Cara Leising and Melissa Bennett

Liberty Hotel Manager Cara Leising, left, and Bennett’s Printing & Office Supply Co. Owner Melissa Bennett discuss the attributes of downtown Cleburne during Thursday’s Cleburne Rotary Club meeting.

Character, uniqueness and hometown feel go far when it comes to fun places to stay, play and visit, Bennett’s Printing & Office Supply co-owner Melissa Bennett said.

“No one has ever gone to a town and come back and said, ‘Man, they had the coolest Target I’ve ever seen,’” Bennett said.

Fortunately, Bennett added, Cleburne is rich in variety, options and local color.

Bennett and others discussed the history and benefits of Cleburne, particularly the downtown area, during Thursday’s weekly luncheon of the Cleburne Rotary Club.

It’s a topic near and dear to Bennett’s heart given that she loves Cleburne’s historic buildings and history.

“Did you know that we have four museums downtown?” Bennett said. “We have four art galleries, 11 restaurants and almost 40 retail businesses without even considering the service businesses.”

Bennett went on to highlight several of those businesses including Heritage Home Vantage Inspired Living, one of several antique stores downtown. 

“It’s a fun store and I learned long ago that it’s not a good idea to take my purse in there,” Bennett joked.

Bennett also mentioned the Liberty Hotel.

“It’s a wonderful place within walking distance of those 11 restaurants and a lot of people come to Cleburne just to stay at the hotel,” Bennett said.

Among other downtown businesses, Bennett mentioned Breck & Co. Floral, the recently renovated art deco style Law Office of Robert L. Ward, Loaf’N Dog Restaurant and more.

“Trovato Street is one of our more interesting downtown businesses because the owners actually live upstairs,” Bennett said. “That building dates to the late 1800s. It was originally the American Dry Goods Company and has been several things since then. The owners of Trovato Street restored the floors, everything, the whole building including the old freight elevator and they did it right. 

“Downstairs they sell all sorts of candy and have a root beer bar with 40 kinds of root beer to choose from. I wasn’t even aware there were 40 types of root beer but it’s a great, fun place.”

Bennett spoke of Lindy’s Treats and Treasures, which also includes Mom’s Kitchen, a bakery and eatery.

“Several years ago a lot of us got together and started talking about redoing historic downtown Cleburne and getting everybody together to promote downtown,” Bennett said. “[Lindy’s owner Lindy Schlotfeld] came in around that time and bought that building and redid it. She did it right and now has plans to redo the upstairs area.”

Bennett, to stress her point, showed before and after pictures of Lindy’s and other downtown buildings that have undergone renovation in recent years.

The huge, 3-story building on the corner of Chambers and Anglin streets is next with renovations already underway, Bennett said. The new owners plan to renovate for seven retail locations on the ground floor and 11 apartments on the top two.

Bennett also discussed her own building, which has been Bennett’s since 1984 but was previously home to auto dealerships and other businesses.

“Two years ago, thanks to a wonderful $5,000 matching facade grant from the city, we redid our awnings and repainted the front and side of our building,” Bennett said. “The city has made great downtown improvements with new sidewalks, benches and the planters. Every day I look around and go, ‘Ooh, there’s another planter.’ They just keep popping up and it’s all made a huge difference in how downtown looks.”

Bennett went on to champion downtown entertainment options from Songbird Live’s musical offerings to Plaza Theatre Co.’s plays not to mention events such as Antique Alley, the Christmas parade, art crawls and, outside of downtown, Cleburne Railroaders baseball, Cleburne State Park and the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum.

Preservation and community involvement go a long way toward revitalizing a town, Buker said. Preservation efforts generate more than $1.4 billion in Texas economic activity each year while renovation of buildings contributes millions more.

“That creates jobs,” Buker said. “It brings people to our downtowns. With all the events we have in the downtown area it also brings people to our community.”

Out of towners account for roughly 90 percent of Heritage Homes’ receipts, Buker said. 

“Which, in a way, makes me sad that only 10 percent of Cleburne comes to visit our stores,” Buker said. “I would like to see that number get bigger and, if you haven’t been downtown lately, please come to see what we have to offer.”

Liberty Hotel Manager Carol Leising agreed.

“If you haven’t been to downtown Cleburne in a while, we’re having a lot of fun down here and if you’re not here you’re really missing out,” Leising said. “In downtown we have everything. We have history, hauntings, our murals and more. We’re full of locally-owned businesses whose owners turn around and spend their money in our community.

Leising touted Fairyfest, an event that attracted 300 little girls, and big girls, the return of Springfest next year and a July 30 Casino Night at Liberty to raise funds for Historic Downtown Cleburne.

“So, we really encourage people to come down and see what’s going on. You don’t have to leave Cleburne anymore. You can spend your money right here and keep our tax base here.”

Leising thanked the Cleburne Railroaders for booking visiting teams at Liberty, a move that has helped the hotel immensely in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Leising mentioned that a large crane will arrive at Liberty next week. The crane, she said, will be used to replace several pieces of heavy equipment damaged during Winter Storm Uri earlier this year.

Leising concluded by, more or less, quoting a signature James Brown song.

“Please, please, please shop local,” Leising said. “Please, please, please come visit historic downtown Cleburne.”

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