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Main Street Remake

La Grange’s restoration success story
Written by Matt Joyce. Photographs by Will van Overbeek.

LaGrangeRemake1It’s a weekday morning in La Grange, and the courthouse square bustles with activity.

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A roundtable of retirees deliberates current events over mugs of hot coffee at Latte Café. A few doors down, customers pick up cuts of beef and pork at Prause’s Meat Market. Across the street, locals come and go from the Fayette County Courthouse. Nearby, a bus rolls to a stop in front of the Texas Quilt Museum and drops off a passel of tourists.

With its spreading oak trees and architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the scene is what you might expect to see in a cinematic depiction of Texas small-town life before interstate highways, strip malls, and big cities wrested rural downtowns of their vitality. But this is no time warp. Thanks to public and private restoration efforts, a strong local economy, and a convenient location between Houston and Austin, La Grange’s downtown square thrives with a charm that feels both vital and vintage.

“It has an authentic feel to it. You can’t recreate that,” says Stacey Norris, La Grange’s Main Street and Tourism Manager. “It’s a healthy mix. On the weekends when the services are closed, the tourism is still there. You’ve got your shops and boutiques, your museums, your places to eat.”

lagrange re2La Grange’s concerted efforts to improve the courthouse square began in 1996 when the city joined the Texas Historical Commission’s Main Street program, which provides technical expertise and resources for historic revitalization projects.

Since then, private investment of $6 million and public investment of $7 million have contributed to rehabbing most of the square’s historic buildings—including the 1891 courthouse—along with building a small new park and rebuilding the sidewalks. As a result, the square’s occupancy rate has grown from 70 percent in the mid-’90s to 90 percent today, Norris says.

Prause’s Meat Market is among the oldest businesses on La Grange’s square. Arnold Prause opened the market on the square in 1904; it moved to its current location in 1953.

“When Main Street first came into being, the square was run down. One by one people came in and businesses came in, and they remodeled the fronts of their stores to make the square look like it did 50 years ago, 100 year ago,” says Gary Prause, part of the fourth-generation of family ownership. “If you look at the before and after, it’s mind-blowing how much it has changed. And the buildings are full now. The square is thriving again.”

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