1. One microplane.
  2. Two dish towels.
  3. Three coffee mugs.

Items I can — and do — grab regularly at any big-box kitchen store. But these purchases are special. Not for what they do, but from where they come.

Proust had his madeleines. I have my Pryde’s.

Each year when I return to my childhood home, I reserve a day for Pryde’s Old Westport, a 44-year-old Kansas City establishment that sells all matter of kitchen and garden supplies. Strewn throughout the 10,000 square feet of a former dance studio, the shop carries thousands of items from a huge variety of manufacturers. The inventory is loosely organized by theme: Whisks, spatulas and colanders at the front of the main floor; lobster pots and roasters at the rear. Shoppers can find Fiestaware and glassware downstairs; cookbooks lie in a little room off the front door.

Really, though, those locations are mere suggestions. An abundant jumble greets visitors when they enter the store. And that largesse is precisely what gives Pryde’s its charm.

Pryde’s is what I think of when I picture a small, independent business. It’s what I think of when I hear “homegrown” and “entrepreneurship.” It’s what I seek out when traveling — a shop that reflects the individuality and personality of a certain city.

Today, my mother, my sister-in-law and I browse the shelves and climb the stairs carrying cups of freshly brewed iced tea. (Every patron is offered tea or coffee as soon as they enter the door.) Mom is looking for a blue vase to grace the top of her piano. The three of us will spend hours kneeling amongst the glassware, reaching into corners and behind stacks of cake plates when we see something we like.

I need a few coffee mugs to supplement the ones I bought here several years ago. I can’t find exactly what I need, but I know not to worry. A few years back, I was searching for a line of Two’s Company glassware that had been discontinued. I mentioned — mentioned — it to Pryde’s owner. A few weeks later, I got a call at my home in Maryland. Pryde’s buyer had found an entire set of the glassware in Abilene, Kansas. Would I like her to ship it to me?

Uh, yeah.

Why, you may ask, am I waxing poetic about a kitchen store?

Because I am smitten. Yes, Pryde’s is more expensive than Homegoods or Bed, Bath & Beyond. It’s probably monstrously inefficient: It still uses paper receipt books and handheld calculators to ring up purchases. Its hodge-podge approach to display no doubt strikes some as random and chaotic.

Yet for me, that’s the point. This isn’t a discount superstore or an efficient national chain where I can find the same item on the same shelf halfway down the same aisle, whether I’m shopping in Maryland, Missouri or Maui, Hawaii. It’s an individual, family-owned entity that is both unique to and representative of my hometown (and my annual visits here).

It’s familiar. It’s welcoming. It’s slightly jumbled.

And a little messy.

Yes, Proust had his madeleines. Thank goodness I have my Pryde’s.


Just for those of you keeping score: We arrived at my parents’ house, and yes! My mother greeted us with … the cookies: