Let’s go Downtown

A downtown that has been around for more than a century is experiencing a new energy, with Mansfield’s Main Street adding unique shops, restaurants, entertainment and a renewed spirit of community.

Sprinkled among the familiar businesses that you might find in a traditional downtown – real estate, insurance and service offices, barber shops and tire shops – are engaging additions to the growing city’s collection of destination venues. Add the improvements that Mansfield has made to roads, sidewalks and parking, and downtown Mansfield is ready to show off its personality beyond the borders of the southern Tarrant County suburb.

One of the new eye-opening businesses on Main Street is AndiMac Candy Shack, although the year-old store looks as though it would have fit into downtown more than a half-century ago. A wooden floor leads the way to barrels filled with treats from the past and shelves lined with bushel baskets of taffy.  Sharing shelf space with throwback candy like Charleston Chews and Slo Pokes are chocolate wands and Bertie Bott jelly beans made famous in the recent Harry Potter books and movies.

“I wanted to go old school, and what’s better for that than an old downtown area?” asks Andrea McMillin, a longtime Mansfield resident who changed careers from accounting to candy store owner and saw promise in the historic district.

She’s not alone with that frame of mind. Across the street from her shop is Dirty Job Brewing, which is entering its third year in business on Main Street, boasting a lineup of flavorful craft beers and a newly opened kitchen producing appetizers, pizza, salads and other treats.

Owners Derek and Lashawn Hubenak and Justin Watson saw the same potential in downtown Mansfield. “We could have opened in a lot of places that were already booming,” says Derek Hubenak. “But we know this downtown is going to be booming and we want to have a hand in that.”

Those are only two of the new businesses seeking the same successes, both individually and collectively. Business operators meet regularly to share ideas and plans with each other, resulting in projects that bring people to downtown.

An example of out-of-the-box thinking is a joint venture that placed the Lil’ Blue Goat art shop in the lobby of Dr. Robert Smith’s optometry office. Patients can get a view of the whimsical designs when arriving for a checkup.

Jennifer Evans, the owner of Dazzarkle, a clothing store that has been on Main Street for nearly a decade, relishes the influx of new businesses and the diverse audience they attract. “We see that we have to work together to make this grow,” she says.

Officials at City Hall understand that thinking.

“The historic downtown area offers a unique opportunity to share our past with those who live in our city now and at the same time help shape our city’s future,” says Mayor David Cook, who grew up in Mansfield. “Historic Downtown Mansfield is a great destination for our residents and visitors. It also is a critical part of our local economy with dozens of businesses calling historic downtown home.”

Store and restaurant owners team up to offer themed activities on the third Thursday evening of each month. They also are active in festivals downtown throughout the year, among them the Music Alley festival and The World’s Only St. Paddy’s Pickle Parade and Palooza.

Hubenak, a longtime Arlington resident who relishes the chance to be part of Mansfield’s growth, underscores the sentiment downtown. “Everyone down here wants the same thing,” he says. “We want to see this place become a popular spot for families from Mansfield, and from outside the community.”

The LOT, an open-air amphitheater in the heart of downtown, offers events ranging from free movies and concerts to gatherings like the recent Meat, Mugs and Music, a steak-cooking competition. The Farr Best Theater offers another entertainment venue, hosting concerts and shows in an intimate throwback setting.

The city of Mansfield, while growing in all directions – it’s now among the largest cities in Tarrant County – takes noticeable interest in its time-honored asset. Early in 2019, the city completed road improvements on North Main, which included adding a trail that adjoins the downtown area with nearby Town Park and provides access to the city’s linear trail as well as creating an inviting pathway to downtown businesses and activities for residents of the upscale apartments in Bexley on Main.

The trail into downtown added decorative lighting, widened sidewalks and additional parking. It is the second trail dedicated downtown in two years. The Pond Branch Trail, dedicated a year earlier, runs near The Backyard, under Broad Street and stretching north along the creek. Another trail will connect once construction is complete on the city’s dog park on Broad Street near Main Street. The dog park sits next to the historic Man house once owned by one of the city’s founders. That site is being renovated into a public museum, which will complement the Mansfield Historical Museum and Heritage Center, which fittingly sits at the corner of Main and Broad streets. The city also added and expanded existing parking lots, even leasing a lot from a Broad Street church to use as public parking six days a week.

“The infrastructure improvements in historic downtown are about positioning that area for our continued growth as a community and about connecting it to the rest of the city,” Cook explains.

Nearly as soon as a storefront is vacated, a “coming soon” sign goes up. That happened when Main Street mainstay MaryLou’s coffee and sandwich shop relocated around the corner, to a larger facility on Broad Street, allowing the eatery to expand its seating area and parking while remaining in the historic downtown area.

MaryLou’s occupies the century-old J.H. Harrison house, which boasts a large wraparound porch, perfect for sipping a cup of coffee. Now, Main Street Tacos prepares to open in the previous site at the north end of downtown’s main strip. Across the street, another sign touts the pending arrival of Flying Squirrel Coffee. Also new is The Backyard, an open area that unites Twisted Root Burger Co., Tacos and Avocados, By The Horns Brewery and Hypnotic Emporium, an ice cream shop. The site is a cross between entertainment and eateries, featuring picnic tables in an open area among the buildings, allowing patrons to sample food and drinks from any or all of the businesses. The restaurants also have indoor seating, and table tennis and other games attract families and make evenings and weekends bustle.

That’s the type of activity that the downtown merchants, and the patrons that are happy to have a downtown to enjoy, are aiming for. Evans, of Dazzarkle, explains the attraction simply:

“We have a hometown feel down here that you’re not going to get anywhere else.”