From the looks of things, the Fort Worth Stockyards are in the midst of a slow-motion renaissance. I’m hardly an expert on the subject, but I’d wager that the multiblock district–which is apparently the only surviving stockyard left in the country–is among the biggest attractions in the entire Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, certainly as far as a vibrant tourism/entertainment district goes. Even on a lazy Sunday afternoon, the crowds throng at the Stockyards in what is obviously otherwise a downtrodden, underinvested part of town. These pictures, I’m afraid, don’t do it justice; there were hundreds of people crowding the street.It’s not surprising, given that the longhorn cattle are a quintessential part of the Texas identity, and cattle drives (or at least a simulation of them) are a common feature.It’s not a big or high-energy event, but for those who aren’t from the Lone Star State, it’s probably their first encounter with a Texas longhorn, whose formidable bovine breadth belies its unexpectedly gentle disposition. Even with small children milling about, the ranchers show no concern for the animals stepping out of line during their death walk. Then, of course, the primary stockyards pavilion offers the intermittent championship rodeo–a more organized, ticketed event.
And it looks like the mystique of Fort Worth’s stockyards are only slated to grow in the future. South of Exchange Avenue (the commercial main street), some placard boards vaguely shroud construction work.Mule Alley, the complex just featured in the above photo, is undergoing a $175M redevelopment intended to reaffirm the centrality of Fort Worth’s cattle culture. In addition to a hotel, a brewery and music hall, and a general store featuring Texas artisans, it will strive to elevate the legacy of Stockyards without making it corporate or homogeneous. For the most part, at least.
Peeking out over the construction wall is an unmistakable and increasingly recognizable neon sign: a Shake Shack will be arriving along with redevelopment, apparently the first of its kind for the Fort Worth area (though Dallas, just a half-hour drive to the east, already has a few).
I don’t have a problem with this (and who really cares if I did), but it is a marked contrast to everything else in the six to eight blocks that comprise the core of the Stockyards district.
In many ways, the Stockyards reflects the tawdry eclecticism of a tourist magnet, not unlike the character of Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis. It’s not classy, and I’d wager that the locals don’t frequent the restaurants (in that they’re not all that great) but they’re Fort Worth’s own and absolutely capitalize on the prevailing atmosphere of the area. And while Shake Shack is not as carbon copy as most fast casual restaurant chains–each location features bottled (and often draft) beers popular within the local region–the NYC-based company hardly features an interior redolent of the Old West.
My suspicion, however, that the announcement of a national chain is an indicator that the Fort Worth Stockyards have “broken the corporate seal”–that is, the district has established itself as a sufficiently viable and sustainable attraction that it has caught the attention of national enterprise. And the property managers of these dog-eared buildings are more than happy to lock in their escalating lease rates with a reliable tenant that’ll stick around for years to come. And, best of all, perhaps Shake Shack’s pricey paddies will complement one of the existing tenants just a block away.While neither of these shacks may have been what the B-52s had in mind, something tells me the one already in place is more in the spirit. Looks like it might even have a tin roof. Rusted.