Owner of Austin landmark says neglect is transforming 'Dirty Sixth' into 'Filthy Sixth'

The owner of Bobalu Cigar Company says he is moving from downtown Austin to north Austin because of homeless people, crime and waste. (Photo:Bettie Cross)

Muggings, drug overdoses and fights are just a few of the problems pushing one long-time Austin business to leave Sixth Street. A short stretch of Sixth Street, from Congress Avenue to Interstate 35, is known as "Dirty Sixth." But now a business owner says "Filthy Sixth" is a better description.

Love it or loathe it, Sixth Street is one of the most iconic streets in Austin. But talk to one long-timer and you'll hear that an entertainment district that was once rough around the edges is now rough to its core.

"It's harder and harder to make money down here," said "Casino" Eighmey, owner of Casino el Camino. "The city treats E. Sixth Street like the red-headed stepchild."

Eighmey offers burgers and beer at Casino el Camino. His place has been on Sixth Street 24 years. But next door, across the street and on the nearest corner there are businesses that have closed and the storefronts sit empty. On Tuesday, his neighbor for 21 years is also calling it quits.

"I'm sad. 21 years of your life in one place is a lot," said Jeff Lipton, owner of Bobalu Cigar Company.

Lipton is closing the original shop on Sixth Street and is moving the entire operation to his newer north Austin factory store. He couldn't fit all the reasons why on the longest leaf of tobacco.

"The crime, the aggressive panhandling, the dirtiness, the parking situation, the rents and the danger. Number one is the danger," said Lipton.

He thinks a big part of the problem is the growing number of homeless people who spend their days and nights around Sixth Street.

"My customers are not safe. My employees don't feel safe down there. And it just came time that it was just too much for us," said Lipton.

The Burnet Road cigar factory won't have the Sixth Street vibe or downtown tourist traffic. But a behind-the-scenes look at cigar rolling is creating a new atmosphere that may be more appealing than the old one.

"The Austin vibe seems to have been lost down there. It doesn't seem like Austin to me," said Lipton.

The Downtown Austin Alliance declined our request for an interview, but on Sixth Street business owners are ready to speak up.

"Nothing is happening down here. They're just letting it turn into a crappy place," said Eighmey. "If I didn't own the building I probably wouldn't have stuck around either."

The Sixth Street location of Bobalu Cigar Company is closing at the end of January. That's when all operations will be consolidated at 8501 A Burnet Road.

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