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Best Austin Shopping Districts: Rebellious North Loop says ‘Eff off, chain stores!’

2010 November 3

Editor’s Note: With the big Christmas shopping season right around the corner, we want to share some great local places to hit up for all the people on your shopping list.  Over the next few weeks we’ll be visiting all seven Austin Independent Business Alliance IBIZ districts to help you get inspired to ditch the mall and buy local!

At first, buying local can be nerve wracking. If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country, the feeling is surprisingly the same: The first time you walk in to a store, you don’t know what the merchandise will be or to which clientele they are catering.

There’s a reason why national retail chains make their stores the same from state to state and city to city: We find comfort in knowing exactly what to expect when we walk in a store.  But, the beauty of independent retailers is finding the unexpected, stretching your tastes and aesthetics, and most importantly, preserving local businesses and communities.

This week we hit the North Loop shopping district located on North Loop between Chesterfield and Martin.  I have to admit, driving into the district, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. And once I saw a guy riding his bike in nothing but a thong, I knew it was going to be interesting.

This off-the-beaten path community feels like Austin’s beautifully eccentric rebellious side condensed into two tiny blocks of shops and restaurants.

Stop #1: Blue Velvet Vintage

217 W. North Loop, 78751

Full of really cute pieces that can be worn by even the most fashion conservative, Blue Velvet is accessible for those new to the vintage clothing scene. Plus, with most dresses and shirts looking barely worn, the quality of the merchandise is superb.

What I love most about Blue Velvet is the sheer beauty in the way it’s organized: Rows of white go-go boots line one shelf; colorful parasols and petticoats dangle from the ceiling; and vintage mannequins wear the merchandise.  My favorite is the rack entirely devoted to adorable aprons from the 50s and 60s. Decked out in unique patterns and textures, they look more like sweet little skirts than kitchen wear.

FIND GIFTS FOR: Husband or boyfriend who needs some signature pieces in his wardrobe; Wife, girlfriend or friends who like funky, original accessories

A mask at Blue Velvet Vintage

Stop #2: blackbird clothes and curios

112 E. North Loop, 78751

Down the road from Blue Velvet is blackbird, a clothing and gift store.  The place has a sexy, gothic romance feel to it.  The clothes are unique (they find new and emerging designers) and surprisingly affordable.  Since they order their clothes in small quantities, you don’t have to worry about someone wearing the same dress at the party. But come early: A lot of the smaller sizes were already gone during my visit.

The curios also help set this store apart-framed spiders, extravagant head pieces, and an intriguing magnifying glass and letter opener set to name just a few.

FIND GIFTS FOR: Yourself: the clothes are edgy and fashion forward OR your Vampire lover who needs some home decor.

Curios at blackbird

Stop #3: MonkeyWrench Bookstore

110 E. North Loop, 78751

If Austin was a bookstore, MonkeyWrench would be it!  With a “Rad Fiction” section, books with warning labels, and posters touting the perils of fascism, this self-described radical bookstore feels a little dangerous and exciting than Barnes & Noble. In fact, it’s the kind of place you imagine people with dark sunglasses waiting outside to take your picture when you leave.

On one of the bookshelves, a bright blue and rainbow-colored spine caught my eye. It turned out to be Breathing Under Water, a book of poetry about Barton Springs written by local Austin writer Susan Bright.  Since I’ve been wanting to read more poetry, and I thought it would be cool to read about my home city, I bought it.

FIND GIFTS FOR: Your social justice, left-leaning, liberal friends who need some new reading material; a Republican friend you want to enlighten…or infuriate.

A book at MonkeyWrench

Stop #4: Epoch Coffee

221 W. North Loop, 78751

I ended my afternoon at Epoch Coffee. Even on a Sunday afternoon, the place was packed with people either hunched over a laptop, cradling a smartphone or buried in a book.  After grabbing an iced chai tea that had the best ice ever (seriously, the ice was like butter: I could chew it all day.), I sat down to read my new book.

Epoch Coffee

Susan Bright’s inspiration for Breathing Under Water came with a single poem dedicated to a fellow swimmer who had become ill. After the poem was warmly embraced by the Barton Springs community, Susan decided to channel the voice of a larger community, the city of Austin.

Just like the phrase, “You are what you eat. You are where you shop,” shopping local makes you feel local and connects you to a place that only exists one place on earth, Austin, Texas.

What’s your favorite store in the North Loop district?

How do you shop locally and still get all your gifts?

See more pictures from North Loop.  Warning: Some pictures contain language some may find offensive.

Petticoats and Parisols hang from the ceiling at Blue Velvet Vintage

Racks of clothes a Blue Velvet Vintage

Shoes at Blue Velvet Vintage

A sign in North Loop

blackbird clothing

Dressing room at blackbird

Magnifying glass and letter opener at blackbird

"Rad Fiction" at MonkeyWrench books

Book selection at MonkeyWrench books

Postcard at MonkeyWrench books

Epoch Coffee

Sign at Epoch Coffee


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8 Responses leave one →
  1. November 3, 2010

    Room Service!

  2. Bob permalink
    November 3, 2010

    WTF? You didn’t mention Room Service? The oldest store on the loop? The one in the first picture?!?

    • November 3, 2010

      Hi Bob:

      Thanks for stopping by. The concept behind the series isn’t to document every store in every district; instead, we want to give people a sampling of each district in order to inspire them to explore them on their own.

    • Rachel Naugle permalink
      November 3, 2010

      I did go into Room Service and thought it was an amazing store. However, since it was my last stop, and I knew I wanted to do another piece about North Loop in the future, I decided to quickly exit the store to leave me something to explore during my next trip into the district. I’m sure anyone who decides to shop in North Loop will find the place for themselves. Thanks for the comment!

  3. November 12, 2010

    That Starbucks, er Fuck Off sign at Epoch coffee is rad. Thanks for sharing your experience, Rachel. North Loop is my favorite strip in Austin these days!

    • Rachel Naugle permalink
      November 17, 2010

      Thanks, Jodi! I had never been to North Loop before, and I loved it. I can’t wait to go back. I read your post about the Tigress and now I can’t wait to go check out that place now!

  4. ranunculusrepens permalink
    November 12, 2010


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