Want to See McKinney the Cool Way? Hop on a Segway!

11 Sep

Segway tours in downtown McKinney TXSegway tours have been popular in big cities for a few years now and, thanks to Jen and Ken Smith, Segways have come to McKinney!

Visitors to McKinney (and residents, too, of course) can tour the city’s historic district, parks and more atop these two wheeled electric vehicles, thanks to the Smith’s company, McKinney Segway Tours which officially opened Sept. 4.

“Every big city has Segway tours, but smaller towns have so much to offer, too,” Jen said. “The history and scenery around the square make McKinney a perfect place for tours. And the wide, even trails at Bonnie Wenk Park offer a great place to play a little more and enjoy a less structured tour.”

Both the downtown historic tours and parks are open for reservations. McKinney Segway Tours also offers customized tours as well for special events or circumstances.

McKinney Segway Tours at Bonnie Wenk ParkSo how did the Smiths decide on Segways for their new business venture? The couple moved their family out of their McKinney home of four years, sold everything and moved into an RV, so they were looking for something that would travel easily when the time came for them to go on the road. (That’s still a little ways in the future, as they have a couple school-aged kids still at home.)

“We’ve been thinking for years of something different to do, and of all the ideas we explored, every step along the way with the Segways has just worked out just as it should,” Jen said.

The couple talked about the desire to eventually offer adventure tours while on the road, either that or start other Segway tour businesses in other smaller cities. But first, they’re working to get McKinney Segway Tours launched. They’ve already formed a partnership with Munzee Marketplace for their downtown tours; tour participants meet the Smiths at this store for signing releases and pre-tour instruction. They will also hold special tours for Munzee players in town in October for the company’s MHQ Bash.

“We’re thrilled to have Jen and Ken offering these tours. McKinney Segway Tours gives us another interesting entertainment option to offer when we have groups in town for conferences or other meetings, as well as for groups here on day or weekend trips,” said Dee-dee Guerra, Executive Director of the McKinney Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Plus, this is another fun attraction we’ll be able to promote  top encourage visitors to come to McKinney for a unique experience in our quaint historic downtown and our beautiful nature areas.”

Currently, McKinney Segway Tours can tour up to five people at one time. (“Right now, the streets and sidewalks here won’t handle more than that and we don’t want to get in anyone’s way,” Jen said.)  If the need arises, especially for special custom tours, they do have the option of renting other units from the Segway tour company in Dallas with whom they’ve been consulting on starting their business.

“We so appreciate their incredible generosity in providing us with information and guidance,” Jen said. “And we feel so welcome starting this business downtown. The businesses and homeowners in the historic have been so supportive and friendly.”

For more information about McKinney Segway Tours and to check their tour schedule, visit their website.

Cynthia Elliot Boutique Celebrates 25 Years on McKinney Square

7 Aug

Cynthia Elliott BoutiqueCelebrating 25 years in business is always an impressive milestone. But when that business is a small mom-and-pop shop on a downtown square away from the interstate where even larger businesses often don’t make it, celebrating 25 years in business is an incredible accomplishment.

Cynthia and Steve VanLandingham, the owners of Cynthia Elliot Boutique, have certainly seen huge changes throughout McKinney in the last 25 years, and of course, a huge metamorphosis on the downtown square.

When they first opened their business, the population of McKinney was 26,500, and the downtown square was not much more than an outlet center with antique stores mixed in with many buildings in disrepair and even some boarded up. The square was also home to three restaurants – El Juarez (still in business), Kam’s Chinese Restaurant and Lynn’s Kitchen.
Both VanLandinghams found themselves without their corporate careers during the late 1980s when so many businesses were struggling, laying off and realigning staff, Cynthia recently told a gathering of downtown business owners.

“We took a leap of faith. In 1990, we started our first business in a 300-square-foot basement location at Tennessee and Virginia,” Cynthia said, adding that by the end of the first year, they had taken over the full 1200-square-foot basement.

Next came the purchase of the old Vermillion building on the north side of the square. Steve redesigned the interior of the building to accommodate a two-bedroom loft as well as the new location for Cynthia Elliot Boutique.

“The city council was quite surprised that anyone would want to live above their business, but it was perfect for us,” Cynthia said. Before long, the couple were bestowed the title of “Square Keepers.”

Their business grew and flourished, thanks to Cynthia’s careful selection of fashions she knew her customers would love. Her degree in Fashion Design and Merchandising (from Texas Tech University) gave her the foundation she needed to build her business, and her special knack for seeking out unusual merchandise that wasn’t seen everywhere else has allowed her to build a solid and devoted clientele.

“Even with the ups and downs in the economy, I would shop till I dropped at market so my clients wouldn’t have to. They called me ‘Cherry Picker’ at Market, because my assortments were so unique,” Cynthia said. “Even in difficult times, I sought out quality lines that were affordable for my clients, something I still work hard to do.” Owner Cynthia VanLandingham

The VanLandinghams were thrilled to see the resurgence of interest in the square that began a little more than a decade ago, with many new owners of buildings also opening businesses in them, not just renting them to other businesses. Interest also turned to renovating the old courthouse, which had been boarded up for more than 20 years at that point. Cynthia was involved with the original 4-B Tax board, working with the group to see that the building was restored. Through a joint effort of the 4-B Tax board, City, and County funds, the old courthouse reopened as the McKinney Performing Arts Center in 2006, which added its special vibrancy to the square.

Cynthia believes in supporting her fellow merchants and restaurants.

“My clients shopping experience is not all about my store. It is about what [the square as a whole] has to offer them. My staff and I recommend restaurants to dine at, other shops to shop at, and [attractions] that might interest our visitors,” Cynthia said.

The main life lesson Cynthia has learned in her 25 years of business on the square is how to spread joy to her clients and friends.

“We help them find beautiful things to wear that make them happy! This improves their self-image and self-esteem and images,” Cynthia said, adding that a hug for her clients coming in and going out of her shop is a part of the joyful experience at Cynthia Elliott Boutique.

Cynthia is a mainstay at the monthly Main Street Business Meetings when business owners meet to share information and ideas. Cynthia is always eager to help new businesses on the square by offering them her ideas, support and lessons learned throughout her years of business here.

“Her family and business are incredible assets to Downtown and to all of McKinney,” McKinney Main Street Executive Director Amy Rosenthal said. “We are so fortunate to have them on the square!”

Throughout the month of August, Cynthia is hosting a variety of specials in her boutique, including special discounts and door prizes. Follow her store on Facebook to learn of all being offered during this 25th anniversary celebration.

Also coming this month are features on other businesses with August “birthdays”:

  • Spoons Café, which celebrates 12 years of business on the downtown square for owner and McKinney girl Karen Klassen, who first opened her comfort food eatery in a small space on East Louisiana before moving into the converted 1920s Texas Power and Light building at the corner of Kentucky and Louisiana where it continues to thrive;
  • Diggin’ It, celebrating five years just north of the downtown square, offering all sorts of funky home décor, garden plants, clothing and jewelry; and
  • Munzee Marketplace, which celebrates its first year of business on the square, growing from a convenience “concept store” so the Munzee staff would have a place to grab a quick sandwich, bag of chips, candy bar and can of soda to a special niche store offering fresh produce, organic dairy products, locally-produced beer, and coming soon, locally made sandwiches in their own special kitchen!

Summer Camps for Kids in McKinney, Texas!

2 Jul

McKinney is full of cool experiences for your kids to enjoy during the hot summer months. Below are links to all sorts of camps, including art, nature, music, horsemanship, dress-up and more:

As we learn of other summer camps and activities, we’ll add them here, so make sure to check back often!

Munzee Named 2014 Tourism Partner of the Year

5 Feb

Each year, the McKinney Convention & Visitors Bureau recognizes one of their tourism partners who has proven a dedication to the city of McKinney’s tourism efforts through bringing people to the city, working with the hotels to book rooms for their visitors, and working with the MCVB who supports these efforts. The MCVB presented their 2014 Tourism Partner of the Year award to the team at Munzee during the annual McKinney Chamber of Commerce Community Awards ceremony, held this year on Friday, Jan. 30.

The 2014 Tourism Partner of the Year Award was presented to Munzee by the McKinney CVB on Jan. 30, 2015.

The 2014 Tourism Partner of the Year Award was presented to Munzee by the McKinney CVB on Jan. 30, 2015.

The idea for Munzee, a global scavenger hunt app for Smartphone, was born in 2008 but technology to build it wasn’t available yet. In 2011, the geo-locational QR code game was finally launched in Texas – a game in which players scan hidden QR codes using GPS technology via their Smartphones.  In the company’s early days, most Munzee players and the games pieces – called “deployments” – were located in Germany and in Texas, California and Michigan.

In late 2013, the company, under the direction of a new president and vice president as well as one of the original founders, moved into a tiny second floor space over the Antique Company Mall on Virginia Street in downtown McKinney. They were busy developing new game pieces and strategies as well as growing the size of their team.

In Spring 2014, the Munzee team visited with the McKinney CVB staff for the first time.

“Rob (Vardeman) and TJ (Ogroske) came to discuss an event they wanted to hold in the fall and asked for our help,” said Dee-dee Guerra, Executive Director of the McKinney Convention & Visitors Bureau. “They immediately started sending visiting players to our Visitors Center. We were seeing several a week, and they even set up a business QR code for their visitors to scan here for a prize.”

Munzee guys

Munzee President Rob Vardeman and VP of Marketing TJ Ogroske

The team also took to traveling the globe, exposing players worldwide to McKinney. The Munzee map kept growing with deployments worldwide, as was the map of McKinney. Many deployments were placed here physically by people visiting McKinney, but even more deployments called “virtuals” were placed here by players from their homes in more than 100 countries.

The philanthropic-minded Munzee team also began creating special virtual pieces to raise funds and awareness for various charitable organizations.

  • Munzee’s first campaign raised more than $4,000 for Autism research.
  • Their second campaign that spring was for Ronald McDonald House Charities, bringing in more than $25,000 for that organization.
  • In response to the worldwide “Ice Bucket Challenge,” Munzee created virtual ice bucket pins for their players who in turn “packed McKinney in ice” from all over the world, raising $54,000 for ALS Research.
  • Now in February 2015, Munzee introduced candy conversation heart virtual pins to raise money for the American Heart Association.

As coverage of the Smartphone app grew, so did the company’s team, and in September of 2014, they moved to a larger office space on the downtown square. They also opened a convenience store called the Munzee Marketplace in the space formerly occupied by the Garret Art Gallery directly below their new offices.

As if opening new offices and a store during the City of McKinney’s largest annual event, Oktoberfest, wasn’t enough to take on, they also hosted their first big local event that weekend, the Munzee Headquarters Oktoberfest Bash and their A-munzing Race. This event brought more than 300 players to McKinney from countries including Denmark, Canada, and Lithuania as well as from multiple states. Many of these visitors stayed in McKinney for one or two weeks, taking in all the city has to offer.

“Our staff had the best time meeting and interacting with the Munzee players in town for this event,” Guerra said. “And these players were so excited to share with us what they liked about McKinney. For most of them, it was their first time in our city, and without exception, they all talked about wanting to come back here again soon.”

Now, just 3-1/2 years after the app first launched, the company’s latest figures help illustrate the impact the MCVB 2104 Tourism Partner of the Year has had on tourism worldwide, and here at their world headquarters in McKinney, Texas:

  • The Munzee app is played in 190 countries by more than 195,000 players worldwide.
  • There are more than 2.5 million Munzees deployed worldwide …and
  • There is at least 1 physical game piece deployed on every continent in the world, including Antarctica.

“The team at Munzee draws thousands of people to visit our city, and they continue each day to spread positive awareness of McKinney, Texas, to points around the world,Eventzee Logo” Guerra said. “The guys are such fun, so creative, and they thrive on interacting with their players as much as their players thrive on getting to meet them. The app also encourages people to get outside and explore the world around them. The Munzee team has such a firm grasp on what it means to be tourism ambassadors for our beautiful city.”

New App Just Released
And now an update to when this blog was originally written (Friday, Jan. 30): The team at Munzee launched a new app today called Eventzee, available for iPhone and Android platform Smartphones. This app features “events” involving photo scavenger hunts of every day things found in their players’ communities. Players snap photos with their phones of the items on the clue list and submit them for points. At the end of each event, some of the players will win prizes. Available from the Apple Store and the Google Play Store.

Silent Version of ‘Oliver Twist’ at MPAC Jan. 10

2 Jan

oliver_twist_1922_01By Mike Tarzis
North Texas Chapter – American Theater Organ Society

It seems Hollywood has always had somewhat of a love affair with the works of British author Charles Dickens. Take, for instance, his Victorian masterpiece Oliver Twist. Since the early part of the twentieth century, the novel has been made into a feature length movie no less than twelve times, and an additional three television mini-series. The classic tale of a ragged orphan who was born to poverty, becomes a pick pocket and thief, and subsequently rights his own ship with the help of some unlikely friends provides an inspirational theme which rings true to any generation.

Although there are several silent versions of the film, perhaps the most iconic is the 1922 release starring Lon Chaney as the evil Fagin, and then child superstar Jackie Coogan in the title role. Coogan, whose career had really taken off the year before in the Charlie Chaplin masterpiece The Kid, was an 8-year-old phenomenon, and fast becoming one of the most popular actors in the country.  He would go onto a successful screen career as an adult up to, and concluding perhaps his last role as Uncle Fester on the 60’s TV series The Addams Family. As for Chaney, he was already entering the height of his popularity, and a year later would become a superstar in the screen adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame. For this Dickens film, the pairing of the two seemed logical, and the movie was a great success.

To set the scene for the classic, organist Bob Whiteman will present his original musical score on the McKinney Performing Arts Center’s Mighty Wurlitzer theater pipe organ. Bob is no stranger to MPAC audiences. He has provided entrance and exit music for numerous MPAC shows, and has worked with the McKinney Repertory Theater on various productions for the past several years. In his earlier years, Bob was the keyboardist for singer Frankie Laine, and at one time was the stadium organist for the Cleveland Indians baseball team.

The program will be presented Saturday, Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m.  Adult tickets for the event are $12 in advance, or $14 at the door. Kids tickets are priced at $5 in advance, or $7 at the door. Seniors over 65 are admitted free, but tickets are required. Reservations can be made by calling the McKinney Performing Arts Center box office at (214) 544-4630.

New Year’s Eve 2014 in McKinney, Texas

26 Dec

Happy_New_YearClockBelow are some of the activities taking place in McKinney for New Year’s Eve 2014.

NYE at The Sanctuary:

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Dinner and music by the Maylee Thomas Band start at 8 p.m. $100 per person includes dinner buffet, party favors, champagne toast at midnight and breakfast buffet. 6633 Virginia Parkway, Suite 102, in Adriatica of Stonebridge Ranch, McKinney. Make reservations ONLINE, by calling 972-672-5739 or by email. The buffet includes Prime Rib, Pork Tenderloin, Atlantic Salmon, Smoked Pork Belly, Shrimp Enchiladas, Lobster Pasta, Shrimp Cocktail, Caesar Salad, Tomato and Onion Salad, Mashed Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Scalloped Potatoes, Roasted Vegetables, Mexican Street Corn, Black Eyed Peas, Texas Pecan Pie, Crème Brulee, Assorted Cheesecake Bites.

Dinner at Rick’s Chophouse:
Reservations are required. Enjoy a champagne toast at midnight with a balloon drop. Live music in the lounge by Missing 3.  107 N. Kentucky in downtown McKinney. 214-726-9251.

New Year’s Eve Pajama Party for the Kids:
While Mom and Dad are out enjoying a nice date for New Year’s Eve, the kids (ages 6-12) can enjoy a pajama party at Adventure Kids Playcare, 3300 W. Eldorado Parkway Suite 900. 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Reservations fill up fast! 214-491-4088.

New Year’s Eve Murder Mystery Bash
6:30-10 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 31. Evening includes a wagon ride to the Western town, a tour of the buildings and the saloon, a plated dinner with two complimentary drinks, and a Murder Mystery show in the Historic Opry House. VIP seats include complimentary champagne toast. The menu features your choice of grilled chicken, oven roasted brisket or vegetarian mushroom risotto, served with roasted potatoes and steamed broccoli, dinner rolls and dessert. Price is $95 per person or upgrade to VIP seats for $25 more. All proceeds support River Ranch Educational Charities, a 501c3 non-profit, that provides scholarships, free services and donations for underprivileged children and those with special needs. Call Storybook Ranch at 972-369-0874 or visit online. 3701 S. Custer Rd.

New Years Eve Service:
6;30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 31, at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 2708 Virginia Pkwy. This service will be a dinner, devotion, and communion served in the Fellowship Hall.

Seniors Can’t Pass Up McKinney

6 Dec

Both the city and the county were named for Collin McKinney who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Today it is a city of around 145,000 located 30 miles north of Dallas on Interstate 75.

The history of McKinney notes the city to be one of the oldest towns in North Texas, dating to 1841 when the first settlers arrived in the region from Kentucky, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

Seniors Enjoy Old and Authentic

McKinney has one of the oldest authentic and thriving historic downtowns in Texas. The downtown district offers over 100 unique shops and for the senior gourmand, more than a dozen unique restaurants. It is said in McKinney…”Don’t expect to lose any weight while visiting McKinney; quite simply, the food is way too good.”


Senior visitors will encounter an assortment of specialty shops, art galleries, furniture stores, exquisite antique collections, gifts and home décor and apparel boutiques. Town Lake Recreational Area is an attractive 22 acre lake for fishing or for boating. Senior hikers, the Lake is surrounded by a 1.3 mile hike and bike trail.

So as you are cruising around Dallas, swing north into McKinney and plan to spend a few days. Seems like something is brewing all year long. Annual Events include Bike the Bricks, Red White and Boom!, Mickey Mantle World Series, Oktoberfest, Dickens of a Christmas (now called Home for the Holidays…A McKinney Christmas) and the Heritage Guild Holiday Homes Tour.

Unknown-1Historic Homes, Courthouse Square and Village

If you are into historic sites, like me, McKinney is home to over 1700 historic homes and buildings and an historic Courthouse Square. Chestnut Square Historic Village is a collection of six historic homes, a replica of a one-room school house, chapel and store on 2.5 acres just south of the downtown McKinney square.

The grounds also include a blacksmith shop, smoke house, and beautiful chapel and reception gardens. The buildings include period artifacts showing how people lived in Collin County from 1854-1920.

The city’s tree-lined streets, historic downtown and tight-knit community give McKinney a friendly, small town feel. Check out the Grand Hotel… it would make a great place to bed down in historic downtown McKinney. Enjoy your visit to this Number One Town. jeb