Saturday, March 23, 2013

Downtown McKinney - Big City Offerings in a Small Town Square


Street Signs Aid the Visitor In McKinney

Inviting Stores in downtown McKinney

Dining Al Fresco in Downtown McKinney
As recently as the 1990 census, Paris could brag of being larger than McKinney by 4,000 residents.  Today, a mere 23 years later, McKinney’s population has leapt ahead to over 141,000 - more than five times that of Paris.  Along the Highway 75 corridor, national chain box stores have filled in any lingering farmland and franchise restaurants followed the population surge.  Yet, downtown McKinney retains local charm while offering big city restaurants and stores.

The map of the historic square area resembles that of a large shopping mall, except everything is on one level.  Listed are 20 restaurants, 11 apparel shops, 12 health and beauty salons and studios, one hotel, and 34 specialty stores such as the Lone Star Wine Cellar, The Cake Stand, Cadence Cyclery, Walls of Clay, Kitchenware on the Square, and a surprisingly well stocked skip shop.  

Doug and Lynda’s Ski Shop began the move to central McKinney in the 1970's. Back then, the square hosted primarily antique stores and the few elderly visitors arrived by bus from nearby assisted living homes, according to a longtime employee.  The shop is now in its second generation of family owners and continues to surprise tourists with its low costs and large selection of ski equipment,  coats, pants, hats, sunglasses, and all necessary protective gear.  Across the street, four store fronts were being restored for as many new restaurants.
Arrow to Main Street Magic & Fun Show
While I enjoyed browsing the unusual women’s stores such as Orison’s western wear that proudly claimed “WE DRESS TEXAS”, it was the side street establishments that held the surprises. A sidewalk placard of a rabbit in a hat pointed  north off the square for a free magic demonstration at the Main Street Magic & Fun Company, one of only five magic stores in the whole state of Texas.  The owners have been very happy with the move to downtown McKinney, noting its relatively inexpensive cost.  I watched a five year old pronounce “hocus pocus” as the magician’s coin mysteriously disappeared.  It’s no wonder they often host children’s birthday parties.

Next door was another hidden gem - a bookstore specializing in old and rare books and especially first editions.  It, obviously, has much more as the books in the front window ranged from a Stephen King novel to one on musical instruments through the ages.  Take your time in this one.

Interior of Gregory's Bistro
Thanks to extended sidewalks, restaurants on the square spill outside with a European flare complete with rounded tables, white tablecloths and umbrellas. Italian gelato is available at Peciugo’s as are British food pub at Churchill’s and Spanish tapas at Malaga’s.  Just off the square is Gregory’s Bistro offering food of the chef’s Bretagne region of France which included my perfectly cooked Diver sea scallops with lemon vinaigrette. And for those who are less adventuresome, don’t worry.  Rick’s Chophouse boasts of “Texas Cuisine With the Comfort of the South.”

Old District Courtroom now used for performances and weddings
I was impressed with the clever decisions encouraged by the city on uses of old spaces.  After a new courthouse was built south of downtown, the historic 1927 courthouse became the McKinney Performing Arts Center.  The old district courtroom was transformed into a large, comfortable theater venue with nice balcony seating that can even be used for weddings.   Elsewhere on the square, an old movie theater is now a small, indoor  shopping mall.  And, just outside the downtown area, an old flour mill has become the newest wedding setting.

Unlike most smaller Texas communities, McKinney’s downtown does not die after 9 p.m.   More sidewalk placards advertised “awesome” live music at One Lazy Lizard and Cadillac Pizza Pub.  Louisiana Street Grill also often hosts solo performers.

While anytime is a good time to visit downtown McKinney, you can enhance your visit by attending one of the many events scheduled through the year as listed on their Main Street website.  I also discovered this blog by Beth, a local resident who wants to keep all apprised of what is new in her hood -
Downtown McKinney Blog

After only a few hours exploring downtown and the nearby Chestnut Square filled with historic homes, it was easy to understand why McKinney was selected as the second best place to live in the United States by Money Magazine in 2012.  I don’t know about living there but it’s certainly worth a visit.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Marrying into the Amazing Cristal Family

Trase Christian, Walker Clark, Nicholas Salzman and Elvis Tsang
Nitke Choy, Alba Cristal de Cholac, Dorcas Cristal Clark, irma Cristal, Maya Cristal
Efrain Cristal, Clark Pogemiller, Ana Lucia Cholac and josue Cholac

Our son was to marry in Guatemala at a beautiful hotel on the shores of Lake Atitlan.  Friends thought it a destination wedding but it wasn’t.   Such events imply ceremonies on the beach at sunset with no connection to the locale.  For ours, the bride’s roots in Guatemala ran deep and the wedding was an impressive combination of cultures.

Dorcas and her parents
Walker met Dorcas Cristal  and her family as a Peace Corps Volunteer when he worked in Chimazat, a small indigenous Maya village filled with strawberry farmers.  Her father came from a respected farming family that valued education.  Efrain finished high school in accounting and worked for two NGOs (non-profits) until taking a position with Honda in Guatemala City.  He had to commute on week-ends but used his earnings to buy land.  Her mother, Irma, was also descended from a large farming family.  She met Efrain in an evangelical church choir and married him when she was 18 and he 27.

They had five children - four girls and a boy.   Tragically, their son, Avilio, died at age 16 from leukemia, an event that most affected Efrain,  softening his traditional strict nature.

Their daughters’ careers  directly reflect the changing times in Guatemala. Irma didn’t want her daughters to suffer at the hands of macho men and she taught them to be independent.  She was the first woman in their village to drive a car and she made sure her girls could, too.

As the oldest, Irmita was a talented singer and musician and typical focused firstborn.  She moved to Guatemala City to learn English and to get a masters degree in psychology.  She now works for Tierra Nueva, an NGO that helps abused women.

Alba was strong, the tomboy of the family, and even knew how to work on cars.  Men didn’t know what to think of her.  With her family’s help, she started an egg business and later married Raul who had a poultry business - a nice combination that has allowed the family to prosper.

The four sisters at Diana's graduation
As a child, Diana loved to watch TV and was scared of even a mosquito.  But when a friend suggested applying for to the military school of Escuela Politechnica de Guatemala, she jumped in, becoming the first indigenous female tograduate from this prestigious institution.  She’s become the toughest of them all as she begins her eight years of military service.

Dorcas was the youngest and  educated more by her mother and sisters than in school.  They made sure she read early and encouraged her to get a college degree.  But Guatemala’s universities require students to begin anew if they change majors and  Dorcas wasn’t sure of a career path.  So, she became the first of the family to live abroad when she moved to Long Island, New York to be an au pair for a family with three boys.  Her arrival in the United States gave our son an  opportunity to pursue her which he did.

As the guests arrived for the wedding, it was easy to discern their nationalities.  The Guatemalan women wore traditional embroidered blouses called guipiles and wrap around skirts, many with cotton sweaters added for warmth.  The Maya men were in western suits with the bride’s father looking sharp in a tuxedo.  Young adults attending were indistinguishable from each other - the international youth culture being monochromatic in style.

In the wedding party, Dorcas’ attendants wore the traditional dress as did her mother but Dorcas had chosen a simple white gown from David’s Bridal in the States. Groomsmen brought tuxedos with them.

Although the service was primarily in Spanish,  guests were greeted in Spanish and English, readings were in both languages and my husband and I gave a bilingual despedirse or good by at the end.   The mingling of cultures was so interesting, many guests at the hotel watched the ceremony from above.


At the reception, tables were divided naturally by culture and language but on the dance floor.. ....  music united.  Sixties hits kicked off the dancing but soon a Latin beat entered followed by more current songs. The floor never emptied and all ages and dress styles mingled and moved to the beat. Even behind the buffet line, the staff could be seen tapping their feet.  What a night.

Alba Cristal de Cholac, Dorcas Cristal Clark, Irmita Cristal
Efrain and Irma Cristal

It is a tribute to the Cristals, a family proud of its Guatemalan traditions and history, that they raised four daughters in a developing country to be independent and confident.  Their success gives hope to all women of Guatemala.  And, of course, we were lucky enough to get one of those girls as our daughter-in-law.

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