TEXAS VIEW: Mini mall fire hurts city's soul

By Denton Record-Chronicle

We talk about preserving history.

We talk about incubating small businesses.

We talk about keeping Denton weird and offbeat and quirky.

The Downtown Mini Mall, destroyed from wall to wall in a four-alarm fire Tuesday morning, did all these things in its own unique way. It was a holdover of bygone Denton, in a secondhand manner of speaking.

The building on the Locust Street side of the Square long ago served as Beall’s department store, but for the better part of four decades, it’s been a marketplace of vendors selling vintage items, crafts, antiques and just plain stuff — one person’s cast-off stuff turned into someone else’s treasure.

Before the Square’s current incarnation — a vibrant hub of shops, eateries, coffeehouses and watering holes that keep the area hopping well into the night — downtown held a host of antique shops that are commonplace in a faded town center. (Coincidentally, Jupiter House, which received some damage in the blaze next door, was one of the first businesses that hinted at what the Square could be when it opened in 2003 as a round-the-clock espresso bar.)

The Mini Mall’s sister shop, Downtown Mini Mall II, was unharmed in the fire. It is now the last bastion of that antiques-heavy era. But the Mini Mall held in its nooks and crannies much more than just antiques.

You might find a young seamstress’ updated take on vintage clothing, cast iron skillets, old National Geographics, mysterious photographs from a century ago, that last item to outfit a baby’s nursery, a dusty accordion in tip-top shape, antique dolls too sly-eyed to be trusted; and in the window, a barrel full of swords and other curious replica weaponry.

And talk about small business. Scores of dealers have sold their wares in stalls at the mini malls. One photographer even used the Mini Mall as her home base. It’s never been the flashiest or biggest business around, but you could set up your space and make some money without having to tend shop everyday — even before the internet changed how people sell things to other people.

Our heart goes out to the business owners who lost their work in the fire. We worry, too, for the neighbors temporarily displaced on that east block of the Square — businesses, apartment dwellers, employees. We are grateful to our firefighters, who kept the blaze, huge though it was, from spreading to other historic buildings on the Square.

Our Square now has a black, gaping maw on one side. We are wounded, too, now, in knowing that our beloved downtown is not invulnerable.

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