Before its current owner, Jeanne Crusemann Daniels, poisoned it by acting less like a landlord than the lord of the land, the TarryTown Shopping Center, in West Austin, was one of my favorite places to pass the time. Built in 1939 by Daniels’s grandmother and great-uncle, it was the first of its kind in the city and one of the first in Texas; people drove from all over to marvel at this new concept in marketing. Nicely arranged on either side of Exposition Boulevard just north of Windsor—less than a ten-minute drive from the state capitol—it was an appealing cluster of one- and two-story shops and restaurants with red tile roofs and faux California-Spanish architecture, embedded within an upscale enclave of reasonably tolerant people and fine homes. But in 1999, after she inherited the property from her mother, Daniels—a loyal supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—proceeded to wreck it with her loony crusade for animal rights and veganism. Merchants who did not obey her lifestyle edicts were sent packing. For some years now Daniels has lived in Houston, leaving the dirty work of tenant relations to her lawyers and property manager. Her flunkies insist that the center is “thriving” and point to its 93 percent occupancy rate, but there is no place to buy groceries, no place to eat lunch, no heart, no soul.
Its demise happened in the blink of an eye, or so it seems. I used to live on Exposition, less than a block away. Everything I needed was within walking distance. There was a bank, a branch library, a post office, a pharmacy, a grocery, three or four good places to eat, tree-lined sidewalks, and a reassuring sense that this was a neighborhood at peace with itself. Many of the businesses had been there for thirty or forty years, a few even longer. Ralph Moreland’s Holiday House, which sold burgers and comfort food and anchored one corner of the center, evolved into an unofficial community gathering place. Old folks walked to the Holiday House for breakfast and lingered until mid-morning. Teens migrated there after school. The late Bob Bullock, who also lived nearby, huddled with other politicians over endless refills of coffee. Bible study groups convened there, as did a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. I went there to read and be left alone.
And yet I hadn’t heard of Jeanne Daniels, or realized that her purge was in progress, let alone virtually complete, until I read in January that Bill Broaddus had been obliged to close the Chevron station that his father, Scott, had opened 66 years ago. The Chevron and the Tarrytown Pharmacy, which opened in December 1941—the same weekend as the attack on Pearl Harbor—were the only longtime tenants still in business; now one of them was gone, and the other might well be when its lease is up in 2010. The Grocery, which sold gourmet wines, cheeses, and choice cuts of beef, shut down eight years ago, followed by Texas French Bread (a bakery), Holiday House, Formosa (a Chinese restaurant), and several other popular venues. Though they closed or moved for various reasons, all of them had run afoul of Daniels’s unyielding restrictions, which prohibit the sale of animal products and items that might be deemed harmful to animals. By animals, Daniels means not just cute furry or winged creatures but also ants, rats, and even fish eggs. The liquor store was forced to stop selling gift baskets that included jars of caviar. The owner of a shoe repair shop had to move leather laces to the back, though Daniels still permits him to shine and repair leather shoes. (When I asked her about this apparent hypocrisy, as well as her leasing a storefront to a Seattle’s Best Coffee franchise, which serves food made from animal products, Daniels—who would answer my questions only through her publicist—replied, “The Center is a work in progress, evolving toward its goal.”) Mousetraps at the hardware store, leather eyeglass cases at the optometrist, and shoes and belts at the children’s clothing store became contraband. Nancy Owen was told to stop selling memory books made with leather at her wedding accessories shop, which she did, but when she complained a few years later about an infestation of ants and requested an exterminator for the shop’s exterior, she says that one of Daniels’s henchmen told her the pests would be trapped and “relocated.”
The Broaddus family’s gas station was typical of the professionalism and old-fashioned commitment to service and quality once common not only at the TarryTown Shopping Center but all across America. When you pulled in with a strange knock under the hood, Julio or Leroy or one of the other mechanics who’d worked there for so long rushed to your assistance. Bill Broaddus is a large man with an easy smile and the sort of relaxed attitude I find comforting when talking about cars and other mysteries of life. Eventually I moved to another part of town, but I kept coming to Tarrytown to fill up, knowing he cared about me and my machine.
Broaddus got crosswise with Daniels because he sold candy bars made from milk that was presumably ripped from the udders of helpless cows. He agreed to get rid of the offensive candy, but when his lease came up for renewal, the new contract was so packed with oppressive demands that he moved his station to West Lake Hills. “I grew up two blocks away,” he told me, sorrowfully. “This was more than just a job.” (Another gas station that leases from Daniels, Tarrytown Texaco, has stayed open by toeing Daniels’s hard line.) Likewise, Owen decided the fuss over the ants was too much and elected not to sign a new lease when her old one expired. Among other concerns, she said she would have had to share her profits and probably open her books if she had renewed.
It would be hard to count the number of loyal employees who have lost jobs because of Daniels’s