Austin street art attracts tourists and boosts local businesses

Kate Dannenmaier

Mud Puppies

In a parking lot off Riverside Drive, couples, best friends and new dog owners stop to take their picture by the Puppy Love mural on the side of Mud Puppies, a training, grooming and boarding facility for dogs.

 Edward Flores, co-owner and general manager of Mud Puppies, said when the business opened its second location on Riverside, he and his business partners created their design and commissioned local artist Nate Nordstrom to spray-paint it onto the side of Mud Puppies. Flores wanted to paint a mural with a universal theme — not necessarily to attract business, but rather to attract tourists. 

Rather than taking pictures on the Capitol steps or by the Tower, murals on the sides of local businesses, such as Jo’s Coffee on South Congress, have become the new standard for photo documentation of a trip to Austin. The increasingly popular “I love you so much” mural has become a defining piece of street art in Austin, but it’s definitely not the only one.

“I kind of played off the ‘I love you so much,’” Flores said. “I thought that I needed something iconic like that, something that’s going to really make people want to show up here, and not really come for the business but come for the art. Of course, if the business is next door, then why wouldn’t they stop in?”

 Mud Puppies shares a parking lot with Emo’s nightclub, and bands will often share pictures of the Puppy Love mural with fans. Flores said he meets tourists from places as far away as Houston and San Antonio who saw the painting on Instagram and decided they had to get their own picture with it while they were in Austin. He said couples have even taken engagement photos in front of it.

 “I welcome anyone and everyone to come and take a picture and share it with us,” Flores said. “A lot of the appeal behind it is love. We kind of get to experience their happiness based off this mural, and that was the whole point.”

Planet K Gifts

 Planet K Gifts makes a point of having an attention-grabbing mural at each of its locations. Eric Rodriguez, manager of the Planet K Gifts on Guadalupe Street, said the Texas mural on the side of the business has a few riddles and inside jokes that only locals would get. He said tourists have to come inside the store to get some answers.

 “I have noticed, since I’ve lived in Austin, that a lot of the local businesses do like to put their own mark on the outside,” Rodriguez said. “For whatever reason it could be, I know that ours is to give us our own unique vibe. And it just doubles as a cool incentive for the customer to come inside.”

Wahoo’s Fish Taco 

While one wall along the side of Wahoo’s Fish Taco on Rio Grande and Fifth streets is home to an iconic Johnny Cash mural, the wall next to it is always changing, according to manager Adam Aziz. First there was “I love tacos so much,” a nod to the popular South Congress mural, then a portrait of Willie Nelson and now an Eagle with its wing around the word “Rad,” as an endorsement of Rad Austin Magazine, an up-and-coming local lifestyle magazine.

“It’s cool to incorporate local businesses in order to promote everybody,” Aziz said. ”To help Rad magazine take off, that’s obviously a newer thing, so it’s cool to help people help us.”