Friday, July 23, 2010

Raytown

Raytown, Missouri
Walking Map, Raytown, Missouri, Thu 22 July 2010

Raytown, Missouri is one of those places many pass through, but rarely stop.
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Perhaps Raytown is not one of the most progressive municipalities in the world, but it seems like city leaders and planners are turning around moving Raytown in the right direction.  Take the new downtown bridge over the old Rock Island Railroad right of way with ample sidewalks on both sides.
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Take also the improved gateways that add much to the look and quality of the community.  Also, the downtown shopping center seems to be improving with new tenants.
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Ken and I on our daytrip adventure in Raytown, talked with downtown business owner, Ben Helt, of Benetti's Coffee Experience.
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 I mentioned to him the bad thing I wrote in the blog last week about Raytown, and the poison response I got from a reader.  He was very quick to point out that many of the bad perceptions about Raytown are rarely backed with any statistics or data, and that for the eight years he has lived in Raytown, he has enjoyed this quiet community on the eastern edge of Kansas City Missouri.  Three of those eight years he has spent owning and operating his coffee house.  On this warm afternoon, Ken and I found a good mix of people, from young to elderly.  Benetti's roasts it's own coffee in a small roaster which is visible in a glass room off to the side of the coffee bar.  Ben likes to have customized menu's and drinks, so that if you don't want coffee, or don't know much about coffee, you can get a good basic cup off the menu, or if you consider yourself a coffee connaisseur, then you will be satisfied with your menu selection as well.  Ben says he is inspired by community.  He says "if you want to make a difference in the community, you must have a good cup of coffee."  I am reminded by that quote of the theme of Tony Bourdain's program, "No Reservations" on the travel channel, that, if you want to bring the world together, it is best done around a good meal.  Perhaps Ben means to bring the community together over a good cup of coffee, and that sounds like a great plan to me.  It is a great starting point for Raytown.  Over and iced mocha, I sort of chewed poor Ben's ear off about my vision of the merits of sports vs. the arts.  He was very patient with me and open to my ideas, though I don't think he agreed with all of them.  He gave me a lot of food for thought, or is that coffee for thought as well.  Such is the magic of coffee and coffee houses.  
As for the city of Raytown, it exists almost nearly in the center of Jackson County Missouri.  It is part of what many refer to as the inner suburbs of Kansas City -- those communities directly to the east of Kansas City that sort of form a belt on the eastern flank of the metro area.  Areas such as Raytown, Independence, unincorperated Blue Summit, Sugar Creek, Hickman Mills/Ruskin Heights and Grandview.  All are facing pretty much the same issues as their western parts age and what has come to be known as "white flight" takes place at an accelerating pace due to automobiles, poor infrastructure in older urban areas, poor schools and crime.  Raytown seems to be poised to rebuild and remake itself as an answer to these modern urban issues, and the evidence can be seen in any walk or drive around downtown or the surrounding neighborhoods.  Respect for the past is evident as well.  
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Fox's drugs is a real treat, with its working breakfast and lunch counter.  In an era of big corporate mega drug chains, it is nice to see an old fashioned drug store that sells only drugs.  Ken and I were late for a hot lunch at Fox's, so we only were able to get a couple of snap shots instead.  Ken used to work at an auto repair shop downtown, so he wanted to go into the place, now operated by a new owner and now called Emerald Automotive.  
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The present owner of the shop took the time to talk to Ken and I and relive some memories.   For the most part, Ken and I have been daytripping, taking photo's, visiting some places, and leaving.  Today we broke that mold, and actually stopped to talk to people in the community.  I had Betsy in the shop in Independence for an oil change, so we had to interrupt our adventure to retrieve Besty.  On the way back, we stopped on 350 highway to get a picture of a memorable Raytown landmark, which is the animated snowflake googie atop the Funhouse Pizza sign.  
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Perhaps 350 highway is what most people who pass through town on this road use to judge the town.  350 is primariy for automobiles, and everything else is an afterthought.  It is a very busy divided highway and it splits Raytown diagonally from northwest to southeast.  
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There are very few if any sidewalks, and many of the strip shopping centers are a little on the tired side with vast acerages of parking lots in front.  Ben Helt admits that Raytown's orientation towards automotive traffic at the exclusion of all other modes of transport (such as by foot or by bycycle) is a failing of the city, but he adds that part of the improvements that are coming are more walkways and bike paths.  Ken and I saw evidence of that downtown.  
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Of note is the old timber bridge over the Rock Island Railroad grade, another famous Raytown landmark.  It has had a makeover fairly recently which includes walkways and lighting.  
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If you are into the 1950's, you would like Raytown.  
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A great, and well preserved example of 50's googie signage exists at the corner of 63rd street and Raytown Parkway.  That is Smith Brothers Hardware and Clark Appliances.  
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As the sun set, our last parting shots of Raytown, were of these landmark signs in their full neon glory. 
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They seem to be going nowhere, and that is a good thing.  As for Raytown and my initial assessment, only time will tell what the future holds for this community.  I hope it is going somewhere good.
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1 comment:

coremarc said...

As an '86 Raytown (North) HS grad, I really enjoyed your profile of my "hometown." I don't reside there any longer, but your profile made me nostalgic for my old stomping grounds.

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