The Bartlett BoomTown Comeback: Reinvigorating a Small Texan Community One Craft at a Time
August 2, 2022
Right before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, Robert Zaikin, back in 2019, was out looking for small towns or cities in the more rural and forgotten areas of the Lone Star State. This was because he had a list of towns to visit that were potential candidates for his planned development.
He, like many other people (me included), is an avid fan of historical sites and old architecture. Once he drove up and saw Bartlett City for the first time, Robert said that ‘everything looked and felt so authentic and so real and I was just completely amazed at how everything was preserved.’
A city with over 1,600 residents (based on the 2020 census), Bartlett City is a tight-knit community 50 miles Northeast of Austin, Texas. Previously considered as one of Texas’ boomtowns back in the early 1900s, the historical main street of the town is mostly well-preserved and was even used as a movie set because of the period-accurate architecture of buildings in downtown Bartlett.
‘Most of the buildings were either vacant, or people were using them as self-storage, there were one or two that were antique stores … and my vision was to bring back these buildings to life and to fill them with businesses…to bring back the vibrancy of Bartlett,’ Robert added when talking about what he saw and experienced in planning to invest in the historic buildings of Bartlett.
Right then and there, Robert fell in love with the town. The historic buildings with high ceilings and the different architectural styles that have been preserved through the years made him see the potential of Bartlett. And because of this, he got right into investing in the town. ‘Over the course of just under a year, I purchased the majority of the buildings on … the downtown area of Bartlett which is East Clark Street,’ Zaikin said.
More than a fresh coat of paint
Once the pandemic hit, Robert’s plan for the city of Bartlett was set back by over a year. Despite the challenges faced by the alarming public health emergency, Robert persevered and stuck with his vision for the town which led him to continue with renovations.
‘We fixed things back up again … now we’re in the process of repair work and fixing up these buildings. We’re doing all the roofs on the buildings. We’re doing a lot of masonry work. New storefronts are all fixed up,’ Robert said when talking about how he and his team continued renovations of downtown Bartlett once the pandemic restrictions eased down.
The driving force behind Robert’s vision is to provide a fertile area where people who are passionate about their craft can also invest in themselves through the said developments of the town.
‘The vision has been to create a community of artists and artisans. People that work with their hands. Any kind of specialty that certainly includes food or beverage … whether it’s bourbon or wine or any kind of food products,’ Robert added.
Quality crafts and the authentic Bartlett experience
Bartlett’s strong potential for being a hub for local artisans and consumers is because of how close it is to major urban centers like Waco, Georgetown, and Austin. This makes it a prime location for people who want to visit and get to know the story behind such a historic town while also becoming familiar with local artisans that offer good quality products, and an authentic experience.
‘As long as it’s a real authentic item or product or whatever, we want it to fit with the existing kind of framework of what’s already there and bring these buildings back to life with authenticity,’ Robert added when talking about how Bartlett, Texas is going to offer an all-authentic experience for all visitors.
With regards to the certain crafts that they are looking to add to the historic town, Robert touched upon how they are closely curating the influx of local artisans. This is to ensure that their potential visitors can expect a solid, high-quality, and authentic Texas experience that is back-dropped by such a historic town.
‘The nice thing about having a critical mass at these buildings is we kinda can pick and choose who really produces high-quality things cause we’re not looking to do something that’s below sub-standard. It’s really important to us that it’s high quality,’ Robert pointed out.
And to make things easier and accommodating for potential artisans who wish to invest in Bartlett, Robert has specific leasing agreements in place to help out local craft specialists who are just starting out.
‘So let’s say a producer or an artisan is interested in a space, we’ll offer a really long period of free rent… [because] we realize it takes a long time for businesses to get established and running so we would work out something where there’s a free-rent period whether it’s 6 months or maybe even longer … they would do their own fit-out to the building – to their own specifications,’ Robert pointed out.
With development comes opportunities
Texas and a lot of other states in the US have small towns like Bartlett where they’re considered ghost towns. These towns are characterized by a small local population coupled with a small economic size. This is why the investment that Robert is putting into Bartlett is a welcome development for the local community.
‘Everyones’ super excited to have a downtown that they could be proud of … where they could walk there or drive there, do a little shopping and support local businesses,’ Robert said.
Bartlett, with its 1,600 residents, is in need of more opportunities to generate income that will help support the local economy. Robert Zaikin, through his vision for the City of Bartlett, is currently working to provide sustainable avenues of opportunities for the local citizens and eventually help reinvigorate this once prosperous boomtown.
‘Whatever businesses come into Bartlett or artists or artisans or food producers, we want to make sure that they are thinking for the long-term because we are also thinking for the long-term. We realize that this project is a 10-year project … so whoever is joining us in this journey has to share the same vision, the same long-term time horizon, and be part of the community that we’re looking to enhance,’ Robert said.