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Is Gentrification Still Bad If Local Owners Profit from White Hipsters?: New at Reason

A tale of chicken and cultural appropriation in Austin.

|||Liz WolfeLiz Wolfe

Gentrification 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.

Photo Credit: Liz Wolfe

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