After more than 30 years at its South Austin location, the council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is moving north, where it will unveil a new family center and thrift store this spring in an effort to be closer to the communities it serves and increase the services it provides.
The nonprofit, which has helped people in need in Central Texas since 1961, bought a vacant retail center at 901 W. Braker Lane that it will convert to house offices, a thrift store, a donation processing and intake center, a warehouse, a coffee shop and deli. Once complete, the conversion of the 25,000 square-foot building, which was previously a grocery store, will have cost $4 million.
“We’d definitely outgrown the space on South Congress (Avenue) and are moving into a space that’s almost three times a big,” said Stacy Ehrlich, the group’s executive director. “Another main factor is that South Congress has become so gentrified that the folks we were seeing back in the ’80s are not there anymore, so we’re moving to an area of town that seemed to benefit the population of our clientele.”
The group provides financial assistance and disaster relief to people in need.
The society recently sold its South Congress property, which it held for more than 30 years in partnership with the Ladies of Charity - Austin, but will continue operating from that location until the new Vincentian Family Center and Thrift Store opens in the spring. The partnership with the Ladies of Charity dissolved after the sale of the South Congress location.
Ehrlich said the group looked at several options for the new center but was convinced by the visibility and accessibility of the Braker Lane retail center. The location, which is in a lower-income neighborhood that fits the population the group serves, also has ample parking and is on three Capital Metro bus lines, she said.
The group’s move follows a trend of Austin nonprofits leaving headquarters near the downtown area for locations further away from the center of the city, which has grown increasingly expensive in a hot real estate market. The Capital Area Food Bank of Texas broke ground on a new facility in East Austin last year and Any Baby Can left its East Austin headquarters last year for North Austin.
The North Austin location, Ehrlich said, gives the group proximity to low-income pockets of the city where many of its clients come from, but also allows the group to extend into the wider 27-county area it is charged with.
Half of the new building will be dedicated to retail, the coffee shop and a warehouse for donation intake, while the other half will include a food pantry, a computer lab for educational classes and executive offices, some of which will be available for other nonprofits or government partners that provide complementary services.
“The idea is to really serve the folks that come to us in a multifaceted way that would actually be helpful and not just one-dimensional,” Ehrlich said.
To that end, the coffee shop and deli will serve low-cost, nutritional food for retail patrons, the nonprofit’s staff and neighbors, and offer frequent discount days to a limited number of neighbors. That space will also be used for community nutrition and cooking classes.
“It’s really turning into a community center,” Ehrlich said. “It’s a place where we think we have some nonprofit partners who will teach demonstration classes like ‘How to cook on a budget,’ ‘How to cook on SNAP’ or ‘How to substitute healthier ingredients.’ There are all kinds of opportunities.”