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Lampasas layover

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Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2007 12:00 pm | Updated: 4:54 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Joshua Winata

Killeen Daily Herald

LAMPASAS — Wrapped in small-town charm, the Lampasas Market’s traditional brick and limestone façade belies an extraordinary retail experiment that has reconciled the inevitability of progress with a reverence for the past.

Owners Todd and Nona Jane Briggs have fused the market’s rich and storied history with a quirky flair to create a welcoming and progressive sanctuary in the northwestern corner of Lampasas’ downtown square.

The simple secret to the establishment’s success is a laissez-faire approach that has allowed the business to develop organically.

“My favorite saying is, ‘If you pick at it, it’ll never heal.’ And that applies to just about everything in life. If you just don’t pick at it, it will work out,” Nona Briggs said. “It’s hard not to, but that’s the way this has evolved. It’s just kind of done its own thing.”

The Briggs family is no stranger to retail in downtown Lampasas with roots that run deep in the town’s history. Since the early 1900s, there has been a Briggs-owned business in operation on the square.

Todd Briggs’ grandfather, David Todd Briggs, moved his business, the Lampasas Furniture Company, in 1940 from an office on the western edge of downtown into the current Lampasas Market building. In 1947, the store expanded to encompass the adjacent property at South Live Oak Street and East Third Street originally occupied by People’s National Bank, effectively appropriating the entire corner.

For 68 years, the business endured and thrived until an economic downturn in the late 1980s disrupted the complacent permanence of one of the oldest stores in Lampasas and put many local family companies out of business.

The Briggses were forced to sell their furniture store in 1990, and the property entered into a time of changing ownership. Even after the Briggses reclaimed the building in 1995, Lampasas Market remained a revolving door for various businesses throughout the decade.

At times, the establishment has housed a children’s clothing store, bookstores, an art gallery and framing studio, a photography studio and a coffeehouse.

Operating like a mini-mall of sorts, My Girls, an antiques and gift shop and deli; Leopard Daisy, a contemporary women’s boutique; and the Lampasas Art Gallery, a cultural showcase, are the strange bedfellows that currently occupy the building; none has plans to move anytime soon.

The newest kid on the block is Leopard Daisy, which opened in the west corner of Lampasas Market earlier this year. Since the store’s relocation from a previous site on the north side of the downtown square, its business has nearly doubled, said Laura Gholson, manager of the stylish and upbeat boutique.

“We want to stand out, and we want to be different and maybe bring some new blood down to the square. I think all people appreciate antiques and the newer, trendy things as well. We want all kinds of variety down here,” Gholson said.

Adorned in animal prints and painted in hot pink and black, Leopard Daisy, operating under the motto, “There’s no such thing as too much bling,” is a jarring departure from the usual antique fare found in other downtown shops.

Somehow the boutique, which sells fashionable jewelry, clothing and purses, manages to complement neighboring businesses by offering the same small-town friendliness found throughout Lampasas Market.

“Their store is pretty much decor for the home whereas this is decor for yourself. If your home’s going to look good, well, I think you need to look good as well. And then you can get a full stomach while you’re out here, and it all just kind of ties together,” Gholson explained.

At the east end of the market, the Lampasas Art Gallery, which opened in 2001, transformed the building from a hub of community life into a cultural center as well.

The gallery, featuring only local artists, is a showcase for the Lampasas Art Club and features an impressive range of media, including acrylic and oil paintings, wood carvings, needlepoint and photography.

The high traffic along the corner has given club members some clout among art buyers.

“I feel like we’re playing with the big kids,” club president Marlene Corbin said.

Corbin and Gholson can’t say enough about their neighbors and landlords, the Briggses, who operate My Girls alongside their daughter Kim Munn and business partner Caroline Henry.

In fact, the store’s name, originally referring to Todd’s wife, daughters and granddaughters, now represents the three women who manage My Girls.

“My Girls is whoever I want to call ‘my girls,’” Todd Briggs said.

The shop began in 1998 as an antique store shuffled into the back corner of the ever-changing market. Over time, the store has expanded and transformed into much, much more.

“We really didn’t have any plans. We had no idea what it was going to be when we started out,” Nona Briggs said. “If it’s something we like or we feel like other people are going to like, then that’s what we carry. And if it’s got a little funk to it, that makes it even better.”

In addition to antiques, My Girls also carries Texas-made jams and salsas, gems and jewelry from local rock collector Merritt Romans, dishware, purses, hats, pet products, soaps and lotions.

Pleasant surprises await those who take the time to observe. Charming murals painted by Nona Briggs depict blue skies and tall, skinny trees embellish the walls. Resting on a hutch, a ceramic bowl holds a collection of black and white photographs from 1950s Lampasas school yearbooks obtained from an estate sale of a former teacher. Locals are encouraged to

browse the pictures, and if they recognize a face, they have to write the name on the back of the photograph.

A glance around the 6,000-square-foot market reveals hints of its eccentricity in odd bric-a-brac throughout the establishment.

Whether it is a 1950s Hoffman television that houses a goldfish aquarium or a glowing neon sign that cryptically reads “Lampas Radio,” the gems found in Lampasas Market demand an explanation, and the Briggses are happy to oblige.

The television aquarium is a relic left behind by tenants in the early 1990s and is a product of Nona Briggs’ creativity. It remains one of the biggest head-turners in the building and a favorite of visitors.

The neon sign has historic origins as pieces left over from the original sign for the Lampasas Furniture Company.

In the process of hanging up the display, Nona broke the last “as,” so “radio,” which was also part of the sign advertising the inventory of Crosley radios, was hung to fill the space.

“We’ve thought about repairing the correct spelling, but we’ve left it up there so long that we’ve decided it’s different and unique to us, so we’re going to leave it like it is,” Nona said.

The neon sign forms a bold centerpiece for the market, greeting visitors who walk in and turn the corner with its bright glow.

Other historic artifacts firmly tie Lampasas Market to its roots. An old teller’s desk, used to display bags of custom postcards, and the cash register counter are holdovers from People’s National Bank, which opened in the 1890s. A set of dark,

hardwood shelves carrying collectible Fiestaware likely held oil lamps in the original Lampasas Furniture Company.

In a proud tribute to Todd’s grandfather, a black, iron safe inscribed with the name of H.M. Yates sits in the northwest corner of the store. As his first commercial venture, the elder Briggs purchased the H.M. Yates clothing store in 1919 and turned it into the Briggs Carlyle department store, and the inherited safe has since been passed down through subsequent businesses.

The most notable link to the past and the Briggses’ favorite part of the building is what they call the “up-upstairs.”

A staircase in the rear of the store leads up to a 3,000-square-foot deserted second story frozen in time. Huge windows overlooking the square allow light to pour in, illuminating original tin ceilings, unfinished wooden floors, and cracked and faded walls that once housed a number of rented offices.

Painted on one of the windows is a sign for a federal land bank office advertising 4 percent loans, and waiting chairs sit outside what was once the Lampasas County health office.

Like many jewels of prime real estate in downtown Lampasas, the space has remained uninhabited since the early 1960s due to lack of funding.

“We would love to fix it up, but it would cost too much money. We’re just doing what we can, when we can. This is one of our future projects,” Todd said.

The final and perhaps the most important element of Lampasas Market is the food. The idea to open a deli was a happy experiment to lure in more customers but has grown into the main source of income for the market. On a typical afternoon, about 80 people stop by for lunch.

All the dishes, consisting of classic sandwiches, salads and soups, are made by the ladies of My Girls. The meal concludes with a mouth-watering selection of baked goods and original Dr Pepper in glass bottles. The signature dish is the fresh chicken salad sandwich, but the menu itself is constantly shifting.

“On our first menu, at the very bottom of it, it read, ‘All ingredients are subject to change due to availability and mood of cook.’ So you never know what we’re going to have as far as food, and that’s the way we are here,” Todd Briggs said. “We never know what we’re going to have. We just do what we want.”

That same free spirit infects the visitors who walk through the doors. Despite a healthy mix of regulars and out-of-town tourists, everyone feels at home in Lampasas Market.

”We try to have fun; we try to treat you like family. If you come in, you better expect to be abused because we’re going to abuse you royally,” Todd said with a chuckle. “Life is too short to be serious. We’re just one great, big happy family.”

Contact Joshua Winata at jpwinata@kdhnews.com or call (254) 547-6481

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