Bustling town embraces
‘we-can-do-it’ initiative

It’s a windy November evening after sundown. Downtown Buffalo is quiet.

Then, empty parking spaces on the west side of the square begin to fill. Braving the chill, people quickly exit their vehicles and hurry down the sidewalk to an open coffee shop on the corner.

Inside Maple & Main, under the high tin ceilings of what used to be an old-fashioned drug store with a soda fountain, they slow down, catching up on neighbors’ lives and stopping at the counter for a cup of warm brew or a slice of homemade pie. After searching rearranged couches and chairs for place cards handwritten with their first names, they start to settle into their reserved seats for The Old Home Place Concert Series.

By the time Jacquelyn Strickland takes the stage at the back to introduce the evening’s featured musicians—two singer-songwriters, one from Massachusetts, one from Wisconsin–she has already greeted everyone who walked in the front door. And when the lights go down and spotlights shine on Jaquelyn’s son, singer-songwriter and guitarist Lyal Strickland, then on visiting artists Grace Morrison and Camela Widad, the audience is rapt, listening for almost two hours to every note and word.

“It’s just a very intimate listening room environment, and it can be magical,” Jacquelyn says.

Progress and transformation.

Local leaders might say the same not only of the concert series, which began in 2013, but also of this small Dallas County town’s transformation in more recent years.

“We’ve made so much progress,” says Hollie Elliott, executive director of the Dallas County Economic Development Group.

As entrepreneurs themselves, so have the Stricklands and their concert series. Drawing an average of 70 listeners before the COVID-19 pandemic, the series has garnered media attention for booking both emerging artists and nationally and internationally admired Americana and folk musicians.

At first, though, even the idea of hosting concerts in Buffalo seemed iffy.

When Lyal and his mother began to brainstorm about it, Lyal, now 36, had spent five post-college years as a touring musician. He had also been paying for pricey showcase performance slots at music conferences, where he and Jacquelyn would meet other talented musicians who dreamed of recording contracts and better gigs.

“We’re two-and-a-half hours from Kansas City, St. Louis, Fayetteville. Five hours from Memphis.”

Could Lyal and Jacquelyn make the better gigs happen, at least? They took a new look at their hometown, the seat of a largely rural county where Lyal farms his late grandfather’s land. Just off Highway 65—and not that far from I-44, either, as the crow flies–it seemed like a pretty good stopping place for musicians on the road.

“We’re two-and-a-half hours from Kansas City, St. Louis, Fayetteville,” Jacquelyn explains. “Five hours from Memphis.”

Jacquelyn and Lyal Strickland’s Maple & Main coffee shop in Buffalo is a musical anchor for the community’s growth. —Susan Atteberry Smith photo

If they could book musicians for Thursdays, she and Lyal reasoned, then the artists could earn enough to cover expenses en route to more lucrative gigs. And if local businesses would sponsor the series, they could keep the price of a ticket at ten bucks.

“Almost anybody can come up with ten dollars once a month, but when you charge the thirty-dollar ticket price that most of our artists charge, there are people in our community who can’t afford that,” Jacquelyn says.

U.S. Census data show that Dallas County has long had a poverty rate of around seventeen percent, so most residents aren’t wealthy—and the Stricklands didn’t want ticket costs to keep them away.

A home for music.

They also needed to find a permanent home for the concerts. The place older residents still remember as Johnson’s Rexall Drug, where a teenage Jacquelyn ordered chocolate Cokes before school, has usually been their venue. Before she and Lyal purchased the turn-of-the-20th-century brick building in November 2016, though, their friends at Chapman’s Furniture, catty-corner from Maple & Main, sheltered the series for eight months.

That century-old business is among the sponsors Jacquelyn now names before each performance, along with Boggsy’s Barber Shop, Buffalo Prairie Dental, Holt Monument, Mallard Brothers Café, and Oak Star Bank. As she speaks clearly and confidently into the microphone, it’s easy to imagine hearing her voice on the air in Memphis, where a radio broadcasting career first sparked at a student-operated station in Buffalo eventually put Jacquelyn’s face and name on billboards in Tennessee.

For their part, an audience who appreciates live music is happy to hear her welcoming them tonight at Maple & Main.

Mural of a buffalo on the south side of the square in downtown Buffalo, Missouri.
One of more than a half-dozen murals painted around town over the past decade or so, this Bison mural painted by Ron and Laura Allison in 2012 greets passersby on the south side of the square. —Susan Atteberry Smith photo

“I just love the music and to be able to see people who are just incredible—they’re nationally touring—especially since we don’t have to travel that far,” says Larry Greer, who with his wife, Debbie, has been attending the concerts for about five years.

Widad had folks singing along, as did Croatian folk musician Radoslav Lorkovic the month before. And while Morrison’s and Widad’s music brought some listeners in tears, others, like Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale, have brought listeners ranging in age from their twenties to their nineties to “hilarious laughter,” Jacquelyn says.

Artists like Lauderdale have attracted fans from Tulsa or Jonesboro, Ark., the Stricklands say, and many—including the artists—are charmed by the town: “You’ll be ringing them up for a latte and they will be like, ‘This is just the cutest town,’” says Lyal.

Yet many regulars are locals, too.

“It is wonderful to look around the room and see several people from out of town but also to see so many people in the community gather in a place and take part in something that is supposed to be a communal thing,” Jacquelyn says.

Massachusetts singer-songwriter Grace Morrison plays the first set at a November concert at Maple & Main.

Massachusetts singer-songwriter Grace Morrison plays the first set at a November concert at Maple & Main.

Coming together.

That sense of community may be returning in other parts of town, too.

Elliott calls the concert series a “unique gem” and one of the first businesses to attract new people to town.

Yet since she joined the county’s economic development group in 2017, it hasn’t been the last. A year later, the city joined the nonprofit Community Foundation of the Ozarks Growth in the Rural Ozarks (GRO) program, which fosters long-term economic growth in rural towns.

With GRO’s local investments and guidance and encouragement from economic development experts, soon the Stricklands weren’t the only ones taking a new look at their hometown.

Standing outside The Buffalo Reflex, the weekly newspaper, senior staff member and reporter Joy Beamer gets goosebumps when she remembers the first GRO meeting.

Beamer is also a native who returned to Buffalo: In the late 1990s, after marrying, starting a family, and working as an artist in St. Louis, she came back to live closer to an older sister with cancer. After her sister’s death, Beamer and other volunteers began promoting public murals, along with the Buffalo Art Walk and Craft Fair.

“Instead of waiting for someone to do it, they’re saying ‘We’ll do it.'”

So she knew there were folks willing to work for positive changes, yet that first GRO meeting felt different.

“They had invited everyone in town who was on a board—major businesses, the school, the city, the county, people who worked on the roads in the city—everybody was there,” she says. “And we all sat in this big room, and all of a sudden you could just feel this excitement.”

That excitement began to transform Buffalo, Elliott says, causing a “cultural shift” felt at its heart.

While business start-ups ranging from boutiques and restaurants to a recreational axe-throwing venue opened on the outskirts, local entrepreneurs breathed life and commerce back into old buildings around the square.

Everybody’s on the same path.

A 14,000-square-foot space that housed Woods Supermarket a half-century ago is now Market 116, a home goods store owned by Buffalo natives Chad and Nicole Bryan. A block or so west on Main Street, business owner Patty Miller has turned the old slammer into The Dallas County Jail Hotel, an Airbnb with luxury foam mattresses on the bunks and a selfie mirror in a swank bathroom that once was a solitary confinement cell.

Established businesses on the square—the “stalwarts,” Elliott says—have also pumped money into their property. Chapman’s Furniture boasts a freshly painted exterior and sign, while across Maple Street, Oak Star Bank has remodeled yet another historic building.

Meanwhile, O’Bannon Bank donated its original headquarters on the square to the city for offices and council meetings, and in 2021, through the Helping Hands Program, more than 200 volunteers showed up to clean and paint city properties or pick up trash along the highways.

“We have a community that wants to see local businesses, local entrepreneurs, grow. Instead of waiting for someone to do it, they’re saying ‘We’ll do it,’” says Elliott, a county resident for more than a decade.

Beamer agrees: “Everybody’s on the same path.”

For music lovers who call Dallas County home or have just discovered it, that path may sometimes lead to a Thursday night concert at a small coffee shop on the corner of Maple and Main streets.

As Jacquelyn Strickland says, “It’s about the music, and about bringing the community together.”