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New South Congress Development Forces More Small Businesses To Move

Cars drive down a busy street towards the Downtown Austin skyline and Texas State Capitol.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
A 1.5-acre stretch of land on South Congress is slated for redevelopment, leaving some business scrambling to relocate.

A major new development on South Congress Avenue means several local businesses will soon be forced to relocate. So, what’s next for the iconic Austin corridor?

On a quiet Wednesday morning, a few customers stop in for haircuts and blowouts at Wet Salon and Studio. Co-owner James Haddox said like his clients, his South Congress business has tried on some different looks over the years.

“Over the course of 17 years, the layout and everything has changed quite a bit, and that’s part of what our business is,” Haddox said. “It’s all about change and growing.”

And more change is on the horizon. In a few months, Wet Salon will be moving to make way for a new, mixed-use development. The project’s engineering firm, Big Red Dog, declined to comment. The design firm, Lake Flato Architects, also did not respond to interview requests, but documents filed with the city show the development includes more than 130,000 square feet of office space, retail and restaurants, along with a parking garage.

The property spans five lots on a 1.5-acre stretch of South Congress. It encompasses businesses including Texas National Outfitters, United Apparel Liquidators, Ignite Fitnez and Strut. Next door to Wet Salon, the Sfanthor House of Wax has already closed its doors. Haddox said it’s a shame to see those local merchants go, but he’s focusing on moving forward.

“I truly believe that just like when we came to South Congress 17 years ago, the area that we are planning to move to is going to be the next cool area, and a lot of businesses that are going in there are not new,” he said. “They’re established Austin businesses.”

Haddox isn’t publicizing the new location just yet, not until he signs the lease. One thing that sets his business apart from his neighbors is that it isn’t tourist-driven. His loyal customers are likely to follow wherever he goes – but other merchants feel differently.

Lizelle Villapando is one of the owners of Parts & Labour, a boutique that sells clothes, artwork and housewares made by Texas designers. She estimates that about half of their business comes from out-of-town visitors. Villapando got word about the new development this summer. She’s been scrambling to find a new location ever since.

“I’ll consider almost anything, you know?” Villapando said. “Right now, we’re almost 2,500 [square] feet, so finding a retail spot that big now is a totally different ballgame than when we moved in here in 2008.”

Change is nothing new to South Congress. Over the years, rising rents have forced several merchants to move, and Villapando echoes their concerns for the future of the corridor.

“So when people say, ‘you got to check out South Congress,’ what’s going to be here anymore that’s not at the mall?” she said.

The city’s Development Services Department said the proposal is still under review. That means development plans will likely change before they’re approved, and it’s unclear what the timeline for construction will look like. 

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