While the live music festival Austin City Limits (ACL) boosts the local economy, some neighboring businesses say the festival drives away their customers.
The annual festival, which opened Oct. 6 this year, generated about $450 million in economic activity last year, but businesses like Casa de Luz, one of Austin’s remaining local post-pandemic vegan eateries, say the festival disrupts access to their restaurants.
Casa de Luz management said while they normally serve 500-600 people per day on a weekend, just 67 customers came in on the first Sunday of ACL last year.
“We cut our employees in half,” said Casa de Luz manager Gabriel Longoria.
Located on Toomey Road, east of ACL in Zilker Park, the restaurant shares a complex with other businesses also affected by ACL congestion. During last year’s festival, wellness shop and yoga studio 3rd Eye Lounge lost about half of its customers, according to owner Neal Dumra, and juice bar Alchemy Organics closed early, said manager Taylor Holmes.
“It really impacts everybody,” said Estefany Martinez, another manager at Casa de Luz.
While some customers intentionally stay away to avoid crowds, others simply don’t know the businesses are open during ACL.
“I thought they closed that weekend,” said Spencer Beemiller, a customer of Casa de Luz for over seven years.
Beemiller said surrounding street congestion made the complex look inaccessible.
Martinez said the customers who do brave congestion struggle to park. During ACL, the City of Austin reserves a nearby parking lot customers normally use for festival bicycle storage and scooter rental companies who pay for the space. The city refused to lease lot sections to Casa de Luz during ACL.
“We can’t have a business renting park spaces to support business operations,” said Jason Maurer, sales and events manager for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.
He said the city requires scooter companies to utilize the lot instead of streets and sidewalks where they would become a public safety hazard.
The department instead gives Casa de Luz free refillable permits for parking on Toomey Road, but these spots are limited.
Not only do the businesses lose regular patrons, but they don’t attract new customers from ACL either. While the complex sits just one mile from the festival, it hides between apartments on a side street.
“It’s really tucked away,” said Jordan Valdes, a customer who learned of Casa de Luz through word-of-mouth.
Even some businesses with high visibility don’t capture enough foot traffic.
Green Mesquite, a 35-year-old barbecue joint, loses about $10,000 each ACL weekend, despite its prime location on Barton Springs Road, according to manager Pascale Massaad.
“It takes out a big chunk,” she said.
While festival-goers could eat at the restaurant, many opt for ACL food vendors inside Zilker Park.
Despite the challenges, businesses keep trying to adapt.
Dumra said he plans to set up outdoor food and beverage stands with Casa de Luz. Massaad said Green Mesquite management may lease out the restaurant’s empty parking spaces.
Although Casa de Luz could operate at a loss during ACL, Longoria said the restaurant never closes.
“We’re open on Christmas,” Longoria said. “We have people that eat every meal here.”