The urban social scientist

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On the outside, Deep Ellum Postal & Grocer brandishes a sleek logo, big windows and freshly painted walls.

But on the inside, it’s a mad scientist’s lair.

The leather is peeling on the stools, a long board is propped up against the wall and behind the counter there are mountains of boxes.

Sitting alone in the middle of the apparent chaos, wearing a man bun and an eager smile, is Brandon Castillo ’00, the self-titled “urban social scientist” behind Deep Ellum’s first post office and grocery store. It’s just one of Castillo’s many developments in Deep Ellum that try to make urban Dallas a more walkable, pedestrian-friendly space.

 “What a lot of people have told me is their grandma’s town in East Texas was the last time they’d seen a post office and a grocery store,” Castillo said. “I feel that neighborhoods in an urbanizing Dallas need to function like small towns.”

After getting his start in the area with the founding of the Deep Ellum outdoor market, Castillo has continued his series of unique developments in the community.

But after leaving Dallas in 2000 for college, Castillo thought he would never come back. He traveled to Spain and Germany, and in traveling he actually ended up instilling a pride in where he’s from. When he finally returned to Dallas after a decade, he realized that a lot of what he loved in those far away places was poking its head out in Dallas too — in Deep Ellum’s architecture, streets, infrastructure and murals.

The only difference was no one was walking around.

“If you took a scalpel,” Castillo said,” and you took out Deep Ellum and you put it in San Francisco or Chicago, everyone would want to be here. You would have people on the streets all the time.”

Castillo studied these places and brought back ideas to make Dallas a more walkable city. He wants to create destinations within a neighborhood, because small businesses rely on those destinations and in turn rely on each other.

“It’s working,” he said with a grin. “Especially trying to engender this more walkable environment.  But is it profitable? I’m not driving a Benz, you know?”

Castillo’s plan is working, but its success lies in its subtlety. It’s not just about bringing in successful businesses. For example, bringing in a Starbucks would be profitable, but it would kill the local coffee shop, and with it, the vibe of the neighborhood.

“How you make your investors happy and how you make your community happy are often times at odds,” Castillo said.

But Castillo continues to conduct his experiments, practicing what he calls “gentile-fication,” or focusing on the entrepreneur and building wealth within a neighborhood.

“The city has always embraced the entrepreneur, the risk taker, and on top of that there’s a lot of capital in the city,” Castillo said. “Mixing those two together makes innovation that much more possible.”

The key, according to Castillo, is for people to want to improve their environment, and once the community invests in a place, the seeds of innovation and expansion are already sewn.

“This is a huge city,” Castillo said.  “There’s so many creative people, there’s so many great things going on. It is just ripe for those connections to be made and new things to happen.”