Shopping Out of the Box in Denton

downtown Denton TexasLess than an hour away from Dallas or Fort Worth, off I-35, Denton has pretty much everything a large urban area has. What’s missing is the pollution, high rises, factories, and traffic messes. Instead, Denton has plenty of parks and open spaces. Instead of concrete jungles, downtown Denton is graced with a traditional town square surrounded by eclectic shops.

While many of Denton’s visitors are on weekend trips visiting their kids at UNT or Texas Women’s University, it’s a nice jaunt for anyone from the twin cities to the South. Get out of the box and escape from the urbane urban-ness of DFW by checking out The Square.

The steeples and domes of the limestone and sandstone Romanesque courthouse, built in 1896, can be seen from miles around. The stone cutters were paid less than four dollars a day to help construct this town square centerpiece, and there’s nothing overpowering or over-towering it.

No cookie-cutter Macys, Academys, or WalMarts are here. No bright neon signs or huge Golden Arches. No line of cars waiting to enter lego stacked car parks. Rather, Denton’s downtown resembles a Monopoly board game with each little square surrounding the big courthouse being comprised of an independently owned and operated small boutique with unique items.

Once upon a time, I lived in a shopping center. As marketing manager of a super-regional mall, I was there weekdays, and often times on weekends as Manager on Duty.  I knew everything about each merchant, their merchandise, promotions, and of course shoppers. Today, I stay clear of the mega-malls, and the mini-malls. When I make a purchase, I tend to prefer to support local small business owners or craftspeople. Denton’s Square is perfect for this.

Sprinkled around the beautiful courthouse is a smattering of antique shops. While I tend to zoom in and out of most stores, I could get lost in the aisles and shelves at these places. Several of the antique venues are divided up as co-ops for multiple vendors. Whether it’s a life-sized sarcophagus or rolls of ribbon from the 60s, what’s available inside the walls of these emporiums is never on the shelves of your chain stores.

For those that prefer a splash of contemporary color to their old finds, Serendipity on the Square offers Shabby Chic painting workshops. For $40, you get to choose from an assortment of old furniture or accessory pieces. Then, within an hour (day or night) workshop, you’re given all the supplies and guidance to transform one man’s junk into another woman’s treasure.

Chelsea is an Austinite who was visiting family in Denton for the weekend. A group of five women was having fun at Serendipity. They were in the Shabby Chic workshop, something Chelsea had never come across living in Austin.

“We don’t get a lot of girl time,” she said, about why they decided to bond as they selected paint and patching techniques. “This seemed like a really great unique opportunity to walk away with a new piece of furniture. And to be honest, you can’t beat the price.”

Chelsea picked out a pair of brass lamps. They’d probably been salvaged from an estate sale, and once Chelsea was done with them, they’d add a touch of color and style to the 20-something urban dweller’s house.

You can also spend hours rummaging through the old LPs at the used record store. For those that still have a record player, this is a real find. The Square has a large recycled book store, too. Set in a funky corner building, the pink structure was built from the old red bricks salvaged when they tore down the last courthouse. Today, there are loft apartments on the top floors and a rooftop patio.

Music lovers can buy or repair drums at The (Ghost) Note on the square. The (Ghost) Note offers lessons for kids and adults. If you don’t want your kids to bang up a storm in your house, this is the answer. Let them have fun as they learn about the instruments and the beats.

Of course, if you spend too much time in the stores, you can chill out or re-energize at one of the coffee shops, ice cream parlor, candy shop, or other eateries on the square. For more information on eating in Denton, visit


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