Austin, Texas Goes Luxe

Quirky city adjusts to injection of new luxury retail complexes.

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Austin, Texas, is undergoing an identity crisis.

It’s the good kind — brought on by an abundance of riches —  but seismic all the same.

Two competing identities are battling it out — or perhaps negotiating to coexist — in Texas’ least “Texas city.” The “Keep Austin Weird” mantra, often emblazoned on T-shirts and bumper stickers, is alive and well in areas like SoCo (the retail-heavy stretch of funky South Congress Avenue) and downtown Austin, where apartment buildings are sprouting for the first time to create a more residential downtown, complete with a flagship of Whole Foods, the Austin-based supermarket chain.

But a new “Keep Austin Fabulous” echo is being heard since the city got its first full injection of luxury retail last year, when The Domain, an upscale, mixed-use complex, introduced the city to its first Neiman Marcus. Austin is home to the first Neiman Marcus Last Call outlet, but had otherwise been untouched by its Dallas-based retail neighbor. Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Intermix and Barneys Co-op are also at The Domain.

Construction will nearly double the already 631,000 square feet of stores surrounding the open-air center by 2011. Nordstrom will join the space with its second Austin door, and Saks Fifth Avenue will move from the Arboretum shopping center to The Domain. The next phase of real estate development hopes to include more Austin-specific retailers: Whole Foods has already committed, but planners hope to lure others that resisted developments to their city.

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