Commercial Street, Emporia

Downtown storefronts


A Destination City

When I’ve visited Ouray, Colorado, or Taos, New Mexico, or some other touristy town, I’ve taken walks around these towns and I see artsy little houses near the downtown, flower gardens tucked away to the side with stone paths and benches, hollyhocks in bloom, colorful free-hand paintings on the fence, and think, “hmm, I could live right here in this touristy town.” And I imagine a life of delicate mornings, me sipping hot tea at a little table in the garden.

These quaint touristy towns look so homey. And the scenery is gorgeous, the mornings dewy but the days not humid.

And then I come home to Kansas.

Kansas. Well, we get some people who want to experience Kansas, but Kansas is not Colorado or New Mexico.

Emporia, however, will host over 4,000 cyclists this week. Plus the support teams, family members, and a couple hundred people manning vendor booths. For them, UNBOUND is not a leisurely vacation, but it’s an adventure vacation for some, and a work trip for others.

When they come to Emporia, what will they find? What will they see?

Will they see a cute little house with a flower gardens tucked away to the side, stone paths and benches? Maybe.

They’ll for sure visit downtown Emporia. The UNBOUND races launch from here.

Lining Commercial Street are UNBOUND banners featuring names and faces of previous stellar cyclists, their race times, and the year they competed. Music plays from speakers along the sidewalk.

antique blue bathtub with flowers

antique blue bathtub with flowers

Emporia’s downtown has become much more vibrant in the last 15 years or so. Most storefronts are occupied. We have charming coffee shops and quality restaurants including an eclectic American bistro, a brewery, a chocolate café, a gourmet meat-cheese-and bread store, some nice bars, an art gallery/gift shop, a new Emporia Arts Center building, a new Lyon County History Center building. The town has three bike shops on Commercial Street. Downtown intersections have tiny flower gardens tended to by volunteers.

Emporia now has First Friday, a tremendous success story. An arts community has come to life here. Kansas Free for Arts supports art and music, putting on the annual Halfway to Everywhere Festival with various stages around town, dozens of musicians. We have the No Coast Film Festival each year. Emporia has an active community of writers, a successful book publisher – Meadowlark Press.

People you meet on the sidewalk often nod, or say “Good morning,” even if you’re a stranger.

So, as visitors walk around the city, will they think, “wow, this is an upbeat and thriving community?”

Are they slightly envious of those of us who do live here and can wander into Radius anytime we want for a good meal or a beer?

Will they imagine themselves living here in a cute little house, taking walks on cool spring mornings? Maybe some of them will.

colorful bench

Kansas Free for Arts bench



Unbound banner

UNBOUND banner

Merchant Cycle Shop

Merchant Cycle Shop