Faces of Kansas City: Couple reviving Independence Square - KCTV5 News

Faces of Kansas City: Couple reviving Independence Square, one business at a time

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A couple worried about the dwindling number of businesses on Independence Square decided to turn things around by creating new ones.

Independence, MO, is Harry Truman's hometown, but the astounding rebirth of the city's charming downtown square can be linked to another former U.S. president.

In 1992, Bill Clinton's southern charm took the political world by storm. The Clinton campaign chose Fleetwood Mac's, Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow) as its theme song.

When the campaign swung through Independence, the song inspired Ken McClain, who was concerned about the dwindling number of businesses on the square.

"It didn't look like Independence had a tomorrow, only looked like it had a past, so we decided with our six kids in tow that it had to have a future and we began planning to do something and began to buy buildings and try to figure out what to do with them," attorney and developer McClain said.

In 1998 the McClains opened Ophelia's restaurant.

"It is the first born and it was how I learned how to run a restaurant, how to be a manager, because I was a stay-at-home mom before," Cindy McClain said.

With Ken McClain focusing on his law practice, his wife took the reins of the restaurant.

"You must have eyes in the back of your head, you must have octopus arms, you've got to be watching all the time - you have to watch all the trends," Cindy McClain said.

But Ophelia's wasn't enough. The couple both had fond memories of time spent on the square as kids.

"The Independence Square was a magical place, the center of commerce for all eastern Jackson County and (there are) wonderful things here - four department stores were on the square, soda fountains and other things were here," Ken McClain said.

A quick tour of today's square shows how incredibly busy the McClains have been since 1998. Their still-growing empire includes 16 businesses around the square that employs a total of 157 people.

"It kind of came around like our six kids did - we liked having more," Cindy McClain said.

Housed in a building that dates back to 1832, Gilbert, Whitney & Co. offers groceries and kitchenware. Just a quick jaunt down the sidewalk is their specialty hot dog restaurant, Up Dog. Completely renovated, the building was once home to a camera store. Other businesses include a bowling alley, an art store, a coffee shop and a pub.

Then there's Wild About Harry - tribute of sorts to all the things former President Truman might have enjoyed shopping for.

Evan Ragan was spotting shopping at the store when KCTV5's Brad Stephens and Greg Milota stopped by.

"Just walking down the street, store fronts are open, people are walking in and out, it's nice to see," Ragan said.

Which is exactly what the McClains envisioned when they began this journey back in the 90s.

"I think people want walkable, livable communities. The square offers that kind of vision in a renewed setting. As we open new businesses and retrofit old buildings to accommodate new business needs, we're really establishing what people want today," Ken McClain said.

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