The eastern section of North Loop is business after business operating beyond the ordinary, and selling products that let people do the same.
Its neon signs, food trucks and vintage stores embody all the things that visitors and residents find so quirky and fun about Austin. In one block stretch there are four vintage stores, two bars and two restaurants, with the bonus of Little Lucy’s mobile miniature donut truck on a lucky day.
The granddaddy of vintage on North Loop is Room Service Vintage. Open since 1981, the store has proffered second-hand furniture and clothes to the public for nearly 40 years.
Current owner Lucretia Sisk worked with the store as a buyer before becoming the owner in 1999.
“I have been in this business since I was 24 and before that I just had really bad waitress jobs,” Sisk said. “I was broker than broke at the time so when I switched to this, at least I was starving while doing something I loved.”
Room Service Vintage is a collective made up of seven different dealers who independently shop before selling the items in the store. From yellow velvet armchairs to velour shirts straight out of the Brady Bunch era, Room Service Vintage has a way of taking shoppers back through time.
“A lot has come and gone,” Sisk said, looking out the window at North Loop. “We’ve managed to stay, though.”
According to Sisk, the businesses in the area build on one another. She said if a person isn’t willing to drive out for one single store, the fact that so many shops, restaurants and bars with retro characters sit together ultimately helps draw people in.
Some North Loop shops are particularly unique, such as politically charged bookstore Monkeywrench Books.
Monkeywrench has been located off North Loop since 2002 and is entirely run by volunteers with a desire to educate the community about the world around them. Most of their literature revolves around themes of anti-authoritarianism, anti-capitalism and anti-racism.
“Everything we do is on a volunteer basis, and we have to step up more events that double as fundraisers to keep us here,” said Zirah Nicholas, a volunteer at Monkeywrench Books since 2011. “But it is a sad state of affairs that the market is so dominant over people’s lives.”
Nicholas said while a store advocating for social and racial justice shouldn’t have to exist, they are managing to keep their doors open despite rising rents in the area.
“The name is about protest, sort of sabotage,” Nicholas said.
The area around Monkeywrench is rapidly changing as new businesses such as Homeslice Pizza move in, and independent shops, such as skate shops, are pushed out. According to Sisk, the threat of victimization still very much exists for independent businesses as the area around it changes, but longtime Austinite Devyn Maki said North Loop hasn’t changed much at all compared to other parts of the city.
“I grew up here, and it is so old Austin,” Maki said. “When I compare this area to the east side and the Drag, it hasn’t changed at all because it makes me feel as though I have traveled back in time to the 1970s.”