly ever-increasing demand, Austin's homebuilding market has been busy—if not strained. New listings were up 6% in November 2021, while median home prices had cooled ever-so-slightly to $470,000. The area was ranked the fifth-busiest metro in the country for single-family homebuilding permits in August 2021, according to a National Association of Homebuilders report.
Austin influencer Jane Ko build a semi-custom home on an empty lot near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"I think for those of us that have been here, we've seen prices rise in the last five years and I kind of figured if I don't buy now, then I probably won't be able to," Ko said. "I kind of stumbled upon it and I think for a lot of people that's been really the only way to find real estate since the market is so hot."
Austin's inventory has remained somewhat low, especially in the center of town, leading some to believe that homebuyers are being "priced out" by the city's limited options. Area suburbs are reflecting that—the Kyle-Buda-San Marcos region saw 2,900 new home starts from September 2020-21, more than any other Austin submarket.
But with new developments working to keep pace with demand, 2021 Austin Board of Realtors President Susan Horton told Austonia the trend just reflects customer desires.
"I don't think that folks are being pushed by any means," Horton said. "Folks that want to buy out in the rural areas are buying for personal reasons and they're buying because they want the land and privacy. Folks really, truly want to be out. If you want a big lot, it's there."
Like many homebuyers during the pandemic, Ko was happy to scrap Austin's downtown for more space. Because she works from home, she said she and many of her friends are looking for bigger homes and bigger lots in hot areas like Dripping Springs.
Ko had the option of moving into already-built homes within the neighborhood but opted for a custom-built home instead—something that Horton said is another draw for prospective homebuyers.
Austin influencer Jane Ko remodeled her kitchen after building her semi-custom home. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
Ko's kitchen remodel took months due to supply chain delays/ (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"The desire to be away from the person next door is really most of the time the deciding factor," Horton said. "And then there are those that want to have a house simply because they want to design it themselves, and so those are the aspects that make buying that raw land and building a house really important."
But building a custom home has its drawbacks. Horton said construction loans, land surveying, zoning restrictions and road access are all hoops that can be jumped through with an experienced realtor.
But even through the tedious and stalled homebuilding process, Ko said it's been worth it to create a home made just for her.
"This is a place that I'm hopefully going to stay in for a very long time," Ko said. "And I think because I do a lot of entertaining at home and shoot photos at home, it's really important that my space looks the way I want it to."
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In earlier phases of the pandemic, people took it as the perfect moment to uproot their lives to the newest boomtown. Many, particularly Californians, found a fit with Austin, enjoying the Texas weather and lower cost of living. But for some, it may only be a pitstop.
Melaku Mihret, who works remotely in Austin for a Meta office in the Bay Area, thinks some of the Californians who have moved to Texas in the pandemic may just move here temporarily, save money and then head back. Others have also speculated a possible reverse migration, but it may be too early to tell.
According to the Kinder Institute at Rice University, Texan migration to California has remained steady for years. And when it comes to Californians leaving, the institute says it's less about a pull into Texas and more of a push out of California driven by home prices.
But they're not all staying in Austin. U-Haul data shows departures from Austin were up 18% even as one-way arrivals were up 22% in 2021.
Melaku Mihret, a remote worker a Meta office in the Bay Area, is now living in Austin. (Andrea Guzman)
For Mihret, the biggest driver behind his move was the squeeze of costs in Northern California. If the cost of living wasn’t an issue, Mihret said he’d live in the Bay Area. So if Austin continues to become less and less affordable, would Californians go back?
For Mihret, not many places come close to what California offers. He points to the nature, such as the mountains and lakes, in California and the massive tech hub it is. Austin is “not even nearly close to California,” Mihret said, after acknowledging Austin's growth as an emerging tech hub.
Meanwhile others like Ian Davies, who grew up in Austin and left in 2011 when he was in high school, much prefer living in Austin.
His family had moved to Philadelphia, years passed and he eventually landed a job in financial operations at NBC Universal in Los Angeles, California. When the option of remote work during the pandemic came around, he longed to return home.
“I couldn’t wait to move back to Austin,” Davies said. “Not that I didn’t enjoy my time in LA. But LA is just a whole other beast than Austin.”
Ian Davies does remote work for NBC Universal in Downtown Austin in early January. (Andrea Guzman)
But a downside he says is it's become more expensive in the past year and half since he returned. The Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown metro area had the 12th highest change in a recent study on cost of living increases across the country. And among the nation’s top 10 tech hubs, Austin saw the largest year-over-year increase in average rent this past September, with an average of $1,647.
It's a cost of a growing city. Davies sees a positive in all the growth, as he enjoys living in a city with a diverse population, like when he was in LA.
“There’s a group of Austinites who are very against people moving here, and I’m definitely not part of that crowd. I want to share this city with other people. I think it’s awesome.”
He says he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I hope that Austin can keep its soul and keep its weirdness. Like blues and rock and live music,” Davies said. “I haven’t seen much of that change. I hope people that move here can adapt the spirit of the past and carry that.”
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