Lot 59 in New Braunfels, TX

Note: This post was originally published to a now defunct website on June 5, 2014.

In 1845, Julius Voelcker boarded a ship from Germany en route to Galveston, Texas. It took him three months to cross the sea. Once he arrived on land, he had another months journey by foot to reach the newly settled german town of New Braunfels. The town was so new, in fact, that Voelcker was the 9th member in the First Protestant Church registry. He was awarded a half-acre plot of land in town in which to start his new life. He chose the lot that is now the parking lot of that very same church – Lot 59.

There’s no coincidence that there happens to be a store in New Braunfels now called Lot 59. The boutique located in the parking lot across Huisache Grill on Cross Street was on its way to becoming a bakery until Kat Kyle Balmos called Don Fores and convinced him to let her lease the building. It became Junkology, a store she partnered with her then husband. Now, it is Lot 59 – a boutique she has championed on her own, and named in honor of her family’s roots.

Before Julius Voelker’s incredible journey to New Braunfels, he studied pharmacology at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. He would open up Voelker Pharmacy in what is now Red Stag in downtown New Braunfels. Other descendents would go on to open Peerless Pharmacy in what is now Dancing Pony. Esther May Burt, grandmother of Kat Kyle Balmos, was one of the first female retailers in New Braunfels. She owned the Smart Shop, a retail clothing store located in the old Schmidt Hotel near what now houses the two coffee shops on the plaza.

To say that Kat Kyle Balmos was destined to open up a shop in Downtown New Braunfels would be an understatement. It runs in the family it would seem. But Kat didn’t spend all of her time here in New Braunfels. After high school, in the 80s, Kat took off for college in Sherman, Texas, and after college she stuck around Dallas taking various retail jobs. She ultimately landed at J. Crew and began to make her way up. Eventually she found herself recruited by corporate to open the J. Crew at the Galleria in Houston in 1992. Her reputation preceded itself when Abercrombie and Fitch swiped her away and hired her to run their store in The Woodlands, Texas. In only six short months she was promoted away form managing her 1-million grossing store to the top, 10-million grossing store at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kat wouldn’t stop climbing the retail corporate ladder there. She was promoted to District Manager of the Washington D.C., Maryland region, then Chicago, then to overseeing all of the Texas Abercrombie and Fitch chains, and ultimately Director of Recruiting – which saw Kat flying five flights a week hitting up all the major universities throughout the country recruiting all positions from designers, to accountants to models. Through all of her time, Kat spent many hours with Mike Jeffries, owner of Abercrombie and Fitch where she soaked up all of the knowledge he had taking a catalog and bringing it to life as a store. And, you can not deny the success of A&F in the 90s.

Kat’s resume is a storied one. And just like the name of her shop has a story, so does everything inside of it. This is what sets her vintage boutique apart from everyone else. Walk in and pick up one of her pieces,then, ask her about it. She’ll be able to tell you about its past, the person who owned it, and why they owned it. Her eye is unmatched in this town. Years of retail development strengthened her dominance of display. Anyone can go out and pick up something that looks old and resale it, but Kat approaches her pieces with museum like curation. 

This woman knows her audience. She understands that the typical boutique shopper is going to have a make counter part in tow from time to time. That’s why you’ll find vintage pipes in her shop, that is when she can actually keep them in stock on the shelves amidst their popularity. It’s also why you’ll find a rack of vinyl for sale in the corner of the shop – the corner I immediately gravitated to upon entering the store (go figure).

That’s the beauty of retail – it’s a social science that Kat is owning from all angles. From her lineage, to her rise in the ranks of the retail industry. After seeing city upon city and traveling overseas, Kat returned like the prodigal daughter to where it all began, literally. Her U.S. family lineage precisely begins with Julius Voelker making that three month journey, a journey in which people traveling on the same boat as him would perish before reaching American soil. A journey to a land of opportunity. A journey to a town called New Braunfels. Where opportunity still exists today. Julius Voelker was given Lot 59 when he arrived here. It was his to make his new life with. Now, Kat Kyle Balmos has given us our Lot 59. A place where we can pick up something with a storied past and have it give us the opportunity to create something new.

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