On December 31st the Saks store in Austin closed. I wasn’t saddened by the news. I and high-end clothes shopping haven’t ever fit well. Experiencing the displays of obviously unnecessary consumerism make my skin crawl. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. High-end boutique clothes shopping with my imaginary fortune, on the other hand, I could handle. At least, I suspect this is the truth.
Now that Saks in Austin has held their last Designer Sale the 52,000 square feet is sitting pretty. It joins the other stores that have come and gone and left vacant aisles in this highly desirable part of town. Unlike many of those boxes, this one looks unlikely to remain darkened.
The location is centerpiece in a boomerang shopping center located in the epicenter of the Arboretum. It is also the former home of Simon David — very possibly the city’s first gourmet grocery store. Back in the day when I still liked grocery shopping this was my favorite of them all — from the Flower and Gift department on the second floor balcony to the soda vending machine next door to the elevators. The best part of the entire store was the bakery selling Key Lime Pie. The tangy, creamy cool filling nestled into a crumbled graham cracker crust. Little rounds of lime surrounding the edge — sitting atop of every slice. This pie has become the memory that I can’t duplicate.
Other’s must still have memories of this store, because even though it has been closed for over 15 years it’s still mentioned in several of the articles gossiping over the closing and the future of the space. And what is the gossip? Well, a state document said that Trader Joe’s is planning to move in.
Which I think is just an absolutely excellent idea. Yes, in part because I would much rather attack the traffic in the Arboretum than around the Seaholm Power Plant. But that only accounts for a slice of the pie — maybe two slices. The great majority goes to business competition. The Arboretum/Gateway area, it seems to me, is the only place in Austin where grocery stores are in genuine competition with each other. In this two mile loop purchasing the greens that will nourish you throughout the week is about choice. Four sizeable grocery stores — HEB, Randalls, Whole Foods, and Sprouts — compete with each other for pieces of the pie. Rather harmoniously it seems too. Did you ever! If you don’t mind adding in an extra half mile while crossing a second highway you can count up five — hello Natural Grocers. (For the purpose of this article I’m leaving out the combo stores of CostCo, Sam’s Club, and Target in addition to the really specialty stores like Spec’s and ConOlio. Though really!) Experiencing this variety is one reason I drive out of my area of town and into this one.
No one questions a mall full of clothing stores competing against each other, but being able to find slightly different groceries at slightly different prices in a slightly different atmosphere is unique. It can’t be only me who enjoys purchasing a different brand of olives, buying an affordable bag of 5 lb organic potatoes, or finding Ciao Bella’s Key Lime Graham Gelato Squares. Which I found at Sprouts. I also shared them, getting to eat only one.
So, I went home and made them. I found the recipe for Key Lime Gelato, which turned into Lime, because I did the ingredient shopping close to home. Though I almost didn’t. Wanting to feel inspired at the store almost forced me to drive farther away. Instead, I thought of the memory and headed to the store nearby that is in competition mostly with itself.
I used to say that Trader Joe’s would never move to Austin — to Whole Food’s home turf and HEB’s command — even while signing some online petition begging them for Two-buck Chuck. I’m happy to be proved wrong.