Fri March 14, 2014
What Happens When a Local Business Opts Out of SXSW
Thousands of bands have come to town for SXSW, and many of them are here thanks to one thing: brands. Doritos is reportedly paying Lady Gaga millions to do a show. Chevy is giving people free rides around town. Toilet paper brand Cottonelle even has a "refresh lounge" at the festival this year.
But what happens to local businesses that opt out of corporate freebies and VIP-only parties?
To find out, just head to Rainey Street, aka Corporate Party Central. But at the southern end of the street sits a bar that's proudly banner-free, with no velvet rope and no VIP guestlists: Craft Pride.
The beers on tap here – all 52 of them – are all from Texas. And the bar's taste for things truly local goes beyond its taps. Unlike most of the bars on Rainey Street, Craft Pride has decided to opt out of South by Southwest.
"During South By, there's a lot of people that are coming to town," says David Voss, Operations Manager at Craft Pride. "And maybe they don't want to go to a show every second of the day. They don't want to hear a band every second of the day. They don't want to have something thrown at them advertising-wise every second of the day."
So Craft Pride is taking a different approach: Turn down offers for corporate parties. Stay open instead. Keep the regulars happy, and offer visitors a break from the SXSW madness. And they're not the only place in town doing this.
"We basically opened our doors, intentionally didn't do any buyouts or bands. So that you just come in, drink a beer, and enjoy yourself," Voss says.
Walk out to the back patio, and you won't see a stage or giant inflatable vending machine. Just some chairs and tables. And a pizza trailer. Inside the trailer? A giant 60-quart Hobart mixer from the fifties, used for the acclaimed pies of two Detroit-style pizza trailers called Via 313 (313 is the Motor City's area code).
And like Craft Pride, VIA 313 has decided not to do any parties or corporate events at SXSW either.
"Part of our strategy is keeping our prices the same and keeping our menu the same to still cater to the locals," says Zane Hunt, who with his brother Brandon owns Via 313.
They're keeping an open door policy as well. "We accept all badges. All parties," says his brother Brandon with a laugh. "But no sponsorships. We want to cater to everybody. We don't want to turn away our locals that take care of us."
But what about the financial tradeoffs? Don't local businesses run the risk of losing money by turning corporate parties down?
"To be honest, I would say realistically we could've made a little bit more money doing the buyouts, booking some bands and stuff like that. At the same time, it's a lot of stress and a lot of hassle," says Voss of Craft Pride.
And Voss says he wants the bar to be both a refuge for locals and something new for visitors to try. When the web company GoDaddy! started picking up some tabs for an hour the other night, the bar said it was a "miscommunication" and noted on Twitter that "WE DON'T HAVE FREE BEER."*
"We didn't really encourage that, and don't really encourage things like that," Voss says. "We've had a couple people with badges come in to see what they're going to get. We're not going to give special treatment because they have a badge or a wristband."
But not doing corporate parties or big shows doesn't mean they won't occasionally fill an order for someone special. Via 313 put together an order of 18 pizzas for Jay Z the other night.
"That was pretty fun," says Brandon Hunt. "They didn't tip. No, I'm joking. I'm joking. They came back and tipped. It was a miscommunication."
*This story has been updated to clarify how the bar dealt with a web company using them for promotion.