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FAYETTEVILLE FOR SALE?, By Wayne Bell

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Okay…first up…let me preface this by saying that this simply reflects my opinion and observations regarding an alarming trend in greater Fayetteville. It does not reflect the views of the Free Weekly. Okay…that being said, the gloves are coming off!

Last summer I wrote an article for the FFW suggesting how to have a perfect weekend by enjoying Fayetteville on a budget. I suggested a variety of shopping and dining locations that were both outstanding in quality and value. Two of the locations mentioned in that piece were Chloe and La Maison Des Tarts. Why am I bringing this up? Have you looked around lately? Both of them have closed! Chloe sort of disappeared and was quickly replaced by Soul. And my all time favorite place in Fayetteville was La Maison, so the pangs of sadness hit me hard when this outstanding bakery shut its doors. Perhaps the thing that stings the most is how quickly it closed.

La Maison owner Vince Pinalto cited personal reasons for closing and I respect and appreciate that. I am trying not to think about the void left by not having my Saturday morning hangout place.

La Maison meant a lot more to me and countless others than simply fantastic pastries and coffee. It was an escape on a cold Saturday morning or a great option when visiting the farmers market.

I wish Vince the best of luck, but I feel a bit like the kid who got a great gift on Christmas morning only to have it break moments later. La Maison was a fantastic gift to the community and now we can all suffer the letdown.

Eulogy aside, this casualty is not the first in greater Fayetteville.  In the past year, a dozen or so restaurants, stores and clubs, have all closed their doors. Some of my favorite Fayetteville spots have closed: Sassafras, Chloe, La Maison, Blu, Stir and a variety of other popular places. Even some of the national chain stores on Target row have just tanked —O’Charley’s, Fuddruckers, Smokey Bones, what gives? I won’t even try and understand what is going on with the “Rada-Cosmo-Hilt-Polition.”

Lets be honest…something is wrong!  

It’s not just restaurants and clubs. Have you been to the Northwest Arkansas Mall lately? The beautiful mall looks like a shell of its former glory of even a year ago.

I don’t care how many Bath and Body Works employees tell me that the new store is bigger than the former one, it’s not. The old store location and the White Barn Candle Company are both glaring vacancies. Big name retailers have pulled out of the mall and kind of crappie ones have moved in.

Compare that with Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Benton County, where you’ll find a Sephora, Williams-Sonoma, a huge Banana Republic, Yankee Candle and Sharper Image. There is even a rumor that a major home décor company is moving in. This particular store has been desired in Northwest Arkansas for years and will join an existing store in Little Rock. I’m not at liberty to name it, but they specialize in gorgeous home furnishings (overpriced) and apothecary tables.

I know that the initial thoughts were that the Promenade would help the Northwest Arkansas Mall, but it hasn’t.

A few short years ago, I moved away from NWA and when I returned, I noticed all the expansion. Go to Benton County to witness how rapidly stores, restaurants and businesses are opening. Compare and contrast that with Fayetteville!

We do have growth, including the beautiful new Shogun, IO Metro and Razorback Cinema. However, there is a very disturbing trend taking over this city. We are loosing both local favorites and national brands. I am not an expert by any means. I don’t sit on city planning boards. Although I like the people at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, we don’t do lunch. I say this to restate the fact that I’m not an expert. I am simply the biggest fan of Fayetteville in the city. It hurts me to see Fayetteville slipping!

I can’t even really suggest ways to fix this problem. My guess would be for everyone to simply support their favorite Fayetteville businesses before they say bye-bye. However, I’m sure there is a more technical solution.

Considering the above, will Fayetteville be ready and able to entice the thousands of visitors who will coming to Bentonville to visit Crystal Bridges in just a couple of years?

Will Fayetteville be able to lure away the customers who flock to the Promenade during the holiday season? Of course, it’s not just Fayetteville.

With more and more hotels popping up in Rogers and Bentonville, many guests never have to leave Benton County. They can fly in, stay at a nearby hotel, eat at the Bonefish or Ruth’s Chris without ever knowing that Fayetteville is on the map. Business travelers want convenience and Benton County is delivering. Vacationers who will be coming to Crystal Bridges, may have time to visit Fayetteville, but will they? It’s all very alarming.

Would an upscale trendy wine bar make it in Fayetteville? Would a dessert only boutique restaurant sustain in this town?  I’m not sure that they would…and that is alarming. Do we all forget that just a few years ago, Rogers was cow-fields?

Take a moment to consider the fine restaurants that have a great success in Fayetteville. The big one —and it is wonderful—specializes in regional cuisine. On the other hand, I recently went to a restaurant near the mall that supposedly specialized in authentic Italian cuisine and ordered something called Southwestern Chipotle pasta. I wasn’t aware that Southwestern Chipotle was a staple of Italy. I guess I missed that on my visit to Rome.

What does all this mean? It is my humble opinion that in order for a business to do well in Fayetteville, they must be so broad that they appeal to a wide audience, which means that they loose their identity. I am pretty sure that I could find fried chicken fingers at any restaurant in Fayetteville, despite their respective genres. This is bad. With the identity of the businesses also goes the identity of the town.

I’m beginning to think that Fayetteville is trying so hard to please so many different types of people that the town is loosing its bohemian attitude. It’s losing its charm, and in return, losing its businesses, big and small.

You can disagree with me and you may even believe that we as a city are moving forward. However, when was the last time you went to Target?  Target is thriving, but will it be when the new Super Target opens next year in Benton County? And what about those businesses around it that have either closed or changed ownership multiple times? It doesn’t look good.

If we didn’t have Bikes Blues and BBQ and football weekends, what outside revenue would help support this town? I know that if the Razorbacks loose a football game, it will be a lot easier to get a room for the next home game. The number of no-shows and canceled hotel reservations shoot up.

Have we as a town become so dependent on special events that we don’t even think about our own sustainability? Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for Razorback games, craft fairs, Wal-Mart shareholders week, and BBBBQ, many hotels would close. Many restaurants would go in the red, and many stores would have to reconsider their options. That is scary.

It is time for Fayetteville to wake up! Again, I don’t know the solution, but I love this city. I choose to live in Fayetteville when there may be better options or opportunity in other locations. I choose to because of the reasons why many of us are drawn to this wonderful place. However, I sit with sad eyes with each closing.

The only fitting way to end this article is to end it the way I began it…by simply saying goodbye to some of Fayetteville’s most beloved businesses. Each of them hold a place in my heart and I hope that I don’t see any more doors shut well before their time. Goodbye Blu, Goodbye Chloe, Goodbye Sodies, Goodbye Smokey Bones, Goodbye White Barn Candle Company, Goodbye Goody’s, Goodbye O’Charley’s, Goodbye Sassafras, Goodbye Fuddruckers, Goodbye Gloria Jean’s on Dickson Street, Goodbye Boston Mountain Grille and of course…Goodbye La Maison.

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