After more than 20 years in business and 18 years on South Congress Avenue, Blackmail Boutique will close next month. The closure of the vanguard business—where clothing designer Gail Chovan and her partner and husband, Evan Voyles, sell original apparel, jewelry, art, vintage boots, housewares, and other intriguing objects—was announced on Chovan’s Facebook Sunday afternoon.
“It is very difficult—and lucky—to survive and thrive for over two decades in retail; in any market at any time,” it reads. “We have fulfilled our mission, and are leaving to devote more time to other pursuits.”
It’s also difficult to overstate the importance of Blackmail in Austin’s cultural and material history. Opened in 1997, it was one of the handful of newer local businesses that helped jump-start the economic revival of that stretch of South Congress Avenue—at the time a somewhat run-down area that was home to the stalwart Continental Club, a few vintage shops, and, it is said, a lot of drug-related activity.
The opening of Lake/Flato-designed Hotel San Jose, which morphed from a sort of SRO into a chic, understated hospitality space, boosted the area to international renown. Rebranded SoCo (a moniker that only partially stuck), the stretch of blocks just south of the river became a cultural focal point for Austin’s economic boom in the early 2000s but remained a locus of independent, local business for a remarkably long time before starting its current transition to larger, higher-end, mixed-use buildings and hotels.
Whether or not the nature of the street’s current phase prompted the decision to close Blackmail isn’t publicly known at this point. According to the post, the boutique will complete its final lease and close on March 24.
Chovan is now a full-time professor in the Division of Textiles and Apparel at the University of Texas at Austin. Voyles is an artist whose Neon Jungle is also a legendary homegrown enterprise.