From the psychedelic era of the '60s to the craziness of today’s current bar scene on East Sixth, Aaron's Rock and Roll works hard to uphold its legacy as a landmark of Austin’s rock music scene.
Originally founded on South Congress, Aaron’s Rock and Roll has a long history in Austin selling rock memorabilia like T-shirts and iron patches. After it moved to East Sixth Street in the mid ’80s, Aaron’s ownership changed hands from the Aaron family to current owner Gary McCreight.
McCreight, a UT alumnus, was an employee at Aaron’s before purchasing the store in 2003. McCreight wanted to keep the store’s identity selling merchandise that appealed to the punk rock scene but also added horror movie trinkets such as lunchboxes and action figures.
Though McCreight said Aaron’s legacy as a hangout spot for rock and metal enthusiasts once blended seamlessly into Sixth Street’s live music scene, he said that all changed as the backdrop shifted to dingy bars and clubs over the years.
“Sixth Street has definitely become less about people who care about music and more about dance clubs and shot bars,” McCreight said. “It’s changed our crowd quite a bit, though we still get a lot of tourists.”
Ashley Avey, shop employee and McCreight’s girlfriend of 11 years, said despite Sixth Street’s nightlife growing and becoming more dangerous, the store has always stuck to its musical roots.
“Aaron’s history on Congress is super important since it was there during the psychedelic rock movement with bands like The 13th Floor Elevators,” Avey said. “People remember [the store] because it sold pipes there and was a definitive part of that scene in that way.”
With music venues moving further east, Avey said fewer people seem to recognize Aaron’s significance as a music staple in Austin. However, Aaron’s still has its niche audience, many of whom have frequented the store for years.
Mark Savlov, UT alumnus and writer for the Austin Chronicle, has shopped at Aaron’s for almost three decades and said the store is as much of an icon as the Ritz and Waterloo Records.
“It’s kind of weird seeing Aaron’s right there on that corner because when I first started going, none of the buildings downtown were there,” Savlov said. “The dynamic and aesthetic of that corner will remain untouched."
However, with the crime wave and distribution of synthetic drugs like K2 on the rise, Aaron’s business could be in jeopardy. McCreight said these factors have had a negative impact on the store’s image as fear of violence has alienated potential clientele on Sixth Street.
“There’s been a terrible change and lot of craziness going on with the K2 stuff,” McCreight said. “It makes our business look kinda sketchy and Sixth look like a junkie road.”
Even through turbulent times, Aaron’s continues to cater to its regular customers and will be throwing a summer sale starting Friday, July 14th. Avey said Aaron’s is an important but vulnerable landmark to the Austin community and should be protected if it is to endure.
“This is a huge historic block so it’s a big draw for tourists, but the violence keeps people away who should really cherish it,” Avey said. “If Aaron’s were to close down people would be upset, but you have to support us before we’re in a position to make that decision.”