Urban Outfitters Annexes Block of the Drag
Hipster empire to build restaurant, bar
By Waylon Cunningham,
8:00AM, Wed. Jun. 17, 2015
Clothing giant Urban Outfitters bought the leases of five adjacent businesses on the Drag in January to prepare for an expansion across the block.
Though some students and residents welcome the change, others are sad to see the old places go.
The storefronts bought out include Manju's, a small clothing store that called the Drag home for over 37 years since owner Kavita Sajnani and her husband moved to Austin from India. Two other local businesses, Pipes Plus and Archer Hookah Lounge, were also forced to close up shop, though Pipes Plus simply moved around the corner.
The expanded Urban Outfitters will contain two restaurants and a bar, as the city granted them an alcohol permit last month. The new space, between 24th and 25th streets, will be very similar to the one in Brooklyn called Space Ninety 8. The renovation is slated to be done by the end of September.
"I absolutely loved to shop in Manju's and it truly broke my heart when they shut down," says Whitney Senn, a University of Texas sophomore. "The owner was an absolute angel and I cannot even imagine how hard it must have been for her to have been forced to leave."
Manju's, known for offering bright flamboyant dresses, will be replaced by an Urban Outfitters men's clothing section.
"Mellow's had the best pizza in West Campus, bar none," says Thomas Murray, a UT junior. Contrary to a popular belief among the UT student body, Mellow Mushroom is not a decades-old local business, and has over 167 locations in college towns across the country. They served their last pizza in late April.
"We have a new local owner in the area who will be opening four new Mellow Mushroom restaurants. The first one will be in the Round Rock community of north Austin, likely later this year," offered Mellow Mushroom's Facebook page.
“I wish it were at least a CVS or something convenient, just not an Urban Outfitters,” says William Somers, a local resident.
Urban Outfitters has attracted controversy in recent years over products such as red-stained Kent State shirt, "Navajo Hipster" panties, and other items.
This is against a backdrop of increasing big box corporatization of Austin, and the Drag in particular. Running along the western half of the university on Guadalupe, the Drag entirely consisted of small independent stores until the mid-Nineties.
Other iconic stores have left the Drag in the last few years. Toy Joy packed up and relocated Downtown after nearly going bankrupt.
"The Drag has undergone corporate takeover several times. Usually the chain stores ultimately don’t generate the income they anticipated and retreat, allowing local businesses to return at lower lease rates," says Rebecca Melancon, the executive director of Austin Independent Business Alliance.
In 1990, Tower Records bought out the historic Varsity Theater on the Drag. A little over a decade later, they moved out and left a vacuum for local business again.
"But this expansion is particularly troubling," continued Melancon, "since Urban Outfitters has had a sizable store for some time on the Drag, they are moving forward not just with market confidence but market experience. Ultimately if customers refuse to shop there for what they’ve done, the space will return to local shops."
There are over 31,000 small locally-owned businesses in Austin with less than 100 employees; the number of employees has increased nearly 10% since 2010 according to the city's Economic Development Department.