If you’ve lived in Georgetown for a time, you’ve likely heard the comparison to Mayberry; and most often during an event on the Square, like Poppyfest or the Christmas Stroll. Even better—not only does our Square have the charm and welcome of a small town, it also has a medley of thriving businesses that bring residents and tourists alike to shop and stroll seven days a week.
The balance of businesses on the Square has been a hot topic recently. We are fortunate to have building owners and professionals who work on the square advocate for and support businesses with the potential to sustain their livelihood, but also preserve their historic buildings for generations to come.
Josh Schroeder is an attorney at Sneed Vine on 8th St. He recalls, “When 600 Degrees Pizza opened down the street, all of the businesses on the Square were mom-n-pops, and many of the buildings were not occupied. To me, there was a pivotal moment when the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team began killing it in the World Cup and this business decided to ask, ‘Would you like a beer with lunch?’. It wasn’t long before you couldn’t even get in the door to have lunch there. The Square began to change.”
Chet Garner leased a building on the Square in 2012 for Hogeboom Productions and legal work. He purchased his first building in 2014 because he found the Square to have a lot of potential; “I traveled a lot and I loved what I saw here. I could see what it could become.” He now owns three buildings and says, “We work here ourselves, and while we know we could buy some land in a cow pasture and lay down a slab for a lot less, we absolutely want to be here because of the atmosphere and the culture. It is in our own best interest to make the Square a fun and vibrant place to work.”
The Right Formula
Josh explains, “For a long time, the whole Square was owned by a small number of people. Without occupants to pay the rent, owners were not able to keep up with maintenance, and some fell into disrepair. The same is true for small businesses that came later. They contributed greatly to the diversity and character of the Square, but did not generate revenue that enabled building owners to preserve the buildings they rented. One such specialty store had to close because the ceiling collapsed from lack of maintenance and the damage destroyed critical assets.“
Josh adds, “Today, it’s important to realize that preservation is necessary, but expensive. It requires dynamic businesses that can afford sufficient rent for the owner to maintain, not just to code, but for the sake of history. Sneed Vine spent more than $2 million to renovate our building, built in 1870. I am glad to work for people who understand what it means to be here.”
Josh and Chet agree, preservation of the square depends upon building and business owners who care. Chet says, “We had whole decades when owners were not present in the city, which is why roofs caved in and businesses were able to operate with little revenue. Now that the Square has been revived, rents have gone up because fixing or maintaining HVAC or roofs is a major expense for a historical building. The part-time and hobby businesses were great, but we are finally hitting a point that thriving businesses have something to offer a broad swath of patrons and they are all contributing to the preservation for years to come. It is just good economic sense.”
Josh adds, “The Square is a culture and economy in and of itself. None of us wants 100 percent bars, and the ones here are even family-friendly. It will always be small—and local—businesses because chain and box stores can’t understand and model it. So we make sure, as often as it is possible, to spend our money here to support that healthy mix. When we go to breakfast, we walk. When it’s time for holiday shopping, we shop here. If we have an event, we cater from a business on the Square. Simple. And I love walking out nearly any time of day and seeing people shopping and dining; or being here on a Sunday afternoon and there are people waiting to get into a store or restaurant. Not knowing what you’ll experience each time is part of the fun.”
Even as the Square rejuvenates itself around the courthouse, the ‘arms’ are also growing and being rebuilt and renovated. Chet says, “As 8th and Austin go, next is Blue Corn on 7th Street, and I am certain Rock Street buildings are just waiting to be the next big thing.
“We want Georgetown to be a place that supports entrepreneurs and the creative class. As someone who has seen all of Texas, I am excited about new ideas and being able to build something here that’s better than its ever been.”
They agree the rising tide will lift all boats. Owners on the Square have an understanding that there is no need for competition among themselves, nor is there any desire to be like anyplace else. Josh says, “We are an amazing place called Georgetown; not the next Fredericksburg. We are happy to be able to walk out the front door and see our friends. I don’t know anywhere else where the folks driving the thriving economy are the same local people who live here, own the building, own the business, work there every day, and are also involved in the community. That’s why it’s going to be successful.”