Austin Rocks: Classic Austin Stores at 6th and Lamar

Whole Foods flagship store in Austin TX behind ATX sculpture

The Whole Foods flagship grocery store in Austin, Texas, behind a selfie-ready ATX sculpture.

(Part of the Austin Rocks series of posts by a local about things to do and see in Austin, Texas) 

Four iconic Austin-based businesses are conveniently located at one intersection in downtown Austin – 6th and Lamar Boulevard.

If you are short on time in a visit to the city, or you simply want a compact, walkable way to spend a very Austin morning or afternoon, this is the place to go.

Here is what to see…

Whole Foods Flagship Grocery Store

I remember occasionally going into the original Whole Foods Market as a college student. It opened in 1980 and was located a few blocks down North Lamar Boulevard from the flagship store’s current location.

A “health food store” was a bit of an anomaly back then.

Here’s an anecdote from Whole Foods history:

“In 1978, twenty-five-year-old college dropout John Mackey and twenty-one-year-old Renee Lawson (Hardy), borrowed $45,000 from family and friends to open the doors of a small natural foods store called SaferWay in Austin, Texas. When the couple got booted out of their apartment for storing food products there, they decided to simply live at the store. Since it was zoned commercial, there was no shower stall. Instead, they bathed in the Hobart dishwasher, which had an attached water hose.

Two years later, John and Renee partnered with Craig Weller and Mark Skiles to merge SaferWay with their Clarksville Natural Grocery, resulting in the opening of the original Whole Foods Market on September 20, 1980.”

Today, Whole Foods is a familiar brand to many, but the enormous flagship store (80,000 square feet) in Austin is still worth a visit.

It is packed with the usual gorgeously-displayed produce, attractive baked goods – they sell little balls of “bake it yourself” cookie dough, which to me is an invitation to eat it straight out of the container – and refrigerated cases where the kefir is across from the kombucha along with the regular old cow’s milk.

Time your visit to eat a meal at the store. There is plenty to choose from – BBQ, Tex-Mex, sandwiches, homestyle entrees, sushi, plant-based burgers, pizza, craft beer and wine, or grab a cup of coffee or a smoothie from Austin-based JuiceLand located inside.

There is indoor and outdoor seating to enjoy your food and people-watch.

Turmeric golden milk bottle by Rebbl from Whole Foods in Austin TX

Always a chance to try something new when you shop or eat at a Whole Foods. This REBBL turmeric drink had a solid kick of ginger, too. I drank it along with a chicken and pesto calzone from the store’s Lunch and Dinner menu. 

I also liked the kiosks near the cash registers that displayed local products, with background information on the business owner.

The store layout will be familiar to anyone who knows Whole Foods; it’s the sheer size and variety of goods that are so impressive. The aisles are very wide and it feels quite spacious inside.

BookPeople Bookstore

I love this place, and I know I’m going to drop some money whenever I visit. Be prepared. The staff know their stuff and give excellent recommendations.

Open since 1970, BookPeople is the largest independent bookstore in Texas. There is an incredible kid’s section upstairs, plus their café CoffeePeople downstairs in the back. They are also the official bookseller for the wonderful Texas Book Festival, held each fall (usually in November) in downtown Austin in and around the state Capitol.

I always find something surprising there, like this table in celebration of St George’s Day, which is celebrated in Britain but also elsewhere, including Catalonia, where books are a big part of the festivities…

St Georges Day April 23 display at BookPeople bookstore in Austin TX

St Georges Day April 23 display at BookPeople bookstore in Austin TX.

As you might expect, in addition to regular inventory, BookPeople carries a wealth of choices when it comes to books and merchandise related to Texas and Austin.

They are grouped in several places around the store, and it’s an eclectic collection…

Books about some aspect of Texas or Austin at BookPeople bookstore

Books about some aspect of Texas or Austin at BookPeople bookstore. Tucked in there is a guide by well-known Austin food blogger A Taste of Koko

If you want a deep dive into Austin history and culture, look no further than the indefatigable Austin Arts Hall of Famer Michael Barnes.

His Austin American-Statesman city columns are always a treasure, and if you can’t get enough of them, his “Indelible Austin” book series is just what you need…

Michael Barnes series about Austin history and characters on display at BookPeople bookstore Austin TX

Local Austin American-Statesman journalist Michael Barnes writes an excellent series about Austin history and characters, on display at BookPeople.

After all the struggles of bookstores in recent years, it makes me so happy that BookPeople continues to thrive. They are such a special Austin business.

Waterloo Records

In business for 40 years (since 1982) Waterloo Records celebrated its 40th anniversary this year with in-store concerts by Ray Wylie Hubbard and Heartless Bastards; what a way to come back after pandemic shutdowns. Of course you’ll find albums by Texas musicians like Spoon, Black Pumas, Willie Nelson, Leon Bridges, Shawn Colvin, Gary Clark Jr., Asleep at the Wheel, the Peterson Brothers, and more.

The free Waterloo in-store concerts are part of what makes this place so special. They have resumed on the tiny stage inside the store, which on the day I visited was packed with crates full of vinyl in preparation for the annual worldwide Record Store Day.

Alphabetical vinyl album sorting dividers letter C at Waterloo Records 6th and Lamar in Austin TX

The letter “C” is doing some MAJOR musical history work here amongst the alphabetical vinyl album sorting dividers at Waterloo Records. Do you own any or all of these artists? 

You can not only buy “rare-ish” or actually rare LPs and 45s, but also the equipment to play them.

One of the turntables has a framed Wilson Pickett album behind it, and I felt nostalgic when I saw baskets of little 45 adapter inserts.

Browsing the vinyl albums section at Waterloo Records in Austin TX

The vinyl section of the store also has a variety of album sleeves: paper, poly, etc. slotted by the yellow arrows.

There is a video section that I didn’t even manage to get to; set aside a lot of time to wander here.

Merch and music at Waterloo Records Austin TX

Plenty of merch, posters, T-shirts, patches, etc. also available at Waterloo.

No surprise that the staff here is incredibly knowledgeable, and will paw through the stock that is tucked away in various bins, drawers, and cubbies to help you find what you want.

Talented Austin guitarist Jackie Venson next to icon Stevie Ray Vaughan at Waterloo Records Austin TX

Thanks to the letter “V,” talented Austin guitarist Jackie Venson ends up next to icon Stevie Ray Vaughan in the CD section of Waterloo Records. Texas musicians have the state’s outline on their divider.

Amy’s Ice Creams

Start your time at 6th and Lamar or finish it with some delicious local ice cream at Amy’s.

They ship, too.

Counter at Amys Ice Creams 6th and Lamar in Austin TX

Decisions, decisions, at Amy’s Ice Creams, 6th and Lamar in Austin TX.

The staff is always cheery and fun, plus they’ll often toss your ice cream up in the air and catch it in a cup before handing it to you.

I’ve never seen them miss.

Mixing chocolate ice cream and crushed Kit Kat Bars at Amys Ice Creams Austin TX

Mixing chocolate ice cream and crushed Kit Kat Bars at Amy’s Ice Creams.

Boutique Bonus

Also near 6th and Lamar are two Austin-based clothing and lifestyle shops – By George (more of a luxe vibe) and women’s clothing and accessories at Kick Pleat.

Have you been to any of these iconic Austin stores? Do you have a favorite? Share with us in the comments.

All photos by the author

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