By Tony Adams, The Belton Journal
When Austin’s eclectic taste meets small town shopping, you have the stylings of Flamingo Grove (2421 N. Main Street) and Lone Grove Trading Company (2437 N. Main Street).
Located in Grothway Square just across the parking lot from one another, the two stores demonstrate the uncommon style of its owners, Matt and Amy Blackburn.
The Blackburn family has lived in Belton for almost two decades and Matt has been the head softball coach for the Belton Tigers Softball team for eight years. The couple met while the two were attending the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and their personalities, coupled with their like tastes in music, furnishings, food and apparel really fueled their passion for the business they envisioned themselves starting in Belton.
“The biggest part of opening Flamingo Grove was the pre-work before the store opened,” Matt said. “Getting off of practice at 6 p.m. and coming into the store at 6:30 p.m. and going home at 10 p.m. was tough. Coming in and stripping tile off the floors, taking adhesive and carpets off the floor was a great deal of work. It took a solid month to get it the way we wanted it.”
“We always knew that we wanted to be in business for ourselves,” Amy said. “We wanted to be our own bosses and bring to town an ‘Austin-meets-Belton’ type of business. Something that was uncommon for the area. Something for women.”
Both Amy and Matt were working their regular jobs during the opening process, as Amy worked at Alter and Matt still works for BISD. From their modestly small cabinet display at Alter Salon, Flamingo Grove opened in May 2014 as a small boutique. Slowly, they grew outward.
“We have come a long way since our cabinet at Alter Salon,” Amy said. “The space came open next door, so we took it so we could bring more uncommon fashion to Belton. I got tired of traveling to Austin to shop and I thought that if we brought Austin-styles to Belton, it would allow people to shop locally and keep the money locally, it would help our economy.”
“We are always looking for that ‘wow’ factor when people come inside,” Matt said.
From kimonos to Flamingo Grove tank tops to stylish shorts and shoes, they have lots of styles for discerning tastes. The community support was overwhelming throughout the opening process.
“We have such a wide variety of clothing and accessories; we’ve got purses, jewelry and recently expanded into footwear,” Amy said. “We want it to be a place that will leave people saying what a great experience they had and how they’d never seen anything like it. The community support has been such a blessing, it is obvious that women were wanting a place so badly to shop without having to leave town to do so. They were able to find something different at our store…something that not every other woman had.”
The retro-feel of Flamingo Grove is a welcomed feel, as photographs of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean gives Flamingo that Vegas boutique-like atmosphere.
“We get people that come in singing along with the oldies that we play over the speakers,” Amy said. “People will come in and tell us stories about Elvis or bring in things from their Elvis collection. It’s a cool feeling to know that the shop makes an impact on people and that they really relate to it.”
The flamingo was the central figure that was the inspiration behind the store’s name, though it was not what the store was going to be called.
“The store was initially going to be called ‘Tupelo Grove’, for Elvis’ birthplace,” Matt explained. “But when we wrote it out and showed people, they really didn’t understand it. The regional understanding of Tupelo really stems from Nashville or Memphis. We got the flamingo idea from Elvis Presley’s album ’Flaming Star’. I looked at it and Amy asked if we could name it Flamingo Grove.“
“The flamingo was a retro-thing because that was the popular yard-art in the 1950s,” Amy added. “Now they give people today that retro-vibe.”
“I relate the flamingo to Las Vegas, “ Matt said. “It goes beyond the name. We have customers of ours that send us pictures of themselves in our clothes in front of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and it shows us how much they love the store.”
One thing that is unique to both Flamingo Grove and Lone Grove Trading is the license-plate art that makes the pair unique to Belton.
“There is a license-plate artist that works out of Arizona,” Matt said. “We come up with the sayings and he does them for us. They can make any sort of signage from license plates. The signage is unique.”
“You can get virtually any sort of signage custom made,” Amy added. “UMHB, Belton, just about anything you can think of.”
Eleven months following the opening of Flamingo Grove, Lone Grove Trading Company came to fruition.
“We were using the space for on-line sales for Flamingo, but we found we didn’t like that because people couldn’t try on things.” Amy said. “We shut that side of the business down, but they had that side of the building. My father had a furniture store in Giddings, where I am from. My dad got out of the business and helped my brother get into the furniture business in College Station. He has a booth at Warrenton twice a year, and I convinced my brother to let me accessorize it for him, because it is something that I like to do, and we’d invest in that part. We stopped and wished that we had a place to do something like that. And we we realized did. So we decided to use our space across from Flamingo for it.”
To the eye of a customer, Lone Grove Trading may be a vintage furniture store. But it is a haven for new furniture made from reclaimed wood, metal signs, lamps, lockers, wall art and uncommon décor.
“We wanted everything to have a Texas-feel to it,” Amy explained. “It’s Dallas. It’s Houston. It’s Waylon Jennings. It’s Willie Nelson.” One of the most unique signs in Lone Grove Trading Company, that is not for sale, is the Merle Haggard sign.
“It was the only sign like it that they had in Warrenton,” Matt said. “The company out of Nashville was there that weekend and it was used for a Merle show at a bar-and-grill.”
“We really don’t want to sell it,” Amy said. “It is something we treasure. The sign represents the vibe of Lone Grove…the love for country music, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard.”
The storefront of Lone Grove is made collectively of old barn wood from Amy’s family farm.
“Putting the barn wood in the store front was time-consuming,” Amy said. “But nowhere close to the time it took to put Flamingo Grove together.”
Lone Grove also has Fain’s Honey Products on their shelves from the famous Fain’s Honey House.
Flamingo Grove and Lone Grove Trading Company is in a prime spot Belton being able to draw traffic to the store from FM 317 and Sparta Road, especially being in such proximity to massive growth and is local to big stores, such as Wal-Mart and H.E.B.
“I honestly believe we are in the best real estate in the town,” Matt said. “All of the expansion is going this way.”
One of the eye-catchers for Lone Grove Trading Company is not only the store front that has a wooden Indian in front of it, but the chalkboard sign at the rear of the building. The sign is visible from the H.E.B. gas station parking lot and is always full of wittiness, which reflects the owners’ fun-loving personalities.
Being business owners, along with Matt’s coaching career and being the parents of two young daughters, the Blackburns always seem to make it work.
“We get so much help from the community and we can’t thank them enough,” Amy said. “We get days where either I can’t get to one place or if Matt needs someone to get them to the softball field, we always seem to make it work.”
“The team is always accommodating to the girls,” Matt said. “They sometimes do their homework at the field and team helps them out as they need it. It’s a unique situation.”
The Blackburns have made Belton their home and have planted their roots firmly in the area with Flamingo Grove and Lone Grove Trading Company. Visit their Facebook pages for Flamingo Grove (https://www.facebook.com/FlamingoGrove?fref=ts) and Lone Grove Trading (https://www.facebook.com/lonegrovetrading?fref=ts)