“It’s a grocery store,” Bill Thom says, from his accustomed spot behind the antique wooden counter. “It’s not a gift shop. And it’s not a convenience store.”
It’s an important distinction. Thom’s Market, open less than six months, does not sell 64-ounce fountain drinks, week-old hot dogs or lottery tickets. Nor does it offer greeting cards. Thom’s Market sells fine wine and beer, gourmet granola known as Monkey Brains, organic baby food and its own blend of locally roasted Anderson’s coffee, for a buck a cup—to name just a very few items. It’s a highly edible place, with an ever-increasing inventory of intriguing things to eat and drink and few other distractions.
This is exactly how Bill and his wife, Beth, first envisioned running a store of their own. The idea came during a yearlong sailing trip. Both burned-out from the demands of Bill’s life in the record business and his frequent commute to Detroit, they took three of their four kids out of school (the oldest had joined the Navy and was already onboard a ship) and set out for the Atlantic Coast.
“On a boat, there is no fresh food, so we judged each place we stayed by what we could find on shore,” Bill remembers. “We were staying in Manhattan, on the Upper West Side, not far from Zabar’s, and we were inspired by all the wonderful neighborhood grocery stores, all exploding with food.”
Back in Austin, they decided to give it a shot. They leased a former convenience store on Barton Springs near South Lamar, and furnished it sparsely with antique fixtures found on eBay, as well as a photo of Thom ancestors in front of the corner grocery store they once owned in Maine. Bill and Beth both work shifts behind the counter, as does Beth’s 85-year-old father, who drives up once a week from San Antonio to help out.
“My mother cooked for several hundred people at our church,” Beth remembers, “so I’m used to buying in quantities. I also just like food, good things, quality things, simple things. I have a natural propensity for small markets. I’m easily overwhelmed by large parking lots and too many choices. It makes my neck itch.”
Not surprisingly, the selection at Thom’s leans heavily toward the local and organic, but also the just-because-it-looks-good-to-eat. After six months in business, Thom’s is beginning to feel a little like New York, if the Big Apple had square footage to spare.
“You gotta have incredible inventory,” Bill says. “I learned that from the record store. You gotta have old John Coltrane...and...and...”
“Bobby Vinton,” a customer throws out, then asks for—and receives—wheat-free dog biscuits. She then dawdles to a halt before the Upper Crust Bakery treat of the day: a tempting slice of cranberry bread. Will she ante up for that, or a bottle of Topo Chico mineral water, Thayer’s slippery elm lozenges or perhaps a Longhorns-theme Pez dispenser? It’s that kind of store. But maybe this customer has something even more esoteric in mind, in which case she is welcome to add it to the 15-page customer request list sitting on the counter. This is how local faves like Green Cart Sandwiches, Lana’s Egg Rolls and Mother’s cashew dressing came into the store.
1418 Barton Springs Rd. 512-479-9800.