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Wheatsville to close Guadalupe Street store that opened in 1981

Wheatsville Food Co-op on Guadalupe Street is pictured on May 22, 2024. A bike rack is out front along with some planters. A green and white Lime scooter is parked by the entrance.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Wheatsville Food Co-op's store at 3101 Guadalupe St. opened in 1981.

Wheatsville Food Co-op — a local, member-owned natural food store operating in Austin since 1976 — plans to close its location on Guadalupe Street and focus on building smaller stores.

In a special edition of Wheatsville's newsletter, General Manager Bill Bickford acknowledged the store was facing financial struggles, but said Austin's voter-approved plan to build light-rail down Guadalupe Street is pushing the 43-year-old Wheatsville location to close.

"Unless there is a change in circumstances, the plan is to close the store when our current lease expires on December 31, 2026," he wrote.

Bickford said he expects construction of the urban rail line to hurt business by making it harder to access the store. After light-rail is built, cars and pedestrians won't be able to cross at 31st Street. Restricting left-hand turns across the tracks is a long-held strategy by transit planners to keep trains moving and reduce the risks of crashes.

A transit map showing the light-rail line stretching from downtown in three directions: east to Yellow Jacket Lane, north to 38th Street and south to Oltorf Street.
Austin Transit Partnership
The transit map adopted by the Austin City Council, Capital Metro and ATP shows light-rail stretching in three directions from downtown, including north along the Drag, past UT Austin and directly in front of Wheatsville Food Co-Op's location at 3101 Guadalupe St.

But the biggest problem, Bickford said, is that 18-wheeler trucks would be unable to make deliveries. Right now, most delivery trucks pull onto 31st Street and back up across Guadalupe into the store's delivery bay, he said.

"This transformative project will undoubtedly provide significant, long-term public benefit to our city and its residents," Bickford wrote of the light-rail line. "However, it may also limit our ability to effectively operate a grocery store at our present location."

"I recognize that this is likely a challenging message for co-op owners to hear. Please know that it is also a tough message to share," he said.

Wheatsville Food Co-Op's lease at 3101 Guadalupe St. renews in five-year terms. The next renewal would start in 2027, just as construction is slated to begin on the 9.8-mile light-rail system. Travis County tax records list the owner of the property as Austin Trust Company and Republic Bank Austin. The building is appraised at $5.9 million.

The rail line is still "early in the design process," the Austin Transit Partnership said in a statement. The local government corporation is seeking federal environmental approvals and grants for the project while developing a more detailed map of the rail line's footprint.

ATP is also fighting for the life of the light-rail project in a legal battle now set to go to trial June 17. A group of taxpayers is challenging the funding mechanism that would allow ATP to borrow billions of dollars to build out the system, estimated to cost more than $7 billion after factoring inflation. Travis County Judge Eric Shepperd is considering an argument from the Texas Attorney General that could shred Austin's light-rail ambitions.

"ATP recognizes there will be necessary impacts along the alignment to deliver the approved Austin Light Rail," Courtney Chavez, ATP senior vice president, said. "Our focus will continue to be to minimize impacts anywhere possible."

Wheatsville's management concluded the co-op's best path forward is a switch to multiple small-format stores. They cost less to open and operate, are easier to find space for and could serve more neighborhoods. The co-op could offer competitive prices at these smaller locations by using the big discounts it gets from large wholesale purchases for its South Lamar store, the newsletter explained.

"We believe that a pivot to small-format stores is in the best interests of both co-op owners and staff and will also strengthen the co-op as a business," Bickford wrote. "We are actively pursuing this strategy and expect to have further news on this front in the near future."

The Wheatsville location on Guadalupe Street opened in 1981. But the store has faced declining sales for at least a decade. Sales were down from $18.6 million in 2013 to $9.1 million in 2023.

A graph showing sales volumes at Wheatsville declining from 2013 to 2023.
Wheatsville Food Co-Op
The Wheatsville location on Guadalupe Street has seen sales fall by more than half since 2013.

Bickford admits that even if the light-rail line posed no problems, the store faces other serious challenges. The building dates back to 1940 and is showing its age. In March, the store's dinosaur mascot, Mangiasaurus, fell through the roof, requiring structural repairs.

"Additional and substantial reinvestment in the building would be needed in the years ahead — investment that we cannot necessarily afford and that would likely have more return in some other location," Bickford wrote.

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Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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