Tag: west campus

Why Businesses Fail on The Drag

By Faith Ann Ruszkowski, Samantha Grasso and Ellen Gonzalez

Video by Faith Ann Ruszkowski and Samantha Grasso

Why Businesses on “The Drag” Fail: An Investigation

Story by Faith Ann Ruszkowski

When Noodles & Company closed its location on the corner of Guadalupe and 24th Streets last fall, its departure was abrupt. On Nov. 4 the restaurant was serving pasta, and by Nov. 5 its doors were locked and a note hung on the window thanking customers for their patronage.

Estephanie Gomez, a journalism senior at the University of Texas at Austin, was working for Noodles & Company when it closed. She was shocked when the restaurant went out of business.

“I literally got a text at 10 p.m. the night before that said, ‘Hey, yeah, don’t come to work tomorrow but come and pick up your severance package at 8 a.m.,” Gomez said. “I didn’t catch on—oh, Noodles is doing badly—because we were pretty busy everyday at the same times. I never knew, until the night before.”

While the swiftness of Noodles & Company’s exit might have been shocking, another business deciding to leave the strip of Guadalupe Street, known as “the Drag,” is a relatively a common occurrence.

After Noodles & Company closed in November, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which was located next door, called it quits. Pita Pit, also located on Guadalupe, closed its doors this spring. Earlier in 2015, Manju’s, Mellow Mushroom, and Jack in the Box, all located on Guadalupe, closed up shop.

Out of the 53 establishments currently on the Drag, 13 have been there for five years or less, according to data gathered from in-person interviews and business’ websites. Additionally six storefronts along the stretch of Guadalupe from 21st to 27th Streets are vacant.

Students like Ilda Arroyo have become accustomed to the high turnover of businesses on the Drag. Arroyo, who graduated from UT in December with a degree in Human Development and Family Sciences, said she noticed the constant change during her five years as a student.

“I remember as a freshman it consisted mostly of food places, but the food places have changed to businesses like the expanding Urban Outfitters, a real estate office, and a small convenience store,” Arroyo said.

So although the high turnover has become commonplace, it raises the question: why are so many businesses unable to succeed on the Drag?

Why Businesses Leave the Drag

This semester, Melissa’s Custom Gifts vacated its location on the Drag next to the long-standing Goodall Wooten dormitory and moved shop to the corner of 24th Street and Rio Grande. The store’s owner, Ken Jones, said that he made the decision to move for many reasons, one of which was that he wanted to discontinue ATX Books, which he also owned and operated from that location.

“One of the biggest things was I had been planning to end the bookstore for a very long time,” Jones said. “I didn’t need as much space, although they didn’t want me to leave because it is really hard to keep tenants on the drag period. But, it was a little bit too much space, a little bit more than what I wanted for what I was doing here, and, of course, the rent on the Drag—anywhere in this area—is very high per square foot.”

However, during his 5 years on the Drag, Ken Jones did concoct some theories about why so many businesses were failing based on personal experience and observation. For many rent is an issue like it was for him, but one of his main observations is that students do not support local businesses.

“The kids do not connect with the businesses that are there, they just don’t,” Jones said. “I ask kids and none of them know a business owner’s name. They don’t have any allegiance of any kind to anything on there. And guess what? Those businesses go out of business…They do not support the businesses that support them. Bottom line. Why doesn’t it work? It’s the students fault.”

He has also observed that business do not understand the UT campus environment.

“They come in with great intentions thinking we’ve got this concentrated amount of 39,000 [undergraduate] students we’re going to make a killing,” Jones said. “They do not do their research.”

Jennifer Hillhouse, the owner of Jenn’s copies which has two locations on the Drag and has been in business since 1982, also said that many stores open on Guadalupe without realizing how dependent their business will be on the students’ schedules. She has had 12 different neighbors since she opened her second location on the Drag near Dean Keeton.

“This is a nine-month business cycle,” Hillhouse said. “It dies in December, a horrible death, and if you have to sell at least 500 hamburgers a day to make your rent that is not going to happen in December and in June and July and halfway through August… It’s a whole town for nine month out of the year and it is a ghost town for the other three and businesses get blindsided by that.”

Matyear pointed to Terra Burger, a now closed business, as a classic example of a business that was not able to anticipate the campus cycle.

“They ran out of buns on Parents’ Day,” said Hillhouse.

What Successful Businesses on the Drag have in Common

Jenn’s Copies is one of the few businesses on Guadalupe that has achieved decades of success. The Co-Op is the longest running business on the Drag, with 99 years of service. The Wooten Barber Shop has been in business for 52 years. These are all businesses that provide services students are always in need of: prints for projects, books and haircuts.

“People have to get their haircut. It’s a destination shop,” Jones said, of his former neighbor.

Don Stafford has been working at the Wooten Barber Shop on the Drag for 23 years aggregating loyal customers all the while. He characterizes the establishment as plain, but reliable and comfortable.

“They come here because they need haircuts, but they also come here because they feel comfortable in the shop,” said Stafford. “It’s not a place where we serve wine and cheese, but come in and tell us how bad your day was or how good your day was.”

The barber shop is remarkably small, but manages to fit three stations into a space the size of the average public restroom. Jenn’s Copies also operates on a small number of square footage. Hillhouse believes modest decorations, reliable service and limited space are key to remaining in business when rent is so high and the business cycle is inconsistent throughout the year.

“When they [the shop next to Jenn’s Copies] turned into a restaurant their finish-out cost $250,000, comparison mine cost $20,000,” Hillhouse said. “I went to TOPS, which is Texas Office Products & Supplies, everything is secondhand…I only had one fancy piece of equipment and it was leased. I did not have a color copier and my husband literally painted my name on a shingle, on a piece of ply board and we hung it outside.”

Graphic by Ellen Gonzalez

“The Drag” through the Years

2100 Block Guadalupe St.

thaispiace

2300 Block Guadalupe St.

attstore

2300 Block Guadalupe St. (continued)

austinpizza

2400 Block Guadalupe St.

qdoba

IMG_6022

IMG_6028

2400 Block Guadalupe St. (continued)

mellow

 2500 Block Guadalupe St.

madam
Screenshots from maps.google.com

 

B-Cycle or B-Hit?

By Adam Beard, Juan Cortez, Heather Dyer, and Landon Pederson.

Red bikes with baskets are becoming a common sight along the city streets of Austin, Texas. The B-Cycle program, which launched in December of 2013, is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week bike-share program that has gone from 11 stations to 45 stations, doubled its first usage projections and set national records.

Four different stations surround the 40 Acres of the University of Texas, including two on Guadalupe Street. Photo by Landon Pederson.

Four different stations surround the 40 Acres of the University of Texas, including two on Guadalupe Street. Photo by Landon Pederson.

The main goal of the program is to bridge the transportation gap in public transit by providing a final-mile connector from the city’s mass transit system to their final destination and to reduce Austin’s traffic downtown.

However, many believe B-Cycle could be harming a different traffic problem – bicycle safety.

Cyclists interested in using B-cycle need a credit card to access the system. Once the card is swiped, cyclists can choose a bike from the rack and ride it to a station near their destination. Photo by Landon Pederson.

Cyclists interested in using B-cycle need a credit card to access the system. Once the card is swiped, cyclists can choose a bike from the rack and ride it to a station near their destination. Photo by Landon Pederson.

“I don’t really feel that safe as a bike rider myself,” said Bea Scott, a frequent bike rider in Austin. “A lot of times, a lot of people don’t really know what they’re supposed to do.”

Scott referred to both cyclers and drivers having confusion on the roads, which in turn, can cause a lot of accidents. In fact, the city of Austin has seen its bicycle accidents increase by 15 percent almost every year since 2007.

With the increase in bicycles due to the B-Cycle program, some are expecting this will only continue and perhaps get even worse.

“I’ve just heard such horror stories about people getting hit because there’s confusion as to who is turning or if the biker was going to go through a crosswalk,” Scott said. “Because of that confusion and also the fact that a lot of people don’t wear helmets, it’s really concerning.”

Although the number of bicycle accidents is increasing in Austin, the percent might be higher if all

Austin B-cycle was created to provide Austinites and locals another mode of transportation to explore downtown and the surrounding area. Photo by Landon Pederson.

Austin B-cycle was created to provide Austinites and locals another mode of transportation to explore downtown and the surrounding area. Photo by Landon Pederson.

accidents were reported. The Austin Police Department recently released a statement saying “people tend to only report a bicycle accident to the police when there is an injury or major damage. Most bicycle accidents go unreported by the parties involved.”

Despite all of the controversy, B-Cycle officials have yet to see a problem with its program.

“It hasn’t really been an issue for us,” said Elliott McFadden, the CEO of B-Cycle Austin. “Bike share systems have a stellar safety record throughout the world, and that is so far the case here.”

Austin resident Joy Messie does not see an issue either.

Austin Police Department recently released a statement saying unless an injury or major damage is involved, “most bicycle accidents go unreported by the parties involved.” Photo by Landon Pederson.

Austin Police Department recently released a statement saying unless an injury or major damage is involved, “most bicycle accidents go unreported by the parties involved.” Photo by Landon Pederson.

“I’ve moved around a lot, and this is definitely the city I’ve lived in that has the most bike lanes and most biker-friendly stuff,” Messie said. “Some of the drivers in the city I think could do a better job.”

The answer to the question of bicycle safety in Austin remains split, but there are people out there trying to improve the city’s conditions. Nathan Wilkes, an engineer with Austin’s Bicycle Program, said Austin is looking to create a plan that would make for a safer transportation system.

He also added that 39 percent of residents fall into the category of “interested but concerned” to ride a bicycle on the streets. Wilkes said he believes there are ways to make cycling a more appealing option.

                                                                                   One includes what was recently implemented on Guadalupe Street – a cycle track that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.

Nevertheless, there are still concerns for increasing bicycle accidents with the new B-Cycle program, especially because the program enables people to ride bikes that don’t normally use them on the city’s roads.

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of West Campus

Final Year of West x West Campus

Dudeman

“Dudeman” photo by Britni Shaw

By Elyana Barrera, Chelsea Bass
Bryce Gibson and Britini Shaw

In the middle of West Campus’s labyrinth of high-rise apartment complexes and just weeks before Austin’s massive South By Southwest Conference, students and young locals gathered for the fifth West By West Campus festival. Showcasing filmmakers and artists, the block party with a do-it-yourself attitude was hosted by cooperative housing groups on Feb. 21-22.

Started in February of 2010, the festival began as a way for underaged bands and concertgoers to celebrate with their own all-ages free shows according to director Tessa Hunt. Now in it’s final year, West By West Campus has grown to include a film festival portion where eight short films submission are chosen and then judged by a panel on day one of the festival.

The heart of the festival, however, remains to be its second day music portion, where 36 bands played at co-ops, starting at noon and ending at 10:30 p.m. Cooperative housing French House, 21st Street Co-op and Pearl Street Co-op were the three venues hosting musical talent including Super Thief, Magna Carda and the Numerators. The vibrant, bohemian interiors of the co-ops, along with do-it-yourself zine-style posters served as an apt backdrop to West By West Campus’s engaged yet cool crowd.

From looking at the abundant amount of people enjoying live music at the festival, it would be impossible to tell that lack of funds almost kept West By West Campus from happening this year. Usually paid for out-of-pocket by founders of the event, the cost of hosting along with permits and port-a-potties, became a problem that needed to be solved. Jennifer Gritti, social media/donations/strategy manager for West By West Campus, saw a solution in starting a “kickstarter.”

“We decided to fund the event through kickstarter so we didn’t have to deal with corporate sponsors,” Gritti said. “Not only did corp. sponsors kills the vibe of the fest last year, they were a bit difficult to work with and didn’t quite share our same vision. As our last hurrah, we wanted to take it to the people, and if they wanted to help, we would give them that option.”

Gritti used Kickstarter, a website that helps raise funds for independently-run projects by many, small donations, to raise the baseline of $3,000 needed to run the West Campus festival.

“Admittedly, we’ve never asked for your help in the past, but this year we’re going to need it,” Gritti posted on the West By West Campus Kickstarter page. The page was able to bring in $3,140 from 168 backers, 109 of which pledged only $5-10. Although the page was set up in the middle of January, the $3,000 goal was not reached until just 15 hours before the cutoff date of Feb. 7. The event also received monetary donations outside of Kickstarter from small local businesses such as Bodega and keg donations from Circle Brewery.

Gritti guessed approximately 1,500 people attended the event throughout the day.

“The turnout this year was great,” Gritti said. “We don’t have any numbers, but the people that wanted to be there were there and thats what really mattered.”

Though the funding for this year’s West By West Campus was reached fairly easily, the founders of the festival do not want it to stray too far from its roots and have still decided that this is its final year. Gritti and Hunt cite preserving the integrity of the festival as the reason founders of the fest have decided to end West By West Campus in its fifth year — they want to see other young adults starting their own festivals and they hope the spirit of West By West Campus can inspire.

Videography by Bryce Gibson. Photos by Britini Shaw and Chelsea Bass. Blog post by Elyana Barrera.