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Exploring mom and pop shops across Texas – and why they’re worth the detour

Texas shop.JPG
Via Flickr Creative Commons
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The Czech Stop on Interstate 35 in West.

Texas Highways Magazine took note of 15 small shops all around the state and what makes them so special.

Road trips are not just about where you’re going, of course, but also where you stop along the way: Maybe an antique store, a fruit stand or a five and dime.

And in this month’s edition of Texas Highways Magazine, you can find the cream of roadside stop crop. The magazine listed 15 small-town shops from all over the state. Michael Hoinski, deputy editor for Texas Highways, joined Texas Standard to talk about what makes these shops worth a detour.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: What is the appeal of these small mom and pop shops? I mean, everybody can feel it when they’re in one, but how would you describe it?

Michael Hoinski: Well, sure. You know, we got the inspiration for this story from an article we published last year on Buc-ee’s, which is this sort of, you know, ultimate convenience store. And so we started looking what can we focus on a smaller, small-town level. And so we looked at mom and pop shops and we defined that as something that is perhaps family run, independently owned, serving a smaller community and offers a variety of services from beer and wine to, you know, bait and tackle.

Let’s talk about some of the places on the list. Can you tick off a few of them for me and kind of give folks an understanding of the types of places we’re talking about?

Sure. You know, we enlisted nine writers who brainstormed ideas for us, and we were all about geographic diversity. One of the places that really stuck out to me was Johnson’s Ranch Marina in East Texas on Caddo Lake. And it’s this place that it looks sort of almost like haunted, but it’s got this great kind of character to it. And people hang out there, they go fishing there. They can take boat tours in the swamp there. And I think that East Texas is sort of this enchanting part of the state that a lot of people haven’t been to. So that really intrigued me. There’s a place in Palo Duro Canyon that is available to hikers there, and these guys serve apparently some of the best burgers in the state. There’s the tried and true like Czech Stop on I-35 where everyone stops between Austin and Dallas for their kolaches.

You know, it’s fun to throw these places out there. I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re our top 15. They’re just 15 that really stuck out to us. And it’s fun to put stuff like this on social media and see all of the places that readers say you missed or “yes, I love this place.”

And coming fresh off the pandemic, we wanted to shine a spotlight on these places that maybe haven’t had the business the past couple of years that they had prior to that and, you know, prop them up.

There are places on this list like The Hunt Store out in the Hill Country, like Parker’s Corner Market that’s out near Lake Buchanan, The Point in Palacios. This isn’t, like you said, a top 15 list, but what were some of the qualities that you were looking for in deciding which stores to highlight?

I think we just kind of looked at stuff that was sort of quirky in a way. We wanted stuff that that offered a variety of services. So we followed that convenience store model, you know, which really is part of Texas history, you know, 7-Eleven up to Buc-ee’s. Places that had maybe gas. Parker’s is a first-class meat market. Palacios is a place where you can find amazing Vietnamese food, banh mi sandwiches, but you can also buy bait and tackle there and go fishing. So they have sort of this crossover appeal. We have the Rosston General Store. I mean, they sell hay bales, but they also sell vinyl records. So for such a small community, that’s kind of, you know, interesting little assortment of things that they offer.

So, which of these shops have you personally been to, Michael? And can you tell me about sort of your impressions?

Yeah. I mean, I always go to the Czech Stop when I drive up to Dallas. I think that’s one of those places that that everyone’s kind of been to once we hear about the kolaches. But we also have all these other sandwiches and baked goods that are available. And one of the stories that really came out of that that I thought was appealing was during the West Fertilizer Plant explosion, that place doubled as sort of a resource center for emergency workers. They raised money to benefit the community, so you’re seeing how these stores aren’t just places of commerce, but they’re also sort of community centers.

There’s Owl Drug that is a pharmacy, but it also has some of the best, you know, I think it was root beer floats or milkshakes. They have the old school soda fountain there. So those things sort of stand out in my mind as appealing.

I think that we’re in such a foodie culture that’s driven by Guy Fieri and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” that we want to go to these destination places. We want to go to the things that, you know, maybe not everyone has been to and sort of check it off our list. What we do in the piece is for the 15 places, we highlight the must-buy thing you should purchase when you go there that they’re kind of known for. And if you go on the story, there’s a navigation bar in the left-hand side that helps you sort of identify those things and go straight to those stores.

Through participating in this story, did you get any sort of sense of the broad economic health of these kinds of establishments?

You know, we didn’t really delve into the financial aspects of them, but we did want to just highlight them for readers so they can go spend their dollars there. I think you make a good point that, you know, we’re so used to seeing what’s the latest and the greatest in the big cities in Austin, Dallas, Houston. But there’s so many treasures in between the major cities. And that’s sort of what is the bread and butter of Texas Highways. And I think, you know, that’s sort of the heart of Texas really is that small-town vibe.

Can you be a Texas town if you don’t have a place to play dominoes and sip coffee in the morning?

Absolutely not.

Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her: kcabrera@kut.org