It was the dusty days of Kansas City in 1887. Men clad in white cotton shirts tied their horses to the posts and women carrying baskets of eggs for trade entered the store. The aroma of freshly baked soda bread contributed to the familiarity of the neighborhood market. Inside, proprietors Ed and Mary Flavin, both immigrants from County Kerry, Ireland, conversed with locals and traded pennies for cured hams and embroidered pieces of lace. Flavin’s Market, at 27th and Jefferson in the front of the family home, was a place for neighbors to meet. It was Ed and Mary’s aim to provide quality food, wares and Irish hospitality to their many customers and friends. Accommodating their growing needs, in 1901 the Flavins built a new store on the outskirts of town–the corner of 33rd and Pennsylvania.
Their daughter Margaret and her husband James R. (Jim) Browne, also from Country Kerry, continued the family business after their marriage in 1915, keeping the same friendly atmosphere. From the brick building the Browne family watched the area struggle through the stock market crash, ration stamps during the war years and the coming of the technological age. Margaret, a fine businesswoman ahead of her time, raised their 11 children and worked daily behind the counter. Jim a hail-fellow well met ran for city Alderman and was one of the seven founding members of Associate Grocers (now AWG). The Browne’s kept the neighborhood alive during the depression, letting people pay what they could.
Browne’s eldest son James R., Jr. (Bob) and his wife Marjorie began a new era in 1955. With their three daughters, Margo, Deb and Kerry, they saw the surrounding neighborhood transform from turn of the century to contemporary businesses. Neighborhood kids got their right of passage and a lesson in arithmetic from Bob who played dad as well as employer to many of the group.
Customers were like family at the bustling market. The warm feeling prevailed through good and bad times and in 1981 their daughter, Kerry, and her business-partner and husband John McClain, continued the tradition at Brownes. In 1987 they celebrated what a handful of other businesses will enjoy–their 100th anniversary.
Brownes greeted the 21st Century, just as it was there to welcome the last. Now, the fifth generation can be seen bringing Irish smiles to customers and carrying on the tradition at the store as they learn the history and tricks of trade from the current generation.
In Summer 2008, the Browne’s expanded back to its original layout with an addition of 6 rooms of Irish and Celtic gifts.
Browne’s has become a staple in Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day celebrations every March 17 as a gathering place for friends and families before and after the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Generation of families have passed over the threshold to come in and exchange yarns about the day. Bins of open food have been replaced by packaged imports from Ireland. Hand cranked machines made way for electronics. But as things changed, they do remain the same. Oak floors and the aroma of freshly-baked goods still create an ambiance of home. Quality product, guaranteed to satisfy, are still sold over the porcelain case. And Irish charm is maintained 137 years and 5 generations after the story began.