Hunk of Burnet Love Part 2: Strip mall with a soul

Anna-Kay Reeves

Between the chains and mom-and-pop joints, Burnet Road can fix you for fried chicken, bangle bracelets or a futon.

A strip mall of sorts, the stretch is unique from suburban sprawl because of its passionate storekeepers and small business employees who want to see the stretch be not only convenient, but community-oriented.

Burnet Road icon Out of the Past Collectibles, a secondhand store which specializes in having a bit of everything, encapsulates the anything-and-everything culture on the road.

“If you need something, it’s in (Out of the Past) somewhere,” employee Austin Doerr said. “It’s only for the fact that we do a little bit of everything … that we’ve been able to make it work as a business.”

Out of the Past’s building is jam-packed with secondhand items that spill out of drawers, onto the floor and cover any flat surface. None of these items are priced; customers take their haul directly to owner Linda Branson, who prices them on the spot.

“I knew I was getting ripped off in (other) stores,”  Branson said of how she got into selling secondhand goods. “So I started buying jewelry and then selling it, and it grew into other types of things.”

Across the street from this homegrown favorite is a Dollar Tree. In the adjacent parking lot, various small businesses line the monochromatic strip mall. Local musicians bring life to the scene, and it is not uncommon to see one strumming in the parking lot.

Anna Taper is one such musician, sitting on a backpack in front of the Dollar Tree while playing Bob Dylan songs.

“I’m from Michigan, but I came down (here) to play music,” Taper said. “I was in Nashville a few months ago and I got a ticket for playing music. So far, it’s going better (in Austin).”

For Taper, Burnet Road made a good spot to play because of the busy commercial nature of the area balanced with a sense of community.

That neighborly feeling in Burnet is apparent in Monkey Nest Coffee, a 24-hour cafe.

“Out here in the lobby, it’s fairly high stress all the time,” Monkey Nest Coffee barista Lila Penn said. “People are studying, going on a first date, so we try to put love into the food and the coffee and let them know everything will be fine.”

For Penn, who grew up in the area around Burnet, it has been a joy to see mom-and-pop local stores keep their hold on Burnet Road.

“The people who own the places down here have lived here for a long time,” Penn said. “They know Austin and they love Austin. They create an atmosphere of love because they care about where they are and what they do. It’s an atmosphere you can’t get away from.”

A trip to The Domain is nice for new and shiny things, but at the end of the day it’s purely transactional — they want money, Penn said.

“On Burnet, things are more personal,” Penn said. “The owners are here at these shops. They’ll talk to you, and they want to talk to you. There’s a deeper sense of care.”