Although the present economic situation is more devastating, more internationally inclusive, and promises a longer tenure than most of its kind, it is not the first time I have seen dire times drive people back to basics, back to rethinking their values, back to counting costs. Everywhere you look, you can find hints for saving money that can help you withstand what has already happened or will, it seems, most certainly happen before the tide turns - and we're left to wonder, "Will it turn?" Stories abound daily, like this column , which contribute to a vague sense of vertigo, making the future appear to be heading on a forever downward trajectory rather than a heat-seeking rise toward the stars.
In times such as these, there are places that give me comfort. My faith is the most solid grounding upon which I can rely. And then there are the surviving vestiges of past prosperity plunges. Certainly some institutions have not persevered through catastrophe; many more will not. Some people have been so altered by bitter disappointment that they have lost hold on hope and can hardly be called survivers. But there are places and people left quietly standing tall through everything.
Ten miles east of my town is the town, now city, of McKinney, Texas. McKinney was settled in 1841, before the Civil War, and has been the county seat for Collin County ever since. The date 1841 is a youthful number when compared with European history, but for the western United States, this town and others like it are the centers of historical progress in our country. When it was founded , some 40 miles north of Dallas, McKinney was built solidly of brick, stone and marble around a square where sits the imposing court house (which has burned twice and been rebuilt stronger each tme). This proud town was founded by forward-thinking pioneer spirits who established a thriving town offering amenities normally found only in much larger places. They worked to bring the railroad through in 1871 to support agricultural trade for the surrounding area; delivered electricity to the citizens by the 1880s, built a sophisticated streetcar system to carry shoppers to the most sophisticated banks, purveyors of fashion, grocers, druggists, farm supply establishments - on and on. The first picture above of McKinney in glory days is from a 1910 postcard found here.
The town has continued to be forward thinking through the years. When Dallas metropolitan shopping malls began opening in mid-20th century, luring shoppers to their variety and glitz, McKinney countered by incenting specialty outlet stores to fill spaces emptied on the square. The outlet trend was brand new. So, McKinney made itself into a Mecca for North Texas, drawing folks from Dallas and Ft. Worth and beyond who were looking for the "deal" in clothing, fabric, bridal gowns and effects, electronics, etc. When interest flagged, the city leaders wisely ascertained society's turn coveting things from the past, and encouraged development of charming antiques shoppes and malls, reopened lovely old hotels off the square, brought in fine dining establishments and attracted the arts. Many things that were modern accoutrement in the early days of the city returned, where they looked most at home. McKinney's identity was repackaged for broad appeal. Today, it is not unusual at all to run into people who come come from South Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arkansas to shop.
Dallas sprawled northward with waves of suburbs. Fleeing suburbia and inner city, hungry for calm country living, thousands of people began to descend on McKinney in the 90s and past 2000. For several of this century's first years, McKinney was in the top three fastest-growing towns in its size group within the United States. Collin County became the fastest growing county.
Pursuit of relevancy has not waned. Out on Interstate 75 are the ubiquitous modern strip mall tenants like TJMax, Home Depot, SteinMart, Loew's, etc. There is certainly demand for the modern, but the town leadership is doing it with conscience. In July 2005 the city celebrated the opening of “The McKinney Experiment,” Wal-Mart’s new experimental research store. It’s one of only two in the United States and is one of three new “green” projects that have decided to make McKinney home. The world’s 1st LEEDS® certified (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) car dealership also broke ground in 2005. A new medical complex was well underway that year as well, while restoration projects abounded on the square and beyond. McKinney worked hard to hit the perfect balance between the past and the future. Just like the rest of the country, it suffered through a Civil War, a Great Depression, World Wars that claimed hundreds of its sons, declines in agriculture, the fickle caprice of desire, but has garnered strength to withstand - not unscarred, but undeterred.
So, yesterday, when I felt myself on a slippery slide away from hope, I got in the car and went to McKinney. I took my camera, but forgot it for the first two hours of my wanderings - in and out of shops and restaurants who, like the town, are in a constant state of reinvention. One store I entered was in the location of an antiques mall I had become very fond of while collecting serving pieces for Bethany's wedding. I was puzzled. because the name on the front, crisp, black awning was totally different, the windows completely redesigned, the inside painted in the lightest grey, displaying high-quality new and antique linens and decorative home goods in mostly shades of white and pale. It welcomed my heart instantly. Beyond the counter were shining faces I recognized. The owners had taken all the old elements, put them in a box and shaken vigorously. Out came the most precious store (which I will photograph next time). The contents appeal to who we are now, not what we might have been a decade ago, and the atmosphere soothes the soul.
My inspirations from McKinney are to stand firm, to be willing to change if change is needed, to recognize when change is required and inevitable and to accept. I made these observations while nibbling tappas and drinking a glass of sparkling Spanish sanghria. Yes! Tappas in a 150-year-old storefront in McKinney, Texas, and because I was so becalmed, I didn't even think of pictures. But I'll be back!