Downtown Mobility for the New Breed of Entrepreneurs

Downtown Austin CEOs have a unique perspective regarding traffic concerns and how they impact local businesses. George Scariano, Jr., is the proprietor and co-owner of Royal Blue Grocery, a small chain of three independent grocery stores located in downtown Austin. RBG caters to those who work, live, and play in downtown with prepared foods and daily specials on products ranging from high-end gourmet to everyday convenience sundries.

Q: How do you see transportation impacting and/or challenging your business in downtown Austin?

One of the roles of our stores is to keep people living and working downtown out of their cars. By having three locations spaced out downtown that carry a little bit of everything, we can be a part of Austin reinventing itself in terms of a pedestrian culture that can get what it needs on a daily basis without needing to drive outside of downtown. When we opened our store in the 2nd Street District six and a half years ago, essentially the only places to walk and get your “stuff” daily were CVS and Whole Foods. Two of our stores are underneath vertical neighborhoods (i.e., high rises), and the other is at 6th and Congress. Pedestrian and resident foot traffic are a huge part of our daily sales.

Q: How do you get to work and/or get around downtown? And how well does that work for you?

I live far south, and would love a light rail option that made sense for Austin. Once downtown, we have a shop truck that our employees share for getting around and transporting product. We also transfer a significant amount of prepared foods everyday with two tricycles that we share between the stores. Austin’s downtown grid is relatively small, and our stores at most are seven blocks apart, so walking between the stores is commonplace.

Q: Do many of your employees use commute options like bicycling, transit, carpooling, etc.? If not, why do you think they aren’t?

About two-thirds of our 35 employees either bike or bus to and from work on a daily basis, something we’ve always been proud of. We’ve also just built a retail patio at our Congress store that we hope will be adjacent to a Bikeshare kiosk. My business partner Craig Staley has spearheaded the bikeshare project here and we’re all really excited about the possibilities. We’ve always envisioned Royal Blue as a community gathering spot, and have already attached bike racks to our streetside patio. Bikeshare would only accentuate that.

Q: What would you like to see Movability Austin, Cap Metro, or someone else do to help with transportation into and around downtown?

One of the problems facing us is the sheer volume of special events downtown on an annual basis, and how to effectively communicate the bests ways for people to get around during these events. I keep up with these events as well as possible, and the Downtown Austin Alliance updates us constantly on street closures. Austin Fan Fest was a good example of how downtown’s workers and shoppers stayed out of the city based on fears that the city would be gridlocked. Instead, it seemed relatively empty and was very easy to get around – particularly on that Friday. Hopefully these are growing pains that can be improved upon annually.

This is our third interview in our series: Downtown Mobility for the New Breed of Entrepreneurs. Check out our interview with Fred Schmidt, CEO and Publishing Director of Portalarium, here & our interview with Tim League, CEO and Founder of the Alamo Drafthouse, here.

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