North Texas Daily

To some, recent closures of local businesses signal a change in Denton culture

To some, recent closures of local businesses signal a change in Denton culture

To some, recent closures of local businesses signal a change in Denton culture
July 29
09:00 2021

J&J’s Pizza, located on the Denton Square, is set to close with its final day of operation being August 10.

The 24-year-old restaurant is closing “due to an increase in rent [the owners] just can’t pay,” according to a Facebook post on the J&J’s Facebook page. The owners will be opening a new restaurant in Gainesville called Saint Joe’s Pizza.

The eatery follows other Denton businesses which have closed or moved online. Some residents believe this trend is changing the culture of Denton, which is known for its unique small businesses.

Certain local establishments either closed or changed the formats of their businesses during the pandemic. Denton Trading Company closed its storefront on the square in March 2020 and was unable to reopen it. It has moved its operations to both online sales and the storefront of Roanoke Trading Company. SCRAP Denton, a creative reuse store that operated for 8 years, closed in July 2020.

Mad World Records closed its brick-and-mortar store on the square due to the pandemic during the summer of 2020 and transitioned to selling online. When owner Mark Burke shut his business down, he knew it would be permanent.

“I guess I’ve been around the block a few hundred times, so I knew what was going to happen,” Burke said. “[…] I knew that when I closed […] this is it for our storefront.”

Cameron Burwell, a recent graduate in economics, said Denton’s changing culture played a major part in his decision to move to Arlington.

“There isn’t a consistent place to experience the nightlife that I enjoy,” Burwell said in a message to the North Texas Daily. “[…] Denton staples that have been around for a long time are now gone. […] Instead of Denton being its own unique city with unique amenities, it’s morphing into just another Texas suburb of DFW.”

Kenneth Saintonge has also noticed a change in Denton’s culture. Saintonge is a graduate student studying anthropology.

“I perceive [the change in culture] mostly in a shift in the type of businesses that are popping up on the Square and in how existing businesses present themselves,” Saintonge said in a message to the Daily. “It feels like Denton’s authentic and creative personality is being co-opted by developers and investment entities to try and play off and duplicate this ‘artsy’, ‘hip’ and ‘weird’ experience while trying to attract a more mainstream and broader demographic.”

While some closures were brought on or accelerated by the pandemic, others predate its beginning.

Both Burwell and Saintonge mentioned Abbey Underground, a bar that hosted live music and was located beneath the Abbey Inn. The Inn closed in May 2018 and Abbey Underground followed in August. Rockin Rodeo, a music venue known for its country music and dance floor, closed in April 2018. The Candy Store, a sweet shop on the square, shut its doors in April 2017 after 20 years of operation.

“It’s almost like Denton’s culture has become a caricature of itself,” Saintonge said. “[…] There just seems to be a loss of context and authenticity with the current culture when compared to the Denton I was introduced to five years ago.”

Though some change has been driven by closures, some new businesses have opened as well. Free Play, a Denton arcade that closed in July 2020, will be reopening in the building previously occupied by the Abbey Inn. Mad World Records’ previous location on the square is now occupied by More Fun Toys. Local Mad World Records customers also have the opportunity to pick up online orders at the toy store.

Last April, three previous SCRAP employees opened a new business called Thistle Creative Reuse. The new arts and crafts store acts as a new creative reuse marketplace for the community. TCR also donates materials to community organizations, groups, educators and nonprofits in North Texas.

Though Burke’s physical storefront has closed, he remains optimistic about the future of Denton.

“Denton is always really good about continuing to reinvent itself in positive ways,” Burke said. “There’s going to be something really cool coming to the Square soon.”

Saintonge said that Denton’s culture as he saw it when he came to the city in 2016 is not completely gone.

“I believe [Denton’s authentic cultural identity] still is part of Denton, but it is safeguarded by those in the know and not as publicly accessible anymore, as it always has been in a way,” Saintonge said. “Denton’s raw culture will continue to exist in the backyards, house shows, local art venues, activism and the few grassroots community organizations that are more about the context of culture than the maximized profits and public appeal of it.”

Featured Image: The Front of J&Js Pizza on the Denton Square. Two For Rent signs hang on the restaurant windows on July 12, 2021. Image by John Anderson

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