Mckinney Courier-gazette > News
End of an institution: Home décor shop closing after 23 years downtown
Kelley Chambers / Staff Photo – Jenny Lynn’s fabric and home décor shop is closing its doors after 23 years on the square. Owner Karen Huffman said she was one of, if not the first retail stores to call the square home.
When Karen Huffman moved her quilt shop from Dallas to McKinney 23 years ago, the Carrollton resident said the historic square was nothing like it is today.
"Two thirds of the buildings were empty and deteriorating. There were entire blocks with nobody leasing anything because the buildings needed major renovations," Huffman said. "The developers hadn't found McKinney yet."
The virtually vacant area turned out to be the perfect spot for the quilt shop. Over the years, Jenny Lynn's grew into a hub of home décor during a time when downtown McKinney could use a little sprucing up. Having been there longer than any other store, the fabric expert said she knows what makes or breaks a business there.
Ask Huffman, and she'll tell you she helped dress up McKinney.
"I built the downtown, I was the first. And it has meant a lot to people," Huffman said. "They have always been treated fairly and honestly and they've come back for years. Not many businesses can say that."
What started as humble beginnings at Jenny Lynn's now reflects years of Huffman's dedication to her talents. As her quilts grew in popularity on East Louisiana Street, Huffman added other services to the burgeoning population. From home furnishings and floral arrangements to custom framing, furniture, draperies and reupholstering, Jenny Lynn's quickly became a local favorite for those looking for a little personalized and domestic inspiration.
"For me, it was the perfect opportunity at the perfect time because there was nothing going on down here and people were starting to pay attention to the historic district," Huffman said. "And so home [décor] was a natural service and inventory that they required. I was very involved with it."
Demographics changed in the past six to seven years, however, thanks to a combination of several factors, Huffman said. As McKinney began to flourish into the bustling conglomerate of shops, restaurants and residences it is today, Huffman said its clientele transformed into a more "trendier" crowd who weren't as interested in patterns, consultations or traditional crafts. The displacement of retail with restaurants on and around the square also shifted the balance for local merchants, she said.
"Back in the day we had the Pantry, a lunch counter at Northside Pharmacy, we had a donut shop and a couple of mom and pop lunch diners but we really needed restaurants. Women want to eat lunch and shop," Huffman said. "Now we have over 20 restaurants down here and over 10 salon and hair places. That makes 30 spaces that used to be retail. On top of that [you have] the perceived lack of parking."
The economic nosedive of 2008 also hit Huffman's patrons hard. The recession that followed has changed the way people manage their money, especially among older generations, Huffman said.
It's more than a recession - it's a cultural shift that all retailers and merchants are now having to adjust to, she said.
"A lot of my customer base lost a lot of money that they can't get back, they're not 20 anymore," Huffman said. "Wall Street and the banks took a lot from a lot of people and a lot of those people are my customer base."
McKinney resident Barbara Boyd has been shopping at Jenny Lynn's for 10 years and made it a point to say goodbye and give Huffman's inventory a few last looks before it is gone.
"It's like family on the square, you like coming in here because you have a personal relationship with these people. And she's so creative," Boyd said. "You tend to take businesses like this for granted because it's been a constant fixture. Then you see the 'closing' sign and you go, 'wait a minute, you can't go.'"
Angie McSwain has been shopping at Jenny Lynn's since 2000 and said she will miss the closeness and personal attention Huffman and her employees give, a trait not many big businesses can offer.
"It's sad to see it close. The people here are always really personable and always happy to help you," McSwain said. "They always get the yardage right, and the customer satisfaction is perfect."
After helping McSwain find the fabric she was looking for, 17-year employee Clarice Hickman reflected on her time at Jenny Lynn's and teared up at the thought of it coming to an end.
"For me, the thing is that I know I have met some wonderful people here who I may never get to see again, that's the sad part," Hickman said. "If I never worked here, I would have never gotten to meet these people and I thank the Lord for it because I've met some wonderful ones."
While Huffman said she may not have a trendy store, she has successfully reinvented herself over the decades and outlasted many of the stores and restaurants she has seen come and go on the square. However, she said she doesn't feel at this point that the downtown can support a store of its size in the current demographic environment.
Having just made the final payment on the building earlier this year, Huffman said she hasn't announced an official last day yet. Even after that, she said she will continue to uphold her favorable reputation by making sure the next business will hopefully last as long as she has.
"I've been totally blessed that since I've had to work I can do something I love to do. I've had a wonderful career," Huffman said. "I've met people I never would have met otherwise. So many people come in, some with tears in their eyes, not believing that 'the institution' in downtown McKinney, which is what they call the store, is closing. It's like hearing my eulogy while I'm still alive."