Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Is Gentrification Still Bad If Local Owners Profit from White Hipsters?

A tale of chicken and cultural appropriation in Austin.

|||Liz WolfeLiz WolfeGentrification is often condemned for forcing poor people out of their homes and businesses, dismantling long-established communities. But what happens if a property's owners don't change, and in fact stand to richly profit from hipsters who want to sell each other rotisserie chickens and craft beer?

This is the situation unfolding in Holly, my neighborhood in East Austin. Lou's Bodega opened a few weeks ago at 1900 East Cesar Chavez Street. This rapidly gentrifying street is home to a handful of dive bars, art studios, and shops; south of Cesar Chavez, much of the neighborhood is residential. The pattern is the same here as it is all over the country: Lines of sleek new houses inhabited mostly by white, childless couples are springing up next to smaller cottages built in the 1950s and '60s. Holly is historically Hispanic and working-class, with a still-bustling Catholic church, Cristo Rey, that's almost exclusively attended by Latinos.

If the proprietors of Lou's thought they could move into their new spot without generating controversy, they were mistaken. The spot was formerly the home of Leal's Tires. (The tire shop relocated to a nearby East 7th Street location. In a nice-guy and/or PR-savvy move, Lou's provides free coffee to its employees.) The real estate where Lou is located is still owned by members of the Leal family, Emenencia and Abel Rodriguez, according to a spokesperson from McGuire Moorman Hospitality, the design, development, and management company responsible for Lou's. So the Rodriguezes are still profiting from their stake in the neighborhood, and the tire shop employees are moving just a few blocks away.

That didn't stop around 50 protesters from voicing their complaints at Lou's on January 26. "Not a dime, not a cent, for hipsters trying to raise my rent," they shouted. Organized by the activist group Defend our Hoodz, the protesters took issue with Lou's use of the word "bodega," given that Lou's is not a Puerto Rican-owned corner store (as the term originated), but rather a purveyor of decidedly bougie rotisserie chickens, brussels sprouts, roasted potatoes, and craft beer.

Writing on Facebook, the group demanded "that Lou's Bodega immediately end any use of Chicano and indigenous imagery in their branding, whether on merchandise, packaging or on their website. This includes their 'woman warrior' tote bags, their T-shirts with 'Bienvenidos' on them, and indigenous patterns on hats and elsewhere."

The activists were also angry at Lou's for keeping the Aztec warrior murals on the front and side of the building, a relic from the Leal's days. Had Lou's removed the Aztec art, of course, neighborhood preservation activists could've complained that wealthy hipsters have no appreciation for the unique character of Holly and East Cesar Chavez. But they kept it, so they get to be taken to task for culturally appropriating Aztec imagery.

|||Liz WolfeLiz Wolfe

The group also wants Lou's to stop selling the beers Pacifico and Modelo, both owned by Constellation Brands. This complaint has more to it: Constellation is trying to open a $1.5 billion brewery in Baja California, where the grassroots group Mexicali Resiste claims the company could deplete the local water supply, using more than three liters of water for every liter of beer produced by the brewery. NPR reports that the activists fighting the project "claim to have been harassed and threatened, beaten and had their offices burglarized."

Taking a broader view, it's hard to get a sense of what the protesters' ideal outcome for the neighborhood looks like. McGuire Moorman Hospitality reports that violent threats have been made against the restaurant's owners, and the spot has been vandalized repeatedly in the few weeks that it's been open.

In the past, the same activist group has protested the development of a cat café a few blocks further west on Cesar Chavez. The group also exercised its First Amendment rights by protesting an art gallery opening this past November, but the situation turned less free speech-y and more violent when an activist assaulted a 68-year-old man.

It's hard to say to what degree hipsters are, in fact, raising rents. In many gentrifying neighborhoods, the original occupants, if they own their property, are able to sell their houses for far more profit than they expected on purchase. The process can produce problems—in some cities, newly arrived whites have started calling the police over "criminal activity where none exists"—but neighborhoods becoming more diverse isn't in itself a bad thing.

|||Liz WolfeLiz Wolfe

And the complaints about the term "bodega" and the Aztec murals are absurd. Corner stores and delis are hardly an original concept, and Lou's is riffing on that by selling whole meals, beer, smokes, and gum to go. And keeping the murals is a sign that the new shop is trying to respect the neighborhood culture rather than erase it. If we can only enjoy art created by people of our same ancestry, we need to seriously rethink a lot of things, starting with museums.

When Eater Austin pressed Defend our Hoodz "for examples of businesses they felt were considerate of the neighborhood," a representative responded, "The only way to begin to stop gentrification is through mass organizing and people building power outside of capitalist institutions."

Hard to know where to eat, then.

Photo Credit: Liz Wolfe

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Ray McKigney||

    Is Gentrification Still Bad

    Do you still beat your wife?

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Gentrification was never bad.

  • $park¥ is the Worst||

    Looks like someone forgot to check his privilege this morning.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    The last time I didn't check my privilege, I left home without it.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Sparky, you're the one that is privileged, that I bother to respond to your comments.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    The group also wants Lou's to stop selling the beers Pacifico and Modelo, both owned by Constellation Brands.

    Lou's new slogan should be: we just can't win.

    Also, this is a comment board populated by disgusting perverts, so don't think that we didn't notice the slight breast curves in t-shirt. Any attempt at cute solidarity will have no effect on this collection of unlovable scamps.

    TreasonNN writers: we just can't win.

  • ||

    Perverts who want to bang skinny old ladies, apparently. Any port in a storm?

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    Crusty will even use a USB 1.X in a pinch.

  • Ray McKigney||

    I thought those were hippie moobs.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Acceptable to a Crusty

  • Aloysious||

    Speaking as a disgusting pervert, I must say those breast curves aren't slight, the shirt is poorly engineered.

    We now return to our daily chauvinistic objectification.

  • ||

    Lou's new slogan should be:

    Sacrifice them all and let Tezcatlipoca sort 'em out.

  • jester||

    Tezcatlipoca Leal. His last name curiously was Spanish and presumably loyalist.

  • Sevo||

    "Lou's new slogan should be: we just can't win."

    Naah.
    It should be "fuck off and die".

  • Ska||

    Do you mean the underboob on the t-shirt graphics? Because I'm not giving up cartoon underboob for anyone.

  • Ska||

    Do you mean the underboob on the t-shirt graphics? Because I'm not giving up cartoon underboob for anyone.

  • wareagle||

    Ima go on a limb and suggest that Constellation Brands has zero issue with anyone selling its products.

  • perlchpr||

    No, it's the fucking commies who hate Lou's who don't want Lou's to sell those beers, because they hate the brewer.

  • NashTiger||

    What if they use non-GMO grains, and no corn syrup? I'm drinking nothing but Bud Light from now on, the Health Beer

  • ||

    I suspect they drew blood from biting their tongues so hard to keep from saying what we're all thinking:

    Fuck Off

  • JonFrum||

    "Leave our slum slummy!"

  • Trigger Warning||

    Profit is bad!

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    People in Austin complaining about high rent prices? GTFO. When I lived there not that long ago, my one bedroom apartment was $500/month, walking distance from downtown. Also, when I rode my bike through east Austin, I didn't stop.

  • dchang0||

    Wow, $500/mo. is a freaking steal!
    Southern California rents for a 1 bedroom are at least double that now. In the better areas, it would be $1900/month and up for a one bedroom.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Great place to set up a hot little side piece, and in good proximity to have somewhere in walking distance to sleep it off.

  • Chipper Morning Wood||

    Appropriating that Aztec imagery is like a stab in the heart.

  • Ray McKigney||

    Bite your tongue.

  • Agammamon||

    Annd YOooU'RE to blame!

  • Bearded Spock||

    When the owners of Lou's wake up in the morning they will know their sacrifices have not been in vain.

  • Cthulunotmyfriend||

    So is stagnation better? Ghettofication? If I lived in the hood, I know I wouldn't want to protect it. The hood sucks. It's cheap to live in, but the hassle, harrassment, property damage and general malaise of crime isn't worth it. None of these anti gentrification people discuss if crime has gone down in these gentrified neighborhoods. You know it has. They just want to bitch because their rent has gone up, or may go up. I got an idea, maybe they should scatter shit and needles all over their neighborhood, like what was present before. That will drive off the hipsters, lower the property values, and scare of new investors. They could keep shooting out all the street lights, and invite all the old dealers back too. Sounds like a Paradise!

  • dchang0||

    Maybe the anti-gentrifiers are the ones profiting from breaking into cars and selling drugs, so they're objecting to a loss in their livelihood.

  • IceTrey||

    Why is it Europeans are the only ones who WANT people to appropriate our culture? In fact we want it so bad we're willing to force it on them.

  • Eddy||

    "The activists were also angry at Lou's for keeping the Aztec warrior murals on the front and side of the building"

    Have a heart!

  • Eddy||

    Sorry, Chipper Morning Wood.

  • dchang0||

    If Lou's had painted over the murals, the activists would complain too, saying that it was like the conquistadors wiping out the Aztecs.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Lou's Bodega opened a few weeks ago at 1900 East Cesar Chavez Street.

    Oh lord...

  • SIV||

    Masked commies vs. adopt-a-cat vegan restaurant and corporate Anglo taqueria.

    Bad people on both sides.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    "Not a dime, not a cent, for hipsters trying to raise my rent,"

    Damn that's a good chant...

  • jester||

    Chantaje.

  • awildseaking||

    When whites exit, it's racist. When whites enter, it's racist. At this point, you'd think they want legal segregation again.

  • Brandybuck||

    They do want it. The affluent white lefties want poor people of color segregated into a quasi-reservation system.

  • dave b.||

    Whites already did this during the segregation and redlining era

  • Agammamon||

    Its different this time because reasons.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Huh, a stare-down between ethnic protesters and white hipsters. I can't WAIT to see who blinks first.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    The whites - as you know Browns carry razors under their tongues.

  • SIV||

    I think their ethnicity is white left. Hard to tell because they wear masks .

  • Still Curmudgeoned (Nunya)||

    They should just agree to not serve POC. That makes everyone happy, right?

  • dave b.||

    Open a business in a heavily Hispanic area and refuse to serve them and see how that works out for you. Don't worry, I'll wait

  • SIV||

  • Azathoth!!||

    Open a business in a heavily Hispanic area and refuse to serve them and see how that works out for you. Don't worry, I'll wait

    Y'all just would not know a joke if someone beat you over your empty head with one, would you?

  • ||

    What's the over/under on this photo being sufficient evidence to disqualify Liz in any bid for public office in 10 yrs.?

  • Dillinger||

    >>> end any use of Chicano and indigenous imagery

    the Estate of Itzcoatl on line 2?

  • Uncle Adolf’s Gas and Grill||

    Gentrification = White people moving back to the neighborhoods their grandparents built.

  • dave b.||

    OW MY SIDES!!!

  • Dillinger||

    yeah dude funny. props if it's yours.

  • Fats of Fury||

    In Chicago Hispanics are protesting white people moving into a historic neighborhood called "Pilsen." Czech your privilege.

  • Brandybuck||

    "Gentrification" is a word affluent white lefties as a code word to support ethnic and economic segregation.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Keep people poor!

  • jester||

    Yep.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Since Asian is now the same as white, replace the Aztec woman with hentai and tentacles. Now everyone's happy.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I'd be happy.

  • Jerry B.||

    If folks want to find something to be offended by, they'll find it - and if they can't find it, they'll make it up.

  • lap83||

    How dare you.

  • Agammamon||

    This complaint has more to it: Constellation is trying to open a $1.5 billion brewery in Baja California, where the grassroots group Mexicali Resiste claims the company could deplete the local water supply, using more than three liters of water for every liter of beer produced by the brewery.

    Are these activists seriously claiming that the local population uses nearly 1/3 of the water supply already and so the brewery would drain the land dry?

    Sounds like hyperbolic bullshit already.

  • IceTrey||

    The thing is knowing the ratio of used water to finished product isn't useful information. Demand in relation to supply is what you need to know to make a rational judgement.

  • Fats of Fury||

  • Truthteller1||

    Hilarious. Woke Hipsters battling entrepreneurial hipsters.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Wish somebody would gentrify my house

  • PaulTheBeav||

    We were told "white flight" was bad when white people moved out of the city. Now we're told that gentrification is bad as white people move back into the city. I kinda get the impression that people just want to say white people are bad no matter what they do.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Bingo

  • jester||

    The native people of Travis County were Tonkawa and Comanche not mestizo from central Mexico or otherwise. Pan-culturalist constructions are just as bullshit a cultural appropriation and in a weird way are a form of it.
    If you really want to look at it that way, it's a Mexican Imperialist neighborhood. Does that sound ridiculous? It should but that's where you are going when you make silly arguments about who has the right to use whatever symbolism from other cultures.

  • lap83||

    Gentrification is bullshit but I get why people are annoyed by hipsters over it. The housing prices of the neighborhood my family lived in when I was a kid have tripled/quadrupled because of the trendiness of the old houses combined with convenience to downtown Minneapolis. It used to be a nice, decently safe, affordable area for working class families. Now it's a bunch of charming but overpriced craftsman houses for baristacrats. But I don't think anyone cares because the peoples displaced were white rednecks. On the plus side I hope some of them made a bit of money in the process

  • cosMICjester||

    MInorities move in white flight happens along w/ property values plummeting. Minorities complain.
    Whites move back gentrification happens along w/ property values rising. Minorities complain.

  • Pat001||

    White folks can't win:

    White folks move out: WHITE FLIGHT - BAD!!

    White folks move in: GENTRIFICATION - BAD!!

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online