Defining Denton

By: Alicia Auping

Published on: Wed, Jun 19, 2013

The typical customer at Jupiter HouseCoffee has a long gray beard, leather hat,black jacket and sunglasses; he looks like a stand-in for ZZ Top. The typical customer is a polished young businesswoman with a designer handbag on her arm. Or he’s anold farmer with leathered skin and a belt cinched around a waist that muscularly melds from toned torso to slender legs. He smiles and waves at the young woman.

Indeed, the typical Jupiter House customer is a college student with green headphones hunkered over a term paper, face illuminated by the glowing apple emanating a soft light from the back of a silver laptop. On a Saturday, children clad in numbered jerseys and shin guards weave in and out of the farmers, cowboys, college students and Billy Gibbons look-alikes, oblivious to the singular rarity of what surrounds them.

Denton, Texas, is a paradox—a contradiction of itself. It is a city steeped in tradition that celebrates its rich heritage, cultural diversity and entrepreneurial innovations. It has the cultural amenities of a larger metropolitan area while maintaining its identity as everytown: Main Street, USA, as it were. “It has a small town feel but not in a way that we don’t accept outsiders. We embrace new people,” says Jupiter House owner Joey Hawkins. Older generations of cowboys, blue-collar workers and business owners coexist with young innovative artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. More importantly, they support each other. “We found the motivation to grow and hold on to who we are,” says Kim Phillips, vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).

“People are really involved in decisions,” Hawkins continues. “The city council listens to them. People really care about where they live, and I think that’s a lot of what ends up happening.” Whether born in Denton or getting here as fast as they can, residents feel a connection with and a responsibility to the city they call home.

So when the Denton CVB teamed up with destination
marketing agency Aria Media to rebrand the city, they knew they had to get it right. “In a process like this, what we try to do is understand the unique DNA, the unique components that make up any one destination,” says Jordan Wollman, partner and the chief creative officer at Aria Media. “It’s an attitude for Denton. We found this real strong, deep-rooted sense of—and reverence for—originality. You’ve got this independent-minded, business-minded, entrepreneurial-minded spirit in Denton.”

It’s an emphatic stamp: Original. Independent. Denton. Conveyed in earthy grays and burnt reds, Denton’s “Original/Independent” logo appears weathered and worn. Like Denton, it has some wear and tear but maintains a strong sense of identity. Denton has always been original and independent, and city officials want to recognize and celebrate that. “Whatever you’re looking for,” says Phillips, “whatever creative outlet you’re after, it’s here because we embrace creativity and individuality.”

Denton music scene. Photo courtesy of the Denton CVB.A Nod to History
When Denton resident Houston Bell formed the city’s first music group, The Juanita Band, in 1892, he began a tradition of music that has woven itself into the fabric of the community. Today, young musicians, artists and entrepreneurs flock to Denton each year seeking the lifestyle that it offers. “We call Denton the Independent Music Capital of the World,” Wollman says. Whatever music you’re in to, you’ll find it in Denton because there is no “distinct sound.” Artists such as Sarah Jaffe, Midlake, Brave Combo and others create a “cacophony of sound,” according to Phillips.

However, music provides much more than a soundtrack to the city. “Our music scene not only attracts people to live in Denton, but it attracts visitors from all over the world to experience our music scene,” says Michael Seman, Denton resident and doctoral candidate in urban planning at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Many people are in bands, but that is not their career. They’re graphic designers. They’re game developers. They’re coders. They’re IT people. They’re looking for somewhere creative that will be tolerant of the fact that they play in a band at night, and they do coding during the day. They’re looking for a certain lifestyle that Denton offers—99 percent of the people who play in bands do something else.” To Seman and his ilk, the secret is out: Denton is eclectic. But don’t just take his word for it. Look at the statistics: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Denton is the seventh fastest growing city in the nation.

Eat, Drink and be Merry
Denton’s music scene has also become entrenched in the city’s long tradition of festivals. The sheer number of festivals Denton has to offer is one of its strongest traits, and it never fails to bring generations together. The North Texas State Fair and Rodeo began in 1928, and families from all over the world continue to visit Denton each year to celebrate the cowboy culture over the course of several days. (For more on this festival and its reigning pageant queen, turn to page 20.) The Tejas Storytelling Festival, Dog Days of Denton Celebration, and Arts, Antiques and Autos Extravaganza (For more on this throwback celebration of classic cars, hot rods and all things retro, turn to page 14.) are old standards that continue to grow bigger and bigger each year.

As the city has grown, new festivals have been added, including 35 Denton, Thin Line Film Fest and Day of the Dead. For every person’s passion, there is a festival, and residents and visitors come together throughout the year to celebrate those passions. “With all of the forward thinking of the universities, and all of the past reminiscing of the older residents, everyone just enjoys having a good time,” Seman says. “You have so many festivals. There’s always something going on. There’s always a party, and everyone’s always happy to tell you where it is.”

At the Heart of It
The pulse of Denton remains in the city’s historic downtown Square, where many of its festivals take place. It is where old and new come together, where residents live, work and play. The original county courthouse, built in 1896 and renovated in 2003, handsomely stands sentry in the center of town as the community around it continues to grow and prosper. The sun shines down on the courthouse, a place for families to picnic, children to play and street musicians to showcase their talents. Nostalgic businesses such as Beth Marie’s Ice Cream, McNeill’s Furniture & Appliance and J&J’s Pizza frame the historic courthouse, providing a snapshot of the past. However, as the sun sets, Denton’s nightlife comes alive around the Square. With more than a dozen live music venues within blocks of the Square and even more restaurants and bars, there is always something to do; somewhere to go after the lights go down.

Jupiter House Coffee. Photo by Desiree Cousineau.Family Matters
Many businesses have been on the Square for a long time, but Thomas Ethan Allen owner Bill Thomas proudly takes credit for being one of the oldest businesses downtown. He bought the furniture store in 1962 when his son, Craig Thomas, was 5 years old. “As a kid, I used to have pretty much free rein of the downtown area,” Craig recalls. “There used to be a toy store that was at the other end on East Oak Street, a block behind the bookstore there, the purple bookstore. And that was my favorite haunt.”

The father and son owners have seen the Square change a lot in the past half-century. They remember when Jupiter House was T & Sons Sporting Goods and before that when it was a drug store with a soda fountain. When T & Sons came in, they kept the soda fountain and a few of the booths behind it, creating a one-stop-shop for lunch and hunting equipment. Despite the changes, a strong sense of community and family remains among the businesses. “Right now, we have a lot of new young business owners, which is good,” Craig says, “and we still have a lot that are my age.”

Today, with exposed brick walls and wooden tables illuminated by granny-inspired lamps, Jupiter House is the community’s living room. During the week, Hawkins can tell time by observing who occupies his coffee shop. “In the morning, you’ll see a ton of suits,” he says. Bankers, lawyers, even the mayor, stop by for their morning jolt of caffeine, sometimes staying a while to prep for a meeting. As the day progresses, students and commuter workers arrive and set up office for the day. “By nine o’clock at night, it’s pretty crazy,” he says. “I really like the vibe. It feels like people talk to each other. It’s pretty cool. I don’t know how that happens.”

The clientele at Jupiter House and the resulting vibe is indicative of Denton itself: an amalgamation of young and old, hip and traditional, small town and big city. “It is a very dynamic city that has a foothold in the past and the future and enjoys living in today,” says Seman. Which begs the question, how did it happen? “In the end,” Seman says, “everyone in Denton is here because they want to be here, and that love for the city really breaks down any boundaries.” It’s the people who ultimately define the city that refuses to be defined.