If you've lived in Austin long enough to get stuck in rush-hour traffic on MoPac, you're probably familiar with Camp Mabry.
Named after Adjutant General of Texas Woodford H. Mabry, the military installation was established in 1892—in what was then a rural area—as a training facility for the Texas Volunteer Guard. The original site, which comprised roughly 90 acres, expanded to 400 acres by 1911 as a result of government land purchases and various land gifts. It now functions as the headquarters of the Texas Military Department, Texas Military Forces and Texas Military Forces Museum.
Soldiers build military vehicles at Camp Mabry during an unknown year, anywhere from 1877-1939. (Austin Public Library/Austin History Center)
These days, Camp Mabry also serves to confuse commuters who are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, gazing forlornly out their car windows and wondering, "What is that place even used for?" Indeed, such a large plot of sparsely populated land situated directly off the highway feels like a relic from a bygone era when compared to the rest of Austin, which is becoming more tightly packed with office buildings and high-rise apartments every day.
It's a stark contrast that raises a worthwhile, yet hypothetical question: What would it take for the state to sell Camp Mabry, and could the development of that land help mitigate Austin's housing crisis?
Developing Mabry would take State and City cooperation that's in short supply. Because Camp Mabry is state-owned, it would need to be authorized for sale by the state legislature or deemed "under-utilized" by the Texas General Land Office and approved by the governor. Circumstances it does not meet today.
Aerial shot of Camp Mabry. (Austonia)
Nevertheless, if the state were to ever sell Camp Mabry, its development would raise two fundamental questions, according to Steve Drenner, founder of Texas land use law firm Drenner Group, P.C.
1. Would the state sell the land outright or ground lease it, allowing a tenant to develop it for a period of time before turning it over to the owner at the end of the lease?
Drenner thinks the state would likely opt to ground lease it so it would retain the right to redevelop that land to achieve maximum density as Austin continues to grow and evolve. He cites the Central Market at 40th and North Lamar as an example of an effective ground lease.
"You could argue that whatever the time period is left—30-40 years—that if Austin keeps growing, that it would have a different highest and best use. Maybe taller office buildings combined with multi-family, much higher, denser development. And in that case, the state would have the opportunity to profit from the new circumstances that the market would drive to make that a denser project."
The Camp Mabry sign in 2005. (David E Hollingsworth/CC)
2. How would the city of Austin determine the land usage?
It could go one of two ways, explains Drenner.
"They might say, 'Well, we'll let it go through a zoning process.' They also might say, 'Well, it'll go through a special board of review that is (made) up of a combination of state and local officials, and that's the group that determines the land use.'"
If the former, the zoning process is ultimately "a discretionary decision by the City Council," which means that an applicant cannot receive zoning approval simply by following a set of instructions.
For an example of how the zoning process might go with Camp Mabry, one can look to the Grove at Shoal Creek, a master development off 45th Street and Bull Creek Road that was built on land that formerly belonged to the Texas Department of Transportation. The previously undesignated land was rezoned as a Planned Unit Development, which is not subject to conventional zoning requirements. Instead, PUDs work with the local government to create developments that preserve the environment, promote innovative design and provide ample public facilities, along with a mixture of single- and multi-family housing. The Grove also "carries a 10% affordability requirement" that "yielded 92 affordable rental units and 46 affordable homeowner units," according to nonprofit design organization CoAct.
Surely, the prospect of developing a 400-acre plot of land adjoining 35th and MoPac is enough to make even the most successful commercial developers in Austin misty-eyed.
With Austin's median home sales price ballooning to an all-time high of $550,562 in April, a 31.7% year-over-year increase, and the average monthly rent in the Greater Austin area exceeding pre-pandemic levels at $1,335 that same month, to call that land desirable in today's market would be an understatement.
"Can you imagine: hundreds of acres, literally dead in the middle of probably some of the most valuable real estate in Texas?" said Tim Hendricks, senior vice president and managing director of real estate investment firm Cousins Properties. "It's enough land to create a true midtown Austin."
Hendricks says the expanse comprising Camp Mabry is comparable to the Domain in size, and the land would probably be allocated similarly if it were ever developed—2 million square feet of retail, 3 or 4 million square feet of high-rise residential, and 3 million square feet of office.
The Domain could be the type of development Camp Mabry's land mirrors if ground leased. (Shutterstock)
While the prospect of a mixed-use residential and retail mecca in central Austin might appeal to locals who are tired of trekking to the Domain, Hendricks predicts it would face pushback from people who live in the neighborhoods adjacent to Camp Mabry—particularly a mature, high-income neighbor like Tarrytown, whose quaint, locally-owned businesses and single-family homes lend to a much slower pace of life than the hustle and bustle that a sprawling, mixed-use development would invite.
"They're not going to want the density," Hendricks says. "With density comes congestion." He adds that even if the people of Austin wanted the Camp Mabry land to be developed into single-family homes, "the economic drivers would tell you that it should be much more dense than that."
If the state ever sold or leased the Camp Mabry land out for development, Austinites could expect some knock-down, drag-out City Council debates over how the land should be used.
For now, the prospect of developing Camp Mabry remains either a pipe dream for local developers or an affront to certain Austinites' way of life.
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Good times have faded at the TarryTown Shopping Center, the once-thriving neighborhood hub where animal rights activist Jeanne Daniels has pushed out local favorites
Tarrytown's Casis Village shopping center is buzzing with activity on a crisp Sunday afternoon in December. Customers flock to Randall's to check off their grocery lists, grab seasonal lattes from Starbucks and peruse the center's various thrifty boutiques and jewelry stores for Christmas gift inspiration.
For many longtime Austinites, the bustling plaza may bring back memories of the former glory of one of the city's most famous and controversial shopping centers, which has since been reduced to a ghost town by its authoritarian landlord.
Aerial view of TarryTown Shopping Center flanked on the west by Exposition Boulevard and on the south by Windsor Road in 1948. (Austin History Center, Austin Public Library)
Towering over a corner of the Casis Village that used to belong to a Blockbuster is the Tarrytown Pharmacy. It has served locals since Dec. 6, 1941, the day before Japanese soldiers attacked Pearl Harbor. Far from your run-of-the-mill chain pharmacy, the nearly 80-year-old apothecary beckons customers to roam its aisles and browse its assortment of artisanal gifts, including decorative stationery, denim dresses and scented candles with names like "baltic amber" and "santiago huckleberry."
Before it relocated to Casis Village in 2010, the Tarrytown Pharmacy operated out of the TarryTown Shopping Center, roughly half a mile down the road. These days, the once-thriving center now stands largely desolate, cutting a vastly different figure than the bustling Casis Village.
The Tarrytown Pharmacy in the TarryTown Shopping Center before it moved to Casis Village. (Blair Newberry)
Save for the handful of couples eating lunch at vegan gastropub the Beer Plant, there are few customers to be found between the barbershop, liquor store, vegan grocery, various exercise studios and Austin Pets Alive! that occupies the TarryTown Shopping Center's sprawling corner lot.
A sign facing the street next to the TarryTown Shopping Center bears a picture of a lamb on one side and a cow wearing a Santa hat on the other. Its two all-caps slogans create a fitting credo for the center's mercurial landlord, Jeanne Crusemann Daniels: "PEACE TO ALL BEINGS" and "JOY TO ALL BEINGS."
Jeanne Crusemann in high school. (Lynn Pugh Remadna)
A staunch animal rights activist and vegan, Daniels is seldom seen at the TarryTown Shopping Center, but her presence is always felt. Since inheriting the center from her mother Mary Lee Crusemann, in 1999, Daniels has systematically eliminated every business that used or sold animal products.
Restaurants like the beloved Holiday House burger joint and Texas French Bread met the chopping block, as did the TarryTown Pharmacy, which sells drugs tested on animals. But Daniels' policy also extended to the Austin Shoe Hospital, which was ordered to keep its leather shoelaces out of sight from customers; Steve's Liquor & Fine Wines, which was barred from putting caviar in its gift baskets; and the Chevron filling station, which was forced to stop selling milk-based candy bars.
The TarryTown Shopping Center used to be a place where kids could drop their bikes and grab a malt after school, local politicians could hold court over baskets of burgers and fries and customers could get their prescriptions cheerfully refilled by memory. But Daniels' iron-fisted policies have transformed it from a thriving community hub into a barren relic that doesn't adequately meet the needs of the neighborhood, according to several former tenants and longtime Tarrytown residents.
The Tarrytown Shopping Center attracted many for its busy shops and restaurants. (Blair Newberry)
"It was part of the fabric of what made that neighborhood so great," says Mark Newberry, owner of the TarryTown Pharmacy. "And now when you drive by, it's something that you hold against the neighborhood."
Daniels declined to be interviewed for this story, as she has turned down many reporters over the years. When asked about the origin of her commitment to animal rights, she recommended—via Belva Green, owner of the DT Land Group, which manages the TarryTown Shopping Center—two books: Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals" and Ernest Freeberg's "A Traitor to His Species: Henry Bergh and the Birth of the Animal Rights Movement."
If Daniels' policies are confounding and infuriating to many Austinites, they're also remarkable. She is a rare breed of a business owner who makes her decisions based solely on principle, not profit. And she is rumored to have passed up much of the latter, declining various offers from locals to buy the TarryTown Shopping Center for several times its estimated value.
High school yearbook photo of Jeanne Crusemann. (Lynn Pugh Remadna)
"She couldn't care less about making money," Newberry says. "She's trying to drive an agenda. And when you put someone who doesn't care about money and her agenda together, that's very dangerous."
The TarryTown Pharmacy has been in the Newberry family for three generations, since Gatewood Newberry purchased the store from original owner Guy Kelly in the 1940s. At its original Tarrytown Shopping Center location, the pharmacy quickly became a pillar of the community, a place for shoppers to grab a malt at the soda fountain or play a few rounds of pinball at the front of the store while waiting to get their prescriptions filled.
"There was a whole little group from the neighborhood," says Lynn Pugh Remadna, whose family owned a bridge construction company and leased office space in the TarryTown Shopping Center for decades. "They'd sit (in the pharmacy) and just have a great time talking, you know, having their coffee and talking about how to solve the world's problems."
TarryTown shoppers could also congregate at Ralph Moreland's Holiday House and savor one of the owner's famous flame-grilled hamburgers. The local hotspot drew numerous high-profile guests over the years, including golfer Arnold Palmer, actor Dennis Quaid and George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas. Regardless of their resume, every Holiday House customer was treated with the same respect and discretion, per Moreland's policy.
Holiday House in 2004 before it closed. (Jeannie Moreland LeTeff)
In its heyday, the TarryTown Shopping Center radiated friendliness and security. Parents could catch up with their neighbors as they stocked up on weekly provisions at the grocery store, and they knew their kids were in good hands if they went there after school to grab a bite to eat with their hard-earned allowances.
"I remember many times, if I ate all my breakfast, my grandpa would give me 50 cents to $1.50 and tell me to go down to the pharmacy, and I would get special treats, whether it was ice cream or a shake or fudge," says Moreland's granddaughter, Lono Zurita. "Everybody knew everybody's name. It was really a close-knit community."
In 1857, Gov. Elisha Pease purchased the land for the TarryTown estate, then known as Woodlawn, from Texas State Comptroller James Shaw. Pease's grandson, Niles Graham, opened the first phase of Tarrytown—named for the family's New York summer retreat—in 1934 along with his cousin Murray Graham, his sister Carrie Margaret Graham and her husband Paul Crusemann. Five years later, they opened the Tarrytown Shopping Center at the intersection of Windsor Road and Exposition Boulevard, with the goal of providing a one-of-a-kind shopping destination for what would become one of Austin's wealthiest neighborhoods.
For a while, it did just that. "It was one of the finest retail centers in the entire state. I mean, it was jam-packed 24/7," says Newberry, who graduated from high school in 1996 and witnessed many of the TarryTown Shopping Center's banner years. "That parking lot would be 100% full, and some days, it would overflow onto the street. And I remember thinking, wow, I sure am lucky that my dad owns the store because I can park in the back. Because there literally would not be anywhere to park."
Paul Crusemann's son Paul Conrad Crusemann, married Mary Lee Wilson in 1940, and she inherited the center after his death in 1968. Reverently referred to as "Mrs. Crusemann" by many of her tenants, Mary Lee was a tough but fair businesswoman and a razor-sharp dresser whose vintage Jaguar couldn't be missed. Crusemann commanded respect and was particular about what tenants could display on her properties.
Neal Newberry, former owner of the TarryTown Texaco and uncle of Mark Newberry, quickly learned that when he decorated his storefront with commemorative Indy 500 banners one year.
"I saw her at the intersection where the stoplight is," Neal recalls. "She was staring at all these banners, and she made a beeline on the property. I'm standing out there, of course, and she rolls up, cranks her window down and says, 'Neal, you're trashing my property. Get them down.'"
The original owner of the TarryTown Texaco in 1961. (Neal Newberry)
Daniels, whom Remadna describes as a "glamorous, platinum-haired woman" in her later years, did not share her mother's business savvy, according to several former tenants. After inheriting the TarryTown Shopping Center in 1999, she instantly began overhauling it, as if to announce her homecoming with a vengeance.
"When her mother died, she had this big funeral over at Good Shepherd (Episcopal Church). It was like a dog and pony show," says Remadna, who briefly overlapped with Daniels at Austin High School. "It was like, 'Look at me, here I am. I was plain Jane and now look at me. I'm glamorous. I've got the center and y'all can't do anything about it.'" (Speaking of glamour: Several former tenants also talk of a fabled photograph of a pre-vegan Daniels wearing a lavish fur coat that exists somewhere in the ether among old Austinites.)
By that point, Remadna's family had left the TarryTown Shopping Center. Remadna had gone to the City Council on Crusemann's behalf to petition for a renovation of the center in the mid-'80s. The renovation was approved, but Crusemann wanted to place her family in a second-floor office across the street, which wouldn't have worked for her father, Robert Pugh, who suffered from arthritis.
Remadna wonders if the proposed move was part of Daniels' plan to replace the businesses on the main side of the TarryTown Shopping Center with retail. "(My father) didn't want to (leave Tarrytown), but it was kind of forced in some ways," she says. "And after I had gone to the City Council for her to get approval for her redo, I thought, 'Well, that's kind of ironic, isn't it?'"
Under Daniels' draconian rule, restaurants like the Holiday House, Texas French Bread and Chinese restaurant Formosa became the most obvious victims. When their leases prevented Daniels from ousting them entirely, she imposed outlandish restrictions that made it virtually impossible for them to do business.
"One day we were supposed to have a spray, or food safety bug inspection and all that, and she stopped it," Zurita says. "She had people outside on the sidewalk, collecting ants with straws."
The scene would have been farcical if it weren't so dire for Moreland. "You don't fail your complete health inspection, but you get fined from the city if you're not following protocol, which she tried to block," Zurita says. "So it became really, really nightmarish at the end."
Newberry likewise had to do pest control after hours on the weekends to fly under Daniels' radar. He had also stopped selling leather-bound planners and beef jerky in the pharmacy, but the final straw came in August of 2009, when Daniels' representative told him he could no longer administer flu shots, which are mostly made using eggs.
"Her representative came and said, 'Hey, you can't give flu shots anymore,'" Newberry recalls. "This is a pharmacy. That's what we do. I can't not give flu shots."
By then, foot traffic at the TarryTown Shopping Center had atrophied to the point that Newberry and his employees had begun parking in front of the pharmacy to give the illusion of a crowd. Newberry had already been looking elsewhere for a new lease, but he immediately pulled the trigger on Casis Village after the flu shot fiasco.
"I thought, this is not even a negotiation for me to get out," he says. "I will take basically whatever (our new landlord) wants to charge me, because this is not long-term where I am. She obviously doesn't want me here. She doesn't like what we're doing. And that was not a good feeling to have."
Some tenants still tried to accommodate Daniels' demands. Moreland briefly added fancier dishes and cocktails to his menu, which Jeannie Moreland LeTeff, Moreland's daughter, says ended in disaster. Others, like Bill Broaddus, who ran the Chevron station where Austin Pets Alive! now stands, protested cheekily. Broaddus stopped selling milk-based candy bars at Daniels' behest, but he began giving every customer who received an oil change a coupon for a free hamburger at Sonic.
"That didn't seem to sit very well," Broaddus says with a laugh.
When he found his new lease offer filled with unreasonable provisions, Broaddus cut his losses and said goodbye to the Chevron station that had been in his family since his father opened it in 1941. He now owns several other stations around Austin, but he still looks back wistfully on his old stomping grounds.
"I miss TarryTown tremendously," Broaddus says. "It's really a special spot and it's a wonderful group of people there, and to me, they were certainly more than customers. They were friends."
A shop in the TarryTown ShoppingCenter. (Blair Newberry)
With nearly every classic business besides the TarryTown Texaco gone, the Tarrytown Shopping Center of yesteryear is now a distant memory over which longtime Austinites wax nostalgic. Some tenants have been lucky enough to start fresh in new locations, but many of them never reopened after Daniels gave them the ax.
Every closure or relocation was another painful reminder that Daniels had ripped the heart out of a once-flourishing community that set the template for other upscale shopping centers in Austin, leaving a void in the neighborhood that has yet to be filled.
"This is a constant topic of discussion at every holiday party for the last 21 years when we see folks," Mark Newberry says. "I really wish that that would be better, because right now, it's just not. I want what Highland Park has and what River Oaks has and Alamo Heights. We were the first of all of those places, and now (the TarryTown Shopping Center is) the laughingstock of those places."
The center's downward trajectory doesn't seem likely to change, either. Daniels' vice grip on her tenants has only tightened over the years, and she is rumored to have left the center to the SPCA in her will. "I remember hearing at one point she didn't care if the shops sat empty," Zurita says.
Holiday House in 2004. (Jeannie LeTeff)
These days, it's up to the descendants of Daniels' former tenants to keep the memory of the TarryTown Shopping Center alive. With its secure new lease and bigger, more visible property, Newberry's TarryTown Pharmacy continues to serve customers from Casis Village—with no restrictions on beef jerky, leather goods or flu shots. Meanwhile, Zurita preserves the Holiday House legacy by selling her grandfather's flame-cooked burgers at her Dripping Springs food truck, Lono's Southern Cooking & Keto Cuisine. Her customers remind her that the Holiday House—and the rest of the TarryTown Shopping Center—was more than a place to grab a burger. It was a monument to the best times of their lives.
"There was a group that came before Thanksgiving, and one of the ladies was like 90 years old," Zurita says. "She could barely walk, but they helped her get to a picnic table. And she started crying and she said, I've always dreamed and wished, before I passed on, that I could have my number two cheeseburger one more time.'"
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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the United States, many esteemed local businesses have been forced to shut their doors permanently. Austin is no exception, and over the last six months, some of the city's most beloved local establishments have had to say goodbye. This non-comprehensive list includes some of Austin's most iconic businesses that have closed for good due to COVID-19. May they live in the hearts and minds of Austinites forever.
Iconic Austin businesses that have closed due to COVID-19:
Austin Java (three out of four locations)
Popular local coffee chain Austin Java announced in August that it was permanently closing three of its flour locations: in Austin City Hall, Dripping Springs and the Met Center. The cafe opened its inaugural location in 1995 on Parkway Street off North Lamar, which closed in 2017 to make way for the four new spots. Austin Java devotees can still get their caffeine fix at the chain's last remaining location on Menchaca Road in the Westgate neighborhood.
The Wild West-themed watering hole and pool hall announced last week that it was permanently closing its doors after 21 years on 6th Street. Long before it became Buffalo Billiards, the historic space was known as the Missouri House, built by the Ziller Family in 1861 and reputed to be Austin's first boarding house (and rumored brothel). Home to many a drunken cowboy brawl in its past life, Buffalo Billiards served as the perfect destination for a revelrous night on the town.
Capitol City Comedy Club
Austin's Cap City Comedy closes its doors for good in the wake of the pandemic earlier this month.
The longstanding laugh factory situated on Research Boulevard took its final bow earlier this month after nearly 35 years in business. Houstonians Howard and Sandy Marcus opened the venue, originally called the Laff Stop, in March of 1986; it was rebranded to Capitol City Comedy Club in 1996. "Laughing will always be the key to moving forward," co-owner Margie Coyle said in a statement to KXAN. "I love Cap City, but if you see the light, get off the stage!"
Dart BowlAustin's iconic Dart Bowl to close Friday after COVID slowdown hurts business
In July, Dart Bowl co-owner John Donovan announced that the adored bowling alley was permanently closing after 62 years of family-friendly fun. Donovan's grandfather, Harry Peterson, and local businessman Justin Dart co-opened the original Burnet Road location—then outside city limits—in 1958 and operated there for nearly four decades before relocating to Brentwood in 1997. Peterson also partnered with Jerry and Betty Ray to open Highland Lanes and Westgate Lanes, which thankfully remain open.
If you haven't washed Easy Tiger's fresh-baked bread or pastries down with a cappuccino or craft beer, you haven't really lived. Unfortunately, Austinites can no longer indulge in that pleasure at the bakery's downtown location, which boasted a gorgeous beer garden overlooking Waller Creek and offered a reprieve from heavy 6th Street foot traffic. The flagship Easy Tiger announced its permanent closure last week, ending an eight-year run downtown. Thankfully, its North Austin location at the Linc is still open for drive-thru, delivery, curbside and patio dining, and its pop-up truck could be bringing delectable fresh bread to your neighborhood soon.
The beloved West Campus deli closed its doors for good in April after serving mile-high sandwiches to hungry college students for 14 years. Fricano's first opened in 2006 on East 31st Street, later expanding to Nueces Street in 2011 and closing its original location a year later. Perhaps no testament to Fricano's quality speaks louder than its famous Ainsworth, a constantly-changing variety sandwich that employees assembled from the best ingredients of the day. No matter what each day's Ainsworth yielded, you'd be hard-pressed to find an unhappy customer.
I Luv Video
I Luv Video, located on Airport Boulevard, serviced film enthusiasts in Austin for 35 years before owner Conrad Bejarano announced that the self-proclaimed "oldest and largest video store in the world" was closing for good on Sept. 1. But rather than sell his inventory and cut his losses, Bejarano is looking for a potential new owner to faithfully steward his collection of roughly 120,000 films. "It would bring me the utmost joy to pass the torch to a group or individual that has the financial capacity to preserve our immense catalog of films," Bejarano wrote in his closure announcement. "My only stipulation is that whomever does so gives the community access to our vast film library."
Magnolia Cafe West (Lake Austin)
For more than 40 years, Magnolia Cafe welcomed weary students and wired festival-goers, serving up dinner plate-sized pancakes and bottomless coffee 24 hours a day. The omelettry owner Kenny Carpenter originally opened the Lake Austin space in 1979 as an auxiliary location called Omelettry West; he later sold it to partner Kent Cole, who rechristened it to Magnolia Cafe in 1986. The restaurant announced in April that it was closing for good, but mourners can still get their fix at the South Congress location, which opened in 1988.
MugshotsIconic MugShots Bar closes after 18 years
Since 2002, 7th Street dive bar Mugshots offered a respite from the Dirty Sixth mayhem while still giving patrons plenty of opportunities for debauchery. True to its name, the downtown haunt plastered its walls with photos of customers that were taken in the property's photo booth. In a Sept. 13 Facebook post, owners Marcos Canchola Brian Hyde announced that Mugshots permanently closed its doors on Aug. 31. The watering hole is survived by a handful of other Canchola-and Hyde-owned properties around Austin, including Barfly's, the Hideout Pub, Bender Bar & Grill, Violet Crown Social Club, the Pour House Pub, and Pourhouse Pints & Pies.
After fielding Zilker Park foot traffic for 28 years, Shady Grove slung its last green chili cheeseburger in May. Opened in 1992 by Chuy's co-owners Mike Young and John Zapp, the Barton Springs Road eatery became an Austin staple with its iconic lasso signage, Southwestern cuisine and live music Thursdays during the summer. The one-two punch of skyrocketing rent and COVID-19 closures likely forced Shady Grove to shutter, but patrons can still get their Tex-Mex fill at the walking-distance Barton Springs Chuy's.
Threadgill's owner Eddie Wilson announced in April that he was selling the restaurant, beer joint and music venue, closing the curtain on one of Austin's most iconic businesses. Bootlegger and country music enthusiast Kenneth Threadgill secured the first beer license in Travis County and opened the converted Gulf filling station on North Lamar—then outside Austin city limits—in 1933, as soon as Prohibition was repealed. Wednesday night singing sessions attracted droves of hippies, beatniks and folkies in the '60s, including burgeoning blues-rock howler and University of Texas undergrad Janis Joplin. Wilson—who also co-founded the hallowed Armadillo World Headquarters music venue in 1973—bought and renovated the property in 1981. For nearly four more decades, it drew locals and tourists alike with its electrifying performers and mouth-watering chicken-fried steak. (A second location, Threadgill's World Headquarters, operated on Riverside from 1996 to 2018.)
After servicing movie buffs for 35 years, Vulcan Video announced in April that it was cutting to black and permanently shutting its doors on Russell Drive. The beloved independent movie shop opened in 1985 amid the VHS rental boom and weathered several seismic industry shifts over the decades, including the rise (and fall) of mega-chains like Blockbuster and the dominance of streaming services. Vulcan Video's inventory comprised renowned classics, underground gems and rare imports, weaving a rich tapestry of movie history and giving fellow cinephiles a place to hang out and talk shop.
Iconic Austin businesses that are still open
Thankfully, some iconic Austin businesses have weathered the pandemic by experimenting with new business models, implementing new safety regulations or receiving much-needed relief funds. Here are a few of them:
Tex-Mex trailblazer Paul Joseph began working at the Schoonerville restaurant in the early 1950s, and in 1954, he bought the building and transformed it into El Patio. The Guadalupe Street mainstay was one of the first Tex-Mex restaurants to grace Austin, and customers can still enjoy savory enchiladas, crispy tortilla chips and frosty margaritas there today. The dining room is currently open for business, and patrons must wear a mask upon entering and being seated.
Fonda San Miguel
Modeled after a colonial-era hacienda, Fonda San Miguel has remained one of Austin's most venerated and visibly striking Mexican restaurants since opening in 1975. Customers can marvel at the exotic plants and breathtaking artwork as they enjoy interior Mexican cuisine from Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz and Yucatan. Fonda San Miguel reopened in June, encouraging reservations and requiring customers and servers to wear masks.
Sam's Bar-B-Que is one of Austin's most celebrated and resilient restaurants. Established in 1957 by Sam Campbell, the legendary BBQ joint has survived two devastating fires, a $5 million buyout offer and, now, a pandemic. Still, the East Austin institution remains open for business, serving up dangerously delicious brisket, ribs and sausage along with the promise, "Don't need no teeth to eat our beef."
Top Notch Hamburgers
This Burnet Road institution has been serving charcoal-grilled burgers and fried chicken via carhop since 1971, and it was immortalized in Richard Linklater's 1993 coming-of-age stoner comedy Dazed and Confused. Top Notch and Galaxy Cafe co-owner Kelly Chappell received a PPP loan in April, and Top Notch is currently open for pickup orders placed in-person, over the phone or online.
Quality Seafood Market
Quality Seafood Market opened in 1938 as a humble stall in Starr's Fruit and Vegetable Market on Congress Avenue and has since evolved into one of the city's best-known seafood markets and restaurants. Now situated on Airport Boulevard, the market and restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday. Curbside dinners for two are also available with a 24-hour notice.
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Looking for love has always come with obstacles, and they've only been magnified by COVID-19. Nevertheless, many Austinites continue to navigate these uncharted waters. We'll be sharing their stories every week right here.
Brittany Hallberg has no trouble meeting people under normal circumstances. Before the pandemic hit, the New Jersey-born Austinite was a marketer, event coordinator, music photographer and journalist—the latter two under the moniker Brittany NO FOMO—trekking across the country and making music-industry friends along the way.
Hallberg, 30, spent the first several months of 2020 planning SXSW corporate events. She moved into a new apartment, her first without a roommate, the day before Austin officials canceled the festival, effectively halting her career and cutting her off from her community.
Suddenly, Hallberg faced daunting questions on a personal and professional level. How would she meet new people without a career that facilitated those connections? And how would she present herself to the world without the work that had become a cornerstone of her identity?
"It's been really weird introducing myself without a career because I'm so tied into my music community and representing myself as Brittany NO FOMO instead of Brittany Hallberg," says Hallberg, whose @brittanynofomo Instagram account has amassed more than 13,000 followers. "It's [hard] to try to find my confidence and sexiness when meeting someone new—when I have nothing."
"He was one of the five people that would actually see me during this time."
Seeing her social circle—and the opportunities to add to it—shrinking drastically, Hallberg downloaded Hinge, marking her first foray into the world of dating apps.
"A lot of my close girlfriends here are taking COVID extremely seriously, so I haven't seen them for like five months," she says. "So I was like, 'You know what, if I have to make friends or find company through a dating app, I will.'"
Hallberg soon connected with Aaron (who requested to have his last name withheld for privacy reasons), and the two shared immediate chemistry. Over the last three months, they've spent a lot of time walking through parks, going to bars that implement good safety measures and hanging out at each other's apartments.
Hallberg admits she and Aaron have seen each other a lot more than they might have under normal circumstances. It's hard to avoid when the pandemic has wiped out the social calendar. A trip home to New Jersey gave Hallberg some perspective, and reminded her to slow it down.
"When you have a career and friends to hang out with and gigs and projects, when you date someone, you give them one day a week or maybe two times a week," Hallberg says. "I was putting way too much value and way too much energy into time with him, because he was one of the five people that would actually see me during this time."
It's hard to know how their relationship will look post-pandemic, so Hallberg and Aaron are enjoying each other's company and keeping things casual during a tough time.
"It is hard to put your best self forward when you're going through this depression," Hallberg says. "We've kept each other company during a time of increased loneliness, and we always make it clear that we appreciate one another. I think that's all that matters right now."
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