Women Behind the Town
Greenville Thrives With Female Influence
Ten women of downtown Greenville took a quick break from business to gather for a photo at Uptown Forum. Back row (l-r): Janeen Cunningham, former owner, Calico Cat; Gloria Jordan, owner, Office Solutions; Luann Dickens, owner, Greenville Floral Gifts & Boutique; and Threesa Sadler, CEO, Raffa Clinic. Third row (l-r): Angela Melia, owner, Pizzo’s Sicilian Cafe; Carrie Crowson, owner, C.C. & Company Boutique; and Deana Lowe, CEO, Keep Greenville Beautiful. Second row (l-r): Gail Sprinkle, owner, Uptown Forum; and Shannon Harris, owner, Corner Street Pub. Front: Lana Dollgener, manager, Texan Theater.
Photo by Terlingua Rose
A popular saying these days predicts, “the future is female.” But when it comes to the city of Greenville, women are the past, present, and future of the town’s growth and prosperity.
Located just 35 miles northeast of the Dallas, Greenville offers all the charm of a small Texas town. Today, women are playing a strong role in the renaissance of the city’s downtown, which features a variety of shops, restaurants, services, a renovated historic theater, and an award-winning winery – most of them owned and operated by women.
A Strong Past
Women have made headlines in Greenville for many years. Lallie Carlisle quietly made history in 1902 when she became the first woman in Texas to hold public office. When her husband, E.W. Briscoe, died she was appointed to serve out his term as county clerk of Hunt County 18 years before women won the right to vote and 23 years before Texas elected its first female governor.
That was back in the day when the city was a bustling cotton center. Known as “the cotton capital of the world,” Greenville boasted the world’s largest inland cotton compress, breaking world records in 1911 and 1912.
Greenville continued to prosper through the mid-century years and many women were integral to the success of their family businesses. Nita “Tubby” Adkisson served as the face of Adkisson’s Florist, established in 1913 and still thriving today. Eunice Ayers owned and operated Ayers Grocery from the 1940s through the 1960s. Sarah Plunket photographed the portraits and weddings of generations of Texans from the 1960s through the mid 1980s.
The area began to shift from agriculture to industry in the 1950s and the city developed its first industrial park and became an industry leader in aircraft maintenance and modification. As the county seat of Hunt County, Greenville’s downtown was vibrant with court activity in a beautiful courthouse in the center of town, surrounded by two hotels, several bank buildings and five major department stores.
Janeen Cunningham remembers going downtown on Saturday mornings in the 1950s and ‘60s for shopping or to catch a movie. “Even doctors and dentists had their offices downtown,” she remembers. “Throughout the week, people came downtown to conduct business, see their service providers and stroll the streets. It was a lively place to be.”
Starting a Trend
As with many small Texas towns, highway expansions caused businesses to move with the traffic flow, leaving downtown buildings vacant. “While this is not unique to Greenville, what is unusual is how large our downtown is and the number of large buildings we have that need renovation and restoration,” Cunningham says.
Dortha McGaughey is credited with breathing life into one of those old buildings in the mid-1970s when she bought the defunct, two-story Perkins Brothers department store and rehabilitated it in the likeness of Olla Podrida, a unique artist mall in Dallas that looked like a Spanish village with wood framing and natural lighting. She named her building Uptown Forum and created a unique space for specialty boutiques and small businesses.
When Cunningham moved her thriving Calico Cat boutique into Uptown Forum in the late 1970s, she drew visitors from around the region to downtown Greenville. Cunningham, whose boutique specialized in clothing, gifts, shoes, jewelry, and handbags, bought Uptown Forum from McGaughey in the 1990s and operated it until recently.
With a knack for event planning, Cunningham came up with creative activities to promote the downtown area, including the Greenville Follies, a downtown variety show that has raised more than $680,000 for community projects. Cunningham, along with other talented women, started Bras for the Cause in 2009, a community benefit which last year raised more than $160,000 for breast cancer awareness and treatment.
Elaborately decorated bras are displayed on the city sidewalks and in store windows up and down Lee Street and residents vote on the winners. Proceeds from the event benefit Janice’s Closet, a service for breast cancer patients; the Tubby Adkisson Mobile Mammography Unit; and Hunt Regional Healthcare Foundation.
Cunningham also initiated the popular Downtown Strolls, which bring people to downtown several times a year to experience shopping, eating, and events after hours. So when Cunningham decided to retire after 47 years, close the Calico Cat, and sell Uptown Forum, the city held its collective breath wondering who could possibly fill the gap.
Enter hometown girls Barb Horan and Gail Sprinkle, and Chicago transplant Pat Guess, making an impact on today’s downtown revitalization.
Horan bought and restored the town’s Texan Theater, which features top-name performers in a gorgeous, state-of-the-art performance venue that began its life in 1895 as the King Opera House and later became the town’s main movie theater. Guests today enjoy a sumptuous four-course meal and usually meet and greet entertainers after the show. Besides a spectacular venue for a concert, theatergoers don’t have to fight traffic or trek long distances from the parking lot to see a big name performer. Horan books a wide variety of acts like county music legend Asleep at the Wheel, rock icons Quiet Riot, the elegant Lorrie Morgan, and the prolific JD Souther.
Horan also restored a former jewelry store next door, establishing the Texan Theater Lobby, which serves coffee and light meals with free Wi-Fi. Horan is assisted in managing the theater and coffee house by Lana Dollgener, another Greenville native who retired and moved back home in hopes of a slower pace after a career in marketing communications in Dallas. Things have never been busier for Dollgener.
In addition to the spectacular renovation of the Texan Theater, Horan has also purchased the Townhouse, formerly the Beckham Hotel, which covers most of a city block right across from the city’s regal Municipal Auditorium. Current plans call for renovating the building’s downstairs for businesses and upstairs for residential lofts.
Pat Guess is another visionary who is renovating several blocks of buildings downtown into retail spaces and residential lofts, including the old Cadillac Hotel, built in 1926 and once one of the finest hotels in Texas.
Gail Sprinkle, a human resources professional who moved from Greenville in her early 20s, moved back three years ago to take care of her aging mother. She recently purchased the Uptown Forum from Cunningham and is gradually restoring the building and attracting new boutiques and services. C.C. & Company Boutique, owned by Carrie Crowson, opened in October 2017 in the former Calico Cat space. Pizzo’s Sicilian Café and The Wind, The Willow bookstore opened recently and Magnolia Events and Wedding Rentals opens this spring. Ten of the 11 businesses housed in Uptown Forum are women-owned and/or operated.
“It’s a very exciting time here being able to contribute to the revitalization of downtown. The people I get to work with, the other downtown business owners, are creative, progressive, enthusiastic and welcoming,” Sprinkle says.
And a good majority of those business owners are women. Take a walk downtown and you’ll find shops, restaurants and local watering holes owned by women.
Greenville Floral Gifts & Boutique has been a part of Greenville since 1984 and is owned by Luanne Dickens. Besides flowers, it houses many gift lines, dinnerware and an exclusive line of ladies fashions, jewelry and accessories.
Other downtown women-owned businesses also are thriving. Attorney Holly Gotcher, a Greenville city council member, has a law office downtown, as does attorney Katherine Ferguson, who renovated a downtown bank building for her law practice.
“The downtown community is unmatched,” says Abigail Kweller-Sullivan, another attorney who established her law office downtown. “There are great places to eat, administrative offices within walking distance to easily handle business matters, and it is almost impossible to walk down the street without seeing a familiar face. We have the luxury of being in the middle of great activities and community events, while also enjoying the quiet nature of our quaint downtown.”
Gloria Jordan who operates Office Solutions, a full-service printing, copying, and shipping service, agrees. “I love the sense of ‘neighborhood’ in downtown. I can walk to other businesses and talk to people,” she says.
Even nonprofits, headed by women, are adding to downtown’s business vibe, including Keep Greenville Beautiful, CASA for Hunt County, the Hunt County Children’s Advocacy Center, and Raffa Clinic.
“Our clients can walk to the clinic from the neighborhoods around us,” says Threesa Sadler, executive director of Raffa Clinic, a nonprofit medical clinic that provides no-cost pregnancy services to women of Hunt County. “We have so many donors and supporters who come to visit us, and they are amazed when they see all that downtown has to offer.”
A New Generation
Having played a role in keeping the downtown business fires burning for so many years, Cunningham is excited the torch is passing to a new generation of women. “The fact that women feel the independence and confidence to put their energies, creativity and smarts to work and care enough to do it downtown is to me the best thing that’s happened in Greenville in a really long time,” she says.
“Compared to the Metroplex or more affluent small downtowns like Rockwall and McKinney, it is incredibly inexpensive to have a business here. There is wonderful infrastructure to work with in these beautiful old buildings,” Cunningham continues.
“I don’t feel there is anything that will stop women if they put their minds to it. We are determined. We’re survivors, and we keep on working on a project until we get it finished,” she adds.
And that kind of moxie is making a difference in Greenville, where the future is definitely female.
Pat Guess is renovating several blocks of buildings downtown into retail spaces and residential lofts, including the old Cadillac Hotel, once one of the finest hotels in Texas. Photo by Kevin Banks.
Cynthia Green owns The Muddle, an antique and home decor shop in a historic building where her father once practiced law. Photo by Tracy Torma
Anita Marquez (left) and her daughter Mariana Rivas serve up hand-dipped ice cream and fresh smoothies at La Sabrosita. Photo by Tracy Torma
Shannon Arnold Foltz greets guests with her delicious treats at Ain’t Just Pie. Photo by Tracy Torma
Sisters Allena (left) and Alyssia Aussicker help customers with home decor at Lolly County Line. Photo by Tracy Torma
Spend Some Fun Time in Greenville
For those looking for a fun day of shopping, food and entertainment, Greenville is a good destination. Here are some of the women-owned businesses that create a vibrant downtown experience.
Food and Beverage
For breakfast or lunch, stop by Ain’t Just Pie (2205 Lee St.), owned and operated by Shannon Arnold Foltz, a self-professed “Pie-o-Neer.” Located near the Farmers’ Market, Ain’t Just Pie features Foltz’s famous homemade pies. But as the name implies, guests can also enjoy breakfast or lunch.
Joyce Delgado operates the Blue Mesquite Grill (2808 Lee St.), a bar and grill featuring burgers, wraps, salads and Jamaican jerk pork and chicken.
Laura Rose Jones serves soups, salads, wraps, and burgers at The Ashen Rose Pub (2809 Lee St.), featuring a full service bar. “We opened our business in 2015. It seemed like something downtown was missing and I wanted to help a beautiful downtown grow,” Jones says.
Shannon Harris provides a cozy place to kick back and relax with friends at the Corner Street Pub (2702 Lee St.), featuring 14 specialty craft drafts, a full bar, good food, an outdoor patio, and live music every Saturday.
For hand-dipped ice cream and fresh fruit smoothies, stop by La Sabrosita (2830 Lee St.), owned by Anita Marquez, who brings a touch of Hispanic culture to downtown.
The Texan Theater Lobby, owned by Barb Horan, serves specialty coffee and light meals seven days a week from 7 to 7 in a bright and modern space with complimentary Wi-Fi.
Pizzo’s Sicilian Café opened in February 2018 in Uptown Forum. Owned by Angela Maria Melia, her specialty is the Italian panini.
No Greenville guide is complete without the award-winning Landon Winery and Bistro at 2508 Lee St.
Uptown Forum (2610 Lee St.), owned by Gail Sprinkle, is a gathering of shops, artists’ studios and services. Its anchor store, CC & Company, is an upscale boutique featuring Brighton jewelry, women’s clothing, handbags, and shoes, owned and operated by Carrie Crowson.
The Wind, The Willow Bookstore, owned by Mary Grace Rodriguez, which opened in February, is also housed in Uptown Forum.
Two Elizabeths Design (2805 Lee St.), owned by Elizabeth Lea Bray and Elizabeth Harrison, sells painted and redesigned furniture, artistic jewelry and custom florals, candles, pillows and wall art.
Forbidden Gallery (2717 Lee St.), owned by artist and curator Erica Painter, features a variety of Texas artists as well as serves the community as a vinyl record store and other curiosities.
The Muddle (2408 Stonewall St.) features English antiques, home décor, and interesting collectibles in the historic building where owner Cynthia Green’s father once practiced law.
MoSheri Weddings (2701 Lee St.), owned by Sheri Garrett, features wedding gowns, prom dresses, Quinceanera dresses, and other formalwear.
Luanne Dickens expanded her Greenville Floral Gifts & Boutique into downtown at the corner of Lee and Johnson and offers full floral services, gifts, jewelry, clothing, and special event space.
Lolly County Line (2903 Lee St.) is owned by Alyssia Aussicker. They have antiques, shabby chic furniture, and home decor items. They are also are a retailer for country chic paint.
The Texan Theater Greenville (2712 Lee St.), owned by Barb Horan, features a four-course meal and concert experience in a spectacularly renovated theater.
The above-noted Landon Winery & Bistro, Blue Mesquite Grill, Corner Street Pub, and Ashen Rose often have live music and entertainment takes place regularly at the Greenville Municipal Auditorium.