Guadalupe Street closures reflect unsettling trends in Austin culture

Audrey Larcher

Walking down the Drag to their first day of classes, students will pass a number of abandoned storefronts. Big Bite and Mellow Mushroom are already fading from memory, but McDonald’s, Taco Cabana and Symon’s Burger Joint only joined the list of fallen restaurants this summer. Many Longhorns already grieved on social media, mourning the convenient and delicious pleasures now absent from West Campus. For others, these eateries’ relatively short lives resurface memories of a long gone Guadalupe (populated by Quack’s, Tower Records and multiple local bookstores) of the last decade.

The sudden loss of so many seemingly popular restaurants is the new normal in a rapidly developing Austin. Since the 1990s tech and population boom, real estate markets seem to only welcome businesses that demonstrate consistent ability to meet soaring rent payments. The fact that one of Austin’s most characteristic streets cannot house anything more than the tumultuous come-and-go of chain restaurants indicates that our city’s characteristic culture is losing the fight against profiteering, and is in desperate need of defense.

The businesses students frequent should be representative of the Austin culture that our university contributes to so much, not just the push and pull between real estate giants and the vendors that lease from them.

For most of the city, ‘Keep Austin Weird’ rolls off the tongue for Austinites the same way that ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ does for Texans everywhere. The slogan’s popularity was cemented when adopted by The Independent Business Alliance in efforts to promote the eccentric small businesses that define our city. These original messages of supporting local mom and pop shops were quickly drowned out by big businesses, souvenir shop t-shirts and random beer koozies that valued easy money over unique Austin artistry.

On the Drag, tourists can walk into Tyler’s and purchase a tee with the city’s supposed rallying call, but stepping back onto the sidewalk they will find that there is little left of this ‘weird’ city. Now the idea of ‘keeping it weird’ is mostly used in money-making design, and brandished by West Campus real estate monopolies that are quick to deny leases. The local institutions that made Austin weird in the first place, that existed to build and serve our community, no longer stand because their main goals did not align with the main goal of developers: profit.

We no longer have the option to simply support these businesses with our patronage. Students loved Big Bite, but the money we spent on sandwiches and shakes did not stop American Campus from refusing to renew a lease. Since West Campus is dominated by an aggressive real estate market, we need local government to step in with rent control. Real estate has been given free reign to run amok over the past decade, and rent controls are the only realistic solution to curbing developer greed.

Forces at play in Guadalupe Street’s evolution may be the result of decades-long development, but students are still ultimately the primary inhabitants of this area. We have both the right and the power to determine what trends our neighborhood reflects. So until then, we should enjoy and support the remaining beloved eateries left. They are monuments to an Austin of students’ choosing.   

Larcher is a Plan II and Rhetoric and Writing major from Austin.