Lined with idiosyncratic stores with neon signs, Austin’s South Congress Avenue is a wide street with stunning views to the downtown area and the Capitol (bigger than Washington DC’s apparently) in the distance. It has an endearingly kitsch and kooky Tex-Mex thing going on that’s 100% Austin.
Close your eyes and recall those classical Hollywood Westerns and you can almost imagine a bow-legged cowboy getting off his horse and hitching it to a post so he can pop in to Allens to get himself a new pair of boots. So let’s start this guide to my favourite SoCo shops there, shall we?
Everyone, and I mean everyone, from sassy teens to groovy grandmas, wears cowboy boots in Austin, so go get a pair at Allens (look for the giant red boot above the awning). You’ll find the best brands of leather boots, including Lucchese, Frye Boots, Justin Boots, and my favourite (although these ones aren’t Texan, they’re Mexican…), Old Gringo. If you can’t find a pair of boots you like here, then you won’t find a pair anywhere – Allens has everything from classic Western designs with stitching and studs to bohemian, rock-chick styles adorned with everything from skull and cross bones to hippy floral patterns that befit an indie music town like Austin. They also have some cool Stetsons, checked Western-style shirts, and boho-chic leather belts with turquoise buckles.
Got the boots? Now get yourself a t-shirt, preferably one emblazoned with ‘Austin, Texas’. Storyville stocks hundreds of high quality t-shirts with original designs that have been created by local artists. I love their motto ‘Wear Your Story’ cause you’re bound to find something here that expresses your personality, but don’t fear, because if you don’t, you can actually create your own design and have your own t-shirt made because they also offer screen printing services. How cool is that?
PARTS AND LABOUR
This sprawling shop owned by the lovely Lizelle, specialising in cool local products, also has dozens of covetable Austin t-shirts if you don’t find something you like in Storyville. Lizelle only stocks Texan, and mostly Austin, brands, and in addition to t-shirts she has pretty frocks, cute kids clothes, reversible hats, funky handbags, retro-inspired jewellery (I love the range from Ornamental Things!), and other beautiful things, from handmade soaps to coasters bearing photographs of iconic buildings and signs.
Other stores I like on what must be one of the USA’s coolest shopping streets (walking up the hill from Parts and Labour):
(#1206) for often whimsical fashion, from girlie frocks to funky t-shirts, and handbags and jewellery, with lots of homegrown Austin labels, such as Super Maggie t-shirts and Muschi handbags.
(#1208) for fabulous Mexican folk art and beautiful Native American – expect to find loads of silver and turquoise.
(#1500) for fantastic folk art from Mexico and around the world – everywhere from Indonesia to India (love the Bollywood posters!). Tesoros works with individual artists and communities to preserve traditional crafts.
(#1508) for more feminine fashion, accessories, jewellery, perfume, soaps and candles.
(#1510) for edgy, local contemporary art, including folk art and outsider art.
(#1512) for antiques, collectables, vintage, and bric-a-brac – you can spend hours here browsing the array of oddities.
(#1317), on the other side of the road, for fair trade products from across the planet, including handwoven baskets, embroidered cushion covers, and wooden carvings from Latin America as well as Asia, Africa and the Middle East. They work directly with 130 artisan groups in 38 countries.
Tips on Shopping in Austin, Texas
- When you visit the shops above, look for a couple of handy leaflets, often displayed on store counters, South Congress Avenue (with a helpful map) and Austin’s Vintage Around Town Guide.
- If you’re heading downtown, visit the 2nd Street District on 2nd Street, between San Antonio and Lavaca, for chic boutiques and shops, such as Mercury, which is full of beautiful things.