Austin IBIZ Districts

Austin Independent Business Alliance 2002–2024: A Long Run of Advocacy Comes to a Close

In 2000, Steve Bercu and Emily Miller felt drowned out as the City of Austin sought to attract national retail chains. Steve had founded the city’s best-known bookstore, BookPeople, while Emily ran Juice Joint, another local favorite. They wondered: why would their city council do that? Shouldn’t someone stand up for local business?

In 2001, the city’s approval of a plan to build a new Borders Books and Records across the street from BookPeople and Waterloo Records, both Austin local businesses, sparked a new round of controversy. In response, a small group of business leaders founded the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA), a non-profit association to promote local businesses. Those dedicated volunteers included Bercu, Waterloo’s John Kunz, publisher Rebecca Melançon, and activist Mike Blizzard, among others.

Today, as we celebrate AIBA’s work over twenty-plus years of strong advocacy and tireless support for locally owned businesses in Austin, we must also say goodbye.

As of May 2024, AIBA has made the difficult and carefully considered decision to cease operations. As this chapter closes, we want to reflect and share our deep gratitude for all the support—indeed the love—from our members, community, and friends.

Over the years, AIBA has helped build an appreciation for the uniqueness and value of locally owned businesses. We were one of the originals to share Keep Austin Weird bumper stickers back when the slogan was new.
AIBA wanted to answer the question, “Why buy local?” We commissioned Civic Economics, a local economic research firm, to study the multiplier effects of buying locally. The study found that 25-45% more money stayed in the local economy when people bought from locally-owned businesses instead of shopping at national chains. It wasn’t just a nice idea; it was of mutual benefit for everyone.

Realizing that local businesses often clustered together in neighborhood corridors, AIBA invented the Independent Business Investment Zone (IBIZ) program.

IBIZ districts created a shared group identity for each neighborhood area and helped these local neighborhood business groups grow their audience. Partially funded for a time by the City of Austin, IBIZ grew into a nationally awarded program. Now in local members’ hands, IBIZ districts continue to thrive.

In 2010, AIBA convened the first Small Local Business Summit to help business owners have a voice with the City. The resulting discussions allowed AIBA to write the Local Business Manifesto, a statement of priorities and requests for help from City leaders. Over the following years, the City implemented many of these ideas.

Celebrating local businesses also took the form of seriously fun events: The Armadillo Awards, boat cruises on Lady Bird Lake, educational luncheons, breakfast talks at BookPeople, and too many happy hours to count. All let us share knowledge, good spirits (and woes), and the joy of thriving together.

We also told unique Austin stories in our vividly curated IndieAustin print directory. You can still see gorgeous cover artwork with pictures of local business stars hanging on walls all over town.

In 2020, AIBA faced new challenges. As the pandemic unfolded, changing times required our members and AIBA to slow down and focus on survival.

When I became the AIBA Executive Director in 2021, I immersed myself in the organization’s history and launched into the future by asking: What is our purpose now? We renamed AIBA to ALBA—the Austin Local Business Alliance—and focused on the current needs of the local business community.

As we continued working with our members and the community, we witnessed how well people understood the preciousness and importance of our local businesses, which had been recently threatened by difficult circumstances beyond their control.

As challenging as it was to continue the organization’s work, we realized we had achieved so many of our original goals.

AIBA has shown that supporting locally owned businesses is key to a healthy community.

AIBA has seen Austin celebrated locally and nationally as a haven for unique businesses.

AIBA has also spread the idea of supporting local businesses everywhere. Austin businesses recreate themselves daily, and we are immensely grateful for our community, which helps them continue this vital work.

I want to personally thank the Board of Directors for staying the course during the last few tumultuous years: President Janet Krueger, Secretary Kevin Lewis, Michael Searle, and Hill Abell—all for allowing me to take the reins of this legacy. I appreciate them more than they’ll ever know!

With lots and lots of local love,

April Ritzenthaler
Acting Executive Director

Independent Business Investment Zone – IBIZ – Districts are walkable neighborhood areas where 75% of the businesses are locally-owned.

Click into the map below to see the IBIZ District near you!

  • Airport Boulevard: the new old Austin

    Airport Boulevard

    Airport Blvd. from I-35 to 290. More than 50 locally owned businesses.

  • East Cesar Chavez logo

    East Cesar Chavez

    East Cesar Chavez from I-35 to Pleasant Valley. More than 115 locally owned businesses.

  • East End logo

    East End

    East 11th from Branch to Navasota; Rosewood to Angelina. More than 60 locally owned businesses

  • East Sixth logo

    East Sixth

    East 6th from I-35 to Comal. More than 65 locally owned businesses.

  • Lo-Burn logo

    Lo-Burn

    Burnet Road from 44th to North Loop. More than 100 locally owned businesses.

  • North Drag logo

    North Drag

    Guadalupe from 29th to 32nd. More than 50 locally owned businesses.

  • North Loop Strip

    North Loop

    North Loop from Chesterfield to Possum Park. More than 40 locally owned businesses.

  • South First logo

    South First

    South First from the river to Oltorf. More than 100 locally owned business.

Eat Local. Drink Local. Shop Local.

Created by the non-profit Austin Independent Business Alliance in 2004, and administered through it’s sister foundation the Local Economies Council, the nationally-recognized, award-winning IBIZ Districts Program supports and promotes neighborhood business districts throughout Austin – in areas where 75% or more of the businesses are locally-owned.

Whether you’re looking for local art, vintage finds, watering holes, familiar faces, or exploring new treasures – IBIZ Districts are the place to be!

This program has been so successful that in 2011 the City of Austin received an International Economic Development Council (IEDC) award in Neighborhood Economic Development for our IBIZ Districts.

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Mission & Vision

Our 501c(3) organization, the Local Economies Council, is dedicated to educating the public about the economic, cultural and community benefits of locally owned businesses; to conducting research for this purpose; to encouraging the development of a vibrant, sustainable local economy by promoting local business ownership; to community involvement and economic prosperity through education; and to support and collaboration.

Local Economies Council logo

We envision Austin as a place in which the Local First concept is infused in all segments of community including business, education and public service.