Cindy and Ken McClain build their vision of the future on the rich history of hometown.
It all started in 1992 when Bill Clinton came to Independence, Mo., to kick off his presidential campaign. Cindy and Ken McClain attended the event, later watching the replay on television. Instead of feeling proud to have their hometown broadcast in front of the entire nation, the couple was dismayed by how empty and run-down the Independence Square appeared.
“The campaign song at the time was Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,’” Cindy McClain reminisces. “It didn’t look like Independence had a tomorrow because all of the buildings were boarded up on the Square.”
From then on, the McClains decided to dedicate their time and resources to revitalizing the Square. Their first venture was a fine-dining restaurant called Ophelia’s, which opened in 1998. With the restaurant’s success, the McClains expected other entrepreneurs to follow suit and open venues on the Square. When this didn’t happen, they took the initiative to start building again and haven’t stopped since.
Over the years, the couple has opened 16 businesses on the Square – nine restaurants, five retail stores, a yoga studio and a bowling alley – shaping the area into a hot spot for locals, as well as a destination for out-of-towners who come to enjoy a tasty meal at one of the many dining options, do an art project at Primary Colors, or bowl and watch sports at Diamond Bowl. In addition to providing entertainment and tourism for Independence, the new Square creates jobs for the area’s residents; collectively, the McClains’ businesses employ more than 150 individuals.
Throughout the Square’s rebuilding process, the McClains remained devoted to simultaneously preserving Independence’s character and history while giving the old buildings “new bones,” as McClain describes. For example, the Square’s gourmet grocery and kitchenware store, Gilbert, Whitney & Co., once served as a mercantile for settlers heading out West. The McClains kept the store’s name as a tribute to the past.
“The big goal was to give a future to Independence because it deserves a future,” McClain says. “There’s so much history here; most towns would give anything to have the history that we do.”
It’s safe to say the McClains have more than achieved this goal. Thanks to their work and dedication, the couple has given Independence a vibrant and thriving cultural center fit to celebrate its history while creating growth for the future.