Friday, August 12, 2022 by Marisa Charpentier, KUT
Since the beloved post office in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood closed in June 2021, neighbors have wondered what will become of the spot at the corner of 43rd Street and the Speedway. The one-story brick building has stood vacant since its closure, serving little more than a canvas for graffiti.
But new details are being revealed about his future. The 55-year-old structure will be renovated and subdivided into retail and restaurant space. Two tenants, Tiny Grocer and First Light Books, have confirmed they will set up shop there next year.
“I love this neighborhood,” said Steph Steele, owner of local Tiny Grocer Market. “Hyde Park has always been on my list of places where I think (this store) would do well and be well received and serve the community in a wonderful way.”
Located in downtown Austin, Hyde Park is considered being the oldest suburb of the city. It contains many historic houses, small apartment complexes, an old fire station, the Elisabet Ney Museum, and a few local restaurants, like Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery and Julio’s Cafe. When it was announced early last year that the longtime post office on Speedway would be closing, concern – and gossip – began to swirl in the neighborhood as residents feared they would lose a resource accessible to foot which contributed to the picturesque atmosphere of the region. The U.S. Postal Service was renting the building, and when he vacated the building, the landlord said he had no other tenants.
But now construction is underway and at least two companies have signed leases for the space. Tiny Grocer is a grocery store and cafe that opened in Congress South early last year. The Hyde Park spot, scheduled to open in the first half of 2023, will be the company’s second location.
Steele said the new store will feature items she selects herself, including beer and wine, locally made goods, produce and more. The kitchen will serve breakfast, sandwiches, salads and burgers. A brunch will be served on weekends. Guests will also be able to order beer and wine by the glass, coffee, pastries and vegan soft drinks in a stand-alone bar area.
There will be indoor and outdoor seating, with part of the Old Post Office loading dock turning into a patio. Steele said she envisions Tiny Grocer as a gathering space for the pedestrian district.
“I imagine ladies having a piece of cake and a glass of wine and catching up,” Steele said. “I imagine people buying periodicals at the bookstore and sitting down and enjoying breakfast or a cup of coffee.”
The market’s new neighbor, First Light Books, is run by husband and wife team Taylor and Robin Bruce. Taylor Bruce is known in the world of literature for founding Wildsam Field Guides, an independent publisher that produces travel guides. But First Light is a new venture, and the Hyde Park spot will be its first location.
“It had been my dream for a long time to have a small, independent bookstore,” said Taylor Bruce. “We started thinking about it seriously probably two years ago and felt like a neighborhood bookstore was big in our minds, somewhere very walkable and very community friendly.”
When he saw that the Hyde Park Post Office was closing last year, he thought the space would be the perfect place, so he contacted the landlord and eventually signed a lease. He said construction would begin in September and the store would ideally open in March.
Bruce describes the store as a classic all-purpose bookstore. The 2,500 square foot space will feature a curated selection of fiction and non-fiction titles, cookbooks, art books and more. There will also be a cafe in the store, serving coffee, beer, wine and snacks.
“First Light, the name, kind of brings to mind the feel of early morning and the atmosphere of early morning,” Bruce said. “The cafe window will be open early and early, probably the first place in Austin to have a great cup of coffee.”
Two other spaces will be rented outside the post office, according to city documents, but these companies have not yet been announced. KUT contacted Blake Thompson, the owner of the property, for comment, but did not hear back.
Thompson also owns the parking lot on the other side of the Speedway, which he try to rezone build small cottages for commercial use. He told the neighborhood, as related in Hyde Parker Magazine in March, that the chalets could be used for a food service, a yoga studio or an art gallery on the first floor and possibly be residential on the second. The zoning change would require City Council approval. Many residents have signed a petition or written to the city to oppose the change, urging the Council to maintain the property’s residential zoning as Austin faces a housing crisis.
Changes to Post Office ownership, however, have been welcome news for residents like Joan Yamini, who has lived in Hyde Park for around two decades. But, she says, she still misses the post office.
“If I had to choose, I think I would keep the post,” Yamini said. “But it’s probably the best thing to do.”
The post office was a kind of community space, a place where neighbors met by dropping off a package or buying stamps. Yamini said she sees this new venture as another opportunity for that.
“At the corner of the street where all the restaurants are, there are always people walking around and passing each other,” she said. “I’m sure the Tiny Grocer will provide yet another corner to meet people, which is good.”
Another Hyde Park resident, Susi Spies, said she was worried about the impact a new grocer would have on the neighborhood’s long-running local grocery store, Fresh Plus. She said many residents have relied on Fresh Plus, especially during the pandemic, and she doesn’t think another grocery store is really needed.
“I hate to see old losers doing a good job and serving the neighborhood,” Spies said.
Spies also said he missed the post office. The next closest is on Lamar, but Spies said since the Hyde Park location closed it has been overrun and often has long queues. She said she hopes the owner of the Hyde Park property will set up a small post office outside the store. This idea was floated at a meeting of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association last year, but it’s unclear if it will actually happen.
New business owners, however, say they could commemorate the space’s history as a longtime post office in some way.
“There’s something up my sleeve, but I don’t really talk about it,” Steele said. “I will just say that I hope to do something that’s a little nod to the neighborhood of what it used to be.”
Photo caption: Construction is underway at the Old Post Office on 43rd Street and Speedway in Hyde Park.
This story was produced as part of the austin monitorreporting partnership with KUT.
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Posted in: Development, District 9
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