Editor's Note: The Bulletin will spotlight efforts to revitalize downtown Brownwood each Sunday in September.
THE ISSUE: The City of Brownwood is hopeful of seeing more entertainment-based businesses pop up in the downtown area.
THE IMPACT: If new businesses are added, it would provide more entertainment options for residents as well as boost the city's economy.
Despite its small population, Texans everywhere know Fredericksburg as a must-see day trip destination.
The Hill Country town, easily accessible from both Austin and San Antonio, offers travel brochures in four languages on its tourism website. “Where Texan hospitality and German traditions thrive,” the site says, extolling the town’s golf courses, restaurants, galleries, wineries, shops and live music. “Wilkommen, y’all.”
Fredericksburg came up often when the Bulletin spoke to various Brownwood city leaders and downtown business owners about the area’s future. For many small Texas towns, the city is a best-case scenario — a town that capitalized on its history and location to become a tourist magnet and sustain more businesses than the local population otherwise would.
Could downtown Brownwood ever replicate that model? Would it want to even if it could?
Bob Pritchard is the owner of Frames and Things, a decades-old downtown frame shop that the Bulletin profiled for its 70th anniversary earlier this year. Pritchard, who bought the store in 1983, is also a past president of Downtown Brownwood, Inc., an organization dedicated to the area’s revival.
He said Fredericksburg came up quite a lot in the 1990s when DBI pushed to revitalize downtown. But despite some successes — like the Depot Civic & Cultural Center and the Lyric Theatre — Pritchard said DBI’s plans met resistance from the Brownwood city council and the Bulletin.
“They just said, ‘We’re not Fredericksburg,’” he said.
Pritchard said DBI became a casualty of local politics, with competing visions for the future and direction of downtown. He said downtown business owners will have to band together to continue the area’s halting progress. “We need merchants walking the streets and talking to each other,” he said. “Right now it’s everyone for themselves, and places don’t grow that way.”
Over at Hamilton’s, another longstanding downtown Brownwood business, owner Jessie Hamilton expressed disdain at the move towards online retail. She said sites like Amazon threaten the handful of downtown retailers still in operation. “Nobody wants their tax rates to go up, but people need to shop local and help sustain our sales tax revenue for that to happen,” she said.
Pritchard said increased tourism would help shift that burden from locals to visitors.
There are, of course, new businesses and positive signs for downtown. City leaders are trying to figure out how to entice more businesses like That Crane Store, a women’s clothing boutique that opened downtown earlier this year.
That Crane Store owner Amanda Scott was raised in Brownwood, however, and said a lot of her business comes from the word-of-mouth connections she made while growing up. “We originally opened [in Crane, Texas],” Scott said, “but it got to where we were bringing stuff back for Brownwood customers for 90 percent of our business. So I was like, why don’t we just open in Brownwood?”
That Crane Store’s 112 W. Anderson location is perfect for her business, Scott said — but there’s not a lot nearby. “I’ve had people come down and talk about how it would be nice to have … little sandwich shops and stuff like that,” Scott said. “Places where you can sit and hang out. Nothing too fancy.
“But I feel like locals have opened things like that and they haven’t worked out. So I don’t know,” she said.
It’s unlikely that Brownwood will turn into the next Fredericksburg any time soon. But organizations like Downtown Brownwood Inc., the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce and the Brownwood Municipal Development District are all working to generate more foot traffic and tourism in the city’s historic downtown. With its proximity to Dallas, Austin and Abilene, city leaders are hoping the right combination of businesses can turn Brownwood into a day-trip destination of its own.