Downtown Daze: SXSW makes work hectic for downtown Austin employees

Anna-Kay Reeves

As the Ides of March come upon the city, so do thousands of SXSW visitors. Whether people make a day trip for a SXSW show or stay the whole week, the chances are good that they will use hospitality services in some form as part of their festival experience. For downtown employees, the impact of SXSW on their day-to-day is massive and can be both positive and negative.

“I live ten minutes from downtown, but during SXSW, it takes me at least three times as long to get to work,” Greg Russell, a valet with Austin Valet Parking, said. “Parking isn’t as bad for me as most people, since I get a spot wherever I’m valeting for the night, but the job itself is a good deal more hectic.”

Russell said SXSW means being in constant motion working to accommodate the increased customer volume.

“The energy is intense,” Russell said. “The city, and downtown especially, is constantly throwing unexpected things at you if you’re working during this time.”

Despite longer commutes and a harder work grind, is worth it for the excitement, energy and change of pace it brings to the city, Russell said.

“A few years back, I actually got to meet CeeLo Green. It was a really cool moment — he had his assistant carrying an umbrella for him and when I shook his hand it was so little. Those kinds of experiences are what make the chaos worth it,” Russell said.

For Bernie King, a florist with Walton’s Fancy and Staple in the downtown area, staying informed is key to avoiding getting bogged down in SXSW traffic.

“You’ve got to keep up with closures, because that can completely change how much time you need to give yourself to get to work,” King said. “I’ve been working here and dealing with SXSW every year for over 10 years now, so I’ve learned you really can’t act like it’s just business as usual, because it’s not.”

Like Russell, King looks forward to SXSW despite the extra effort it requires her to put in. People are excited to be in the city, and interacting with them is energizing, King said.

Time and money and more time to make money is another advantage of SXSW, for pedicab driver Zach Braswell.

“I love working during SXSW because there are people out in the day. Usually driving a pedicab, you’re not getting to the money-making part of the day until after dinner. But right now people are out all day long,” Braswell said.

For Braswell, the usual concerns of traffic and parking come into play, but are more than made up for in the experience of SX.

“One year Bill Haider was here doing promotion for his new show and I ran into him while I was wearing a Bill Haider t-shirt. He was like ‘That’s me!’ So even when it is crazy, I’ve always felt lucky to get to be in the center of SXSW,” Braswell said.