If you’re looking for a novel measure of present and expected development in downtown Austin’s booming Rainey Street District, you might consider this data point: the number of Royal Blue Grocery locations in the neighborhood is about to double. The second store is planned for the ground-level retail space at the northwest corner of the Quincy apartment and office tower now receiving the finishing touches from developers Endeavor Real Estate Group at 91 Red River Street — that’s 0.3 miles or only a five-minute walk from the district’s first Royal Blue at 51 Rainey Street.
This isn’t completely unprecedented — the four Royal Blue stores at the center of downtown are only separated by about three or four blocks — but in the extra-compact environment of the Rainey neighborhood, adding a second store this close to the first signals what’s next for the area. The original store on the south end of the district at the ground level of the SkyHouse apartment tower “crushes it,” according to Royal Blue co-owner Craig Staley, so much that he’s happy to bank on continuing growth to pull off the same success only a few blocks north.
Along with the built-in customer base of the Quincy’s anticipated 328 apartments — where residents will enjoy their own entrance to the store directly from the building’s adjacent lobby — three additional towers are planned for this new store’s immediate surroundings. Between the two-tower development at 80 Red River, a proposed residential building at 90-92 Rainey, and the record-breaking Waller Creek Supertall, we’re looking at more than 1,500 new residences for the district assuming these buildings are completed to their current specifications.
Staley says this new 2,400-square-foot store, which is the seventh in Austin so far and will include a “huge outdoor patio,” was an ongoing project that briefly stalled along with everything else in the early months of the pandemic, but the resilience of Austin’s downtown development took him by surprise — you’ll recall that plans for the Waller Creek Supertall emerged in November last year, long before widespread vaccine availability was a sure thing. “Once we realized how many new site plans were being submitted in the Rainey Street District, we scrambled to restart this project,” he says.
The pandemic might not have slowed down Rainey Street, but its social impact made an unexpected case for the existence of stores like Royal Blue. Whether it’s a proper scaled-down grocery store, a bodega, or even an ordinary convenience store stocking more substantial grocery offerings due to surrounding demand, it’s no secret that urban-scale grocery providers are cornerstones of walkable city living, particularly for downtown dwellers without cars — and stores like Royal Blue faced an unexpected stress test during the early days of social distancing last spring, when long lines and shortages at major grocers drew countless grateful locals to these smaller operations.
That process played out a second time with increased desperation earlier this year as February’s historic winter storm prompted the closure of several Austin H-E-B locations and other large grocery stores around town for days at a time. Though many small grocery stores like Royal Blue were also forced to close for a couple of days by the weather, they were often the first to reopen — and for Rainey Street residents with scarce options, their pantry items were a genuine lifeline.
Austin stores beyond Royal Blue also deserve our thanks for keeping the lights on during these previous crises — for one, Hyde Park’s famous Flag Store sold me the most important six-pack of my life on February 18 — but as the most prominent providers of staples in the downtown area proper, as far as we’re concerned the Royal Blue folks can open as many new stores as they like. This latest location at the Quincy, which includes work from local firms including the architects at Chioco Design and general contractors at Havens Construction, is expected to open in February 2022.