by Charlotte Kovalchuk and Cassidie Cox
Social center. Community cornerstone. Heart of Georgetown. Or, the moniker that draws many an out-of-towner—the Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas. All describe a downtown hub where folks of all ages gather to enjoy live music and a glass of wine with friends, browse eclectic shops, picnic on the courthouse lawn, and tour the 112-year-old courthouse at the center of the downtown gem. “It’s just where you go,” Mayor Josh Schroeder says. “Date night. Family dinner. Celebrating. Mourning. It’s where we go for the important events in our lives.”
FOR the LOCALS
Georgetown prides itself not only on its charm as a modern-day Mayberry; it also boasts a thriving mix of businesses that draw locals and tourists alike seven days a week. Many credit 600 Degrees Pizzeria with sparking the Square’s transformation from a “great place for restaurants to come and die,” as Cody Hirt describes it, to a flourishing business hub.
That culture inspired Cody to open Mesquite Creek Outfitters and The Golden Rule downtown with Brad Strittmatter. Growing up in Stanton, Cody treasured his close-knit town where everyone helped each other and community meant everything. “Georgetown was the only place where I sensed that same type of community. We have such a diverse group of businesses now. On top of that, none of us sees each other as competition. We see everyone as complementary. There’s a great group effort to raise the tide to raise all the ships.” Sweet Lemon Kitchen owner Rachel Cummins adds, “The people here are just really wonderful, kind, and caring.”
Several storefronts and eateries have been on the Square long enough to have watched Georgetown grow through their windows, and change from a small town to a new cultural center. One such shop is the Framer’s Gallery—a hybrid art gallery and custom frame store that has been a mainstay on the Square for more than 14 years. Kimi Chapman, owner of the store for the last nine years, finds the growth in the diversity on the Square in the last few years hard to believe but has been excited to welcome the wave of newcomers. “Exposure to art and beauty for kids is so important,” she says. “It doesn’t just prepare their minds for the present, it prepares them for the future.”
Another family friendly, whimsical stop on the Square is All Things Kids, which opened 11 years ago and has proved to be a consistently popular destination for kids—and kids at heart—to ignite their imaginations through the magic of toys. Carl Soeffker has been working at All Things Kids with his mom Karen since he was a young boy. He believes part of the store’s attraction is the nostalgia of old world craftsmanship, “We’re proud to be a battery-free store. My dad always says the toys [in America] play the kids, not the other way around.”
What’s Old is New Again
The ‘town square’ has been an integral city function for centuries; a central hub of activity—a place to gather to celebrate, receive information, conduct business, or simply sit.
A holdover from European traditions, Texas settlers built them primarily as a means to nurture townships and for neighbors to help each other through harsh winters. Over time, civic interaction began to spring up organically as the earliest town squares were gathering spaces located at the geographic center of the town. Even government took place in the square, where citizens were already present, until city halls and courthouses were constructed.
Our Georgetown Square filled all of these needs for the community until growth began to stretch beyond the downtown area and outlier residents found retail, services, and restaurants closer to home. Building owners in the 1950s and 60s tried to modernize their facades by covering the historic architecture with stucco and other material so, by the 1970s, the area was quite featureless compared to its previous Victorian beauty. As construction costs rose, renewal of historic sites became profitable and by 1984 the Main Street program had helped transition many buildings back to their former glory, creating an ‘old town’ ambiance that began to attract tourists and foot traffic once again.
As technology took off and created an environment that allowed for information at our fingertips, and people no longer needed the town square for news, the Georgetown Square has re-emerged as a place for people to be intentional about gathering in person for celebrations, business, and discussion.
Today, social life on the Square includes spontaneous and planned meetings, civic engagement, retail and restaurants, and an environment of learning. It is home to festivals and celebrations, street entertainers, and passive people-watching.
As the 21st century marches on, our reasons for visiting the Square as the same as they were 150 years ago; buying fresh produce and artisan products, eating and celebrating, and days out with the family.
WHEN YOU GO… AGAIN AND AGAIN
“There are so many things for families to do,” Gumbo’s owner Denise Page says. She encourages folks to stop by the restaurant’s family friendly bar and enjoy live music every night of the week and twice a day on Saturdays and Sundays. To her, the distinction and attraction is clear; “We’re not a Sixth Street bar. We always encourage anxious parents and tell them, ‘Your kids are bothering you more than they’re bothering us.’ ”
Square activities include:
- Market Days: From March to November, Market Days take place every second Saturday and feature artisan booths and live music.
- First Fridays: Enjoy after-hours shopping and dining while businesses stay open later the first Friday of each month.
- Courthouse Tours: Take a trip back in time during free tours at the courthouse on Fridays at 1:30pm, 2:30pm, and 3:30pm.
- Ghost Tours: Enjoy a historically accurate walk through the spirits, haunts, and legends of downtown Georgetown. Tours meet at the museum first Fridays at 8pm February through November.
- Red Poppy Festival: Each April, as the poppies bloom, Georgetown celebrates with the annual Red Poppy Festival. This year, April 22-24, enjoy live music, including country music artist Jack Ingram and Dysfunkshun Junkshun; food, a parade, car show, and more than 100 arts and craft vendors.
- Christmas Stroll: Kick off the holiday season with the annual Christmas Stroll that will feature artisan, craft, clothing, and jewelry vendors, live music, a parade, and Bethlehem Village.
- Live Music: Visitors to Georgetown can find live music around town nearly every day. Scan the code for the latest events.
MAKING IT OFFICIAL
These transformations did not happen by accident. Since 1982, Georgetown has been part of the Texas Main Street Program, which was designed to provide tools and nurturing resources to revive local economies and provide a locus for growing communities to come back together. Over the past 40 years, with funding for restoration and the consistent commitment of hundreds of volunteers and business owners, Georgetown has been repeatedly awarded and certified among more than 1,200 Texas communities as a city that maintains the quality and appearance of our main streets with the same zeal we apply to preserving history.
Hand in hand with the Main Street program is the Downtown Georgetown Association, which focuses on the health of the business community by supporting and recruiting local merchants. Their efforts, along with those of city staff, largely contribute to the frequency and diversity of offerings on the Square. Click here to learn more about their work and events on the Square.