Wednesday , 23 August 2017

The New Kid in Town: Ben Visits Downtown McKinney

By Ben Lane, TSB Staff

TSB’s news reporter, Ben Lane, is new to McKinney. He was born and raised in Dallas and he’s setting out on a quest to get to know McKinney. In an occasional series for TownSquareBuzz.com, Ben will chronicle his experiences in and around McKinney. In the first installment, Ben takes a trip around downtown McKinney.

It’s a bright and sunny day in McKinney, but it’s not warm. It’s one of those days where you wouldn’t know how cold it was unless you actually stepped outside. As I step out of TownSquareBuzz.com’s new downtown headquarters, the cold hits me immediately.

I look around and try to figure out my first move. My goal today is to begin my journey of getting to know McKinney a little better. What better place to start this little odyssey than in downtown. It certainly seems like the heart of McKinney to me.

The first thing that I notice about downtown McKinney is that all of the buildings are old. Part of what bothers me about living in Dallas is that Dallas doesn’t really subscribe to the “let’s save this old building and refurbish it” mantra. It seems like Dallas would much rather tear an old building down to make room for more condos. Dallas doesn’t rehab a building. They rebuild a fancy new one instead.

That’s always frustrated me. I like things with soul … things with heart. Old buildings have a soul (well, not literally, of course) but you get my meaning. They smell different. They look different. It’s just a different feel in an old building. Seeing all of the older buildings in downtown really caught my attention in my first trip around the square.

One thing I really like about downtown is that you can get everywhere on foot. That’s another thing that bugs me about living in Dallas. You can’t get anywhere without getting in the car and driving for 15 minutes. There is a big part of me that really likes urban living, where you can just walk around and stumble into something fun or see a store you’ve never seen before, and you don’t get that in Dallas.

So I decide to just walk around downtown and see what happens.

The first shop that catches my eye is Kitchenwares on the Square on Kentucky Street. I love to cook and I love kitchen gadgets. In my kitchen, there is an entire drawer filled with kitchen gadgets. Garlic press? Grapefruit spoon? Fourteen different sizes of measuring cups? A spatula that looks like a Stormtrooper from Star Wars? I have them all. And Kitchenwares on the Square has hundreds more. I am in heaven.

Roxann Dalton is standing behind the counter and welcomes me into the store. We chat about balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic peelers (a new personal favorite of mine), and lots of other fun stuff. I have to restrain myself from leaving with about 30 new things for my kitchen, but I have a feeling I’ll be checking back in there again soon.

From there, I head east through the square, down Virginia Street and take a left and walked down Tennessee Street. I knew I wanted to check out Local Yocal Farm to Market. And like I said, I like to cook and I wanted to see what fun things they had there.

When I walk in, I meet Pam Shanahan, who asks me if it was my first time in the store. “Why, yes it is,” I say. So Pam takes me around the shop and fills me in on what they do at Local Yocal. She says they raise cows and butcher their own meat right there in the back of the store. That’s about as direct from the farm as you can possibly get. Under the glass at the meat counter, they have various cuts of steak and other cuts of beef, too.

Pam tells me that they support their local community as well. Every other product in the store, from the bread, to the milk, to the chicken, to the cookies, to everything else is made right here in Texas … and in most cases, from right around McKinney too. As someone who tries to buy local as much as I can, that definitely struck a chord with me.

I thank Pam for her time and make my way to my next stop. Just down the street from Local Yocal is The Book Gallery. Walking into The Book Gallery is like a trip back in time. I’m not that old (still in my early 30’s) but I definitely appreciate the appeal of the traditional bookstore. Yes Virginia, there was a time before every bookstore had its own coffee shop, music section, and e-reader kiosk. Not that I don’t appreciate the big bookstores, but I like the smaller ones too.

As I walk in, Jim Parker is sitting behind the desk and he has a dog at his feet. Jim is chatting with someone who had come in looking for a special first edition. It’s the kind of request that the big bookstores can’t really help you with. I tell Jim I am new to the area and he fills me in on the history of his shop. I learn that the building used to be a bank and that his particular shop used to be a bakery. Apparently the bakery owner was tired of waking up everyday at 3 a.m. to make sticky buns, so Jim bought the space and The Book Gallery was born.

Jim takes me outside and tells me about how the cotton gin used to be next door and shows me the still-standing support beam for the arm that would swing in the bales of cotton to be weighed. It is an unexpected but welcome history lesson.

After thanking Jim for his time, I head back towards the square on Tennessee Street and wander into Goodies Texas. Their window display draws me in. Behind the counter at Goodies and setting a counter in place are Alex and Kristen Lanio. Their store is an absolute dream for the five-year-old that lives inside of me. Almost the entire left side of the store is stacked with chocolates, fudge, and candy that look and smell amazing. Alex makes all of it himself! If I weren’t lactose intolerant, I probably would order about 75 different things to try.

But there aren’t only sweets at Goodies; the rest of the store is filled with toys, games, stuffed animals, and other fun things too. I chat with Alex and Kristen about their relocation from New England and their plans to close their store up there and focus their operations on their store here in McKinney.

After a lovely chat with the Lanio’s, I head down Louisiana Street and find a place that I know I simply have to visit. I’m a dog lover and The Canine Cookie Company is right up my alley. My wife and I have a four-year-old Shih Tzu that we often refer to as “our first-born son” and we have been known to shower him with gifts.

Inside The Canine Cookie Company, I meet Stephanie and Craig Farrar, who own and operate the store. Stephanie and I bond over our love of dogs and I do believe she may have fallen in love with my dog when I showed her a picture of him on my phone. Stephanie tells me that they make all their dog treats themselves, even employing some housewives to help cut the treats into cookie shapes.

The store is filled with everything a dog owner could ever want to spoil their little pup with. I tell Stephanie and Craig that I would certainly be back and I’d definitely be picking up some of their treats for our dog.

My last stop on my tour is just across the street. Loco Cowpoke salsa shop definitely looks interesting too. I love spicy foods. I put some sort of hot sauce onto most things that I eat. Inside, I meet Randy Abshier, the owner, amongst their seemingly endless supply of salsas and other hot things. It just smells spicy in there. It is a beautiful smell.

They have ghost pepper salsa, which I’m scared to even taste, and lots of other spicy goodies in there too. I tell Randy I’ll be back there, too, to load up on salsas and to maybe try their jalapeno peanut butter (What!?!).

After that, I go back to the TownSquareBuzz.com offices and take stock of my day. The main thing I noticed is that everyone was incredibly nice and generous to me. I didn’t tell any one of them that I was a writer for TSB until well into our conversation. I could have just been some random guy off the street, for all they knew. But every single person treated me like I was their best customer.

That kindness and positive spirit is something that I’ve continually noticed in my short time in McKinney already. Everyone here seems so nice, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the city and its people. I can only hope that the rest of my time here in McKinney will be as pleasant as my first month was. If the fine folks of downtown McKinney are an indication, then I think I’ll be just fine.

If you have an idea of where Ben can visit next in his tour of McKinney, let us know in the comments. He said he’d try just about anything once.
 

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