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As TxDOT gears up for the largest expansion of I-35 in Austin's history, we're taking a closer look at the homes and businesses facing the wrecking ball.

With I-35 expansion, Austin gem Nature's Treasures is being forced to move

A display of multicolored rocks, each perched on a small black stand. Little price tags, which the prices not visible, are attached to each stand. The rocks are on a brown table.
Nathan Bernier
Nature's Treasures offers a variety of crystals, fossils and rocks at its location on the I-35 northbound frontage road just south of Airport Boulevard. The business is being forced to move as part of the I-35 expansion. But there's no move-out date yet.

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Located on the I-35 frontage road just south of Airport Boulevard, Nature's Treasures has become an iconic destination for fans of minerals and the metaphysical.

The crystal store is among more than 100 homes and businesses about to be forced out by the expansion of I-35.

The 14,000-square-foot Nature's Treasures property includes a retail showroom, a space for community events, an outdoor rock yard and an ancillary business selling unpolished crystals in bulk.

If you've never been to Nature's Treasures, you've probably seen the enormous billboard visible from the upper decks of I-35. The simple design shows a woman inside a large hollow rock lined with purple crystals.

Exterior shot of the business. On the left are the upper decks of I-35. In the middle of the image is the parking lot. On the right is Nature's Treasures. Behind the business towers a large billboard that says, "Nature's Treasures. We Rock! Crystals, minerals, fossils and more."
Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
Nature's Treasures consolidated three stores into a single location on I-35 in 2010.

The woman cocooned in the giant geode is the founder of Nature's Treasures, Karen Richards. She started the business as a hobby in the 1980s.

"Because I love jewelry," she said with a laugh. "As it grew, it became a passion. It was, I guess, my path."

The business took off, expanding to three locations. In 2010, Richards consolidated the stores into a single home on the front steps of I-35.

"We chose [the location] because of the traffic, visibility. Those are main factors in retail," Richards said.

With Nature's Treasures facing upheaval, Richards seems at peace.

A woman is standing at a counter inside the store and smiling, but not looking at the camera. She is wearing a purple paisley shirt and purple hat. Behind her are tables and shelves baring crystals, rocks and minerals.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Karen Richards, pictured here in 2016, started Nature's Treasures as a hobby. Now it's one of the largest crystal stores in the country.

“It was time to remodel and freshen, so we kind of see it as an opportunity to grow," she said, crediting her spirituality for helping her make the most of the situation.

"Tremendously," Richards said with a laugh. "[But] you might talk to us next year and see how it went."

With the move comes big challenges.

What changes are coming to I-35?

The Texas Department of Transportation wants I-35 bigger. Now, TxDOT has the money to make it happen.

The $4.5 billion project known as I-35 Capital Express Central will add four lanes from Ben White Boulevard to U.S. 290 East.

Along the 8-mile stretch, at least 15 bridges will be widened. The main lanes will be dropped below ground level from downtown to Airport Boulevard. The upper decks, built in 1975, will be torn down.

In earlier plans, Nature's Treasures wasn't affected. Those plans changed.

TxDOT says it needs to build a rail bridge so Capital Metro's Red Line can still get to the other side of I-35 while construction is underway. A similar project is in the works for the rail crossing at Fourth Street. That one will include a pedestrian bridge.

An aerial overhead view of Nature's Treasures. I-35 is out front. Behind the business, Capital Metro railroad tracks pass along the property line.
Nathan Bernier
CapMetro train tracks run behind Nature's Treasures. TxDOT says it needs the store's property to build a rail bridge over I-35 during construction.

Work on those rail crossings is expected to start in fall 2024 and take about three years. The highway expansion itself could take a decade to finish.

TxDOT won't cover all costs

Nature's Treasures has a mesmerizing showroom. Across 8,000 square feet, table after table gleams with crystals. The rocks range from tiny fragments costing a couple bucks to majestic hunks going for hundreds of dollars. Products are neatly displayed and freshly dusted.

"When you first walk in, a lot of people say that, it’s just like, ‘Wow!’" Michael Kallstrom, one of the store's general managers, said. "They stop and stare for a minute."

As you can imagine, a store that sells rocks and minerals is expensive to relocate. Their inventory is heavy. Deliveries arrive on 18-wheelers.

A bearded man in a t-shirt has his hands on a large white crystal in the Nature's Treasures show room. He appears to be in the middle of saying something. Behind him, customers shop.
Nathan Bernier
Nature's Treasures general manager, Michael Kallstrom, spins a large quartz crystal perched atop a stand inside the store's showroom. Kallstrom has been helping to organize the store's eventual relocation.

TxDOT is required to pay all reasonable moving costs. But there are limits on how many other expenses can be reimbursed. For example, the maximum compensation for setting up a new store, so-called tenant improvements to the property, is $25,000.

"Our tenant improvements are going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars," Kallstrom said.

TxDOT has a $2,500 limit on the cost of searching for a replacement property, which Kallstrom says "doesn't go a long way, either."

Nature's Treasures expects a drop in business after I-35 construction starts. People could avoid the area. The company will lose money while closed for relocation. After re-opening, Kallstrom expects it will take at least three months for sales to bounce back.

The state will not compensate Nature's Treasures for any lost sales.

"In terms of timeline, it is kind of stressful to figure out," Kallstrom said.

Extra help

Nature’s Treasures is receiving more than the legally required minimum compensation from the state. So are four other businesses: Spanish-immersion day care Escuelita del Alma, Jimmy's Barbershop, BL Barbershop and West China Tea Room also qualify for extra help because they "serve a specific community or are culturally significant," TxDOT says.

Each of the five businesses can get money to pay for the difference in rent at a comparable location. Usually, only residential renters qualify for that assistance.

TxDOT told Nature's Treasures it can stay in the building after the state takes control of the property, providing some flexibility on when the store moves out.

Nature's Treasures is hoping to stay until next summer, typically a slower time of year for the business. But how long the store can operate at the property is up for negotiation. Much depends on the construction timeline.

A woman wearing glasses with gray hair tied up in a bun is examining a product in the Nature's Treasures show room.
Nathan Bernier
Katt Page has been shopping at Nature's Treasures for years. She says she'll follow the store wherever it winds up.

"It does make me sad, but I would follow them," said Katt Page, a longtime customer. She said she's been shopping at Nature's Treasures since her children were in elementary school. They're in their mid-20s now.

"I do feel like a lot of their success happens to be their location," she said. "Location is everything in any business, and they're right on I-35."

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 Twitter @KUTnathan.
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