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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.

4 Comments

k4herbert April 11, 2008 at 11:42 am

the word you are looking for is RECESSION – look it up. It started more than a year ago. Where’s the first place people cut back when trying to save money? – eating out. Even the big businesses ae suffering, Sharper Image filed for bankruptcy in February that store is now having a huge going out of business sale. No one wants to spend money on overpriced electronic gadgets when it costs near a $100 to fill up their enormous Superficial Upperclass Vehicles.

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Concealed Weapon April 11, 2008 at 5:13 pm

I disagree with the k4. I think this trend started before the recession.

Before moving here, my wife and I lived in Springfield. We went out to eat once per week on average. We always went to locally owned restaurants.

We moved here and started the same pattern. But then the locally owned restaurants that fit our budget started to disappear. (Hofbrau, Bourbon Boys, Sassafras, Sodie’s). Some of the restaurants have become too hip for us (I’m looking at you Urban Table). Or its just a hassle parking downtown. So we nearly stopped going out to eat.

There are couple of favorites left (On the Mark, Osegueras) and we are starting to enjoy some of the new establishments out on Razorback road near the baseball stadium. We are hoping hte trend continues. My guess is that the cost of having a restaurant “downtown” has resulted in some losses. We are hoping more restaurants spirng up out west (Zaxby’s and Popeye’s don’t count). I’ve heard an Indian restaurant is coming and maybe a decent placen in Famrington.

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k4herbert April 12, 2008 at 6:23 pm

There a lot of factors that contribute to businesses leaving Fayetteville. Money is usually tied to all of them. Fayetteville has outrageous taxes and rent is astronomical, people have been feeling the hit at the gastank for 2 years now, it’s natural that’s its going to trickle down to the dinner table.

My absolute favorite restaurant in Fayetteville was Acropolis, they’d been in the same place for close to two decades. The had a tiny little space in Fayetteville, and for less than what they paid here they got at least three times the space in northern Bentonville. Fayetteville chased them away, and they did it with burning torches in hand. Now I have to drive 35 min to eat a decent gyros.

There used to be a great Indian place called Star of India in Springdale, they felt the crunch five or six years ago and made the move to Bentonville.

Even Osegueras is struggling. If you haven’t signed up for their email list yet, do so quickly. They are sending out $15 gift certificates every month.

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fayettevillian April 13, 2008 at 3:49 pm

I think the truth about Fayetteville’s situation has aspects of both of these opinions. I think that the macro-economic problems of the nation are having an impact on Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas. Fayetteville, in theory, shouldn’t suffer any more than any of the sister towns of Rogers, Bentonville or Springdale. However, we make it pretty hard on developers who therefore pass those costs along to prospective renters. This coupled with a hefty tax rate makes it harder for the numbers to work out to keep businesses operating in the black.

We can argue that our stringent, zealous controls on development in the long run keep some of the ugliness of the sprawl of Benton County at bay. There is a trade-off, however, and I’m not saying it’s bad, it just makes it harder for businesses and developers. Has anyone looked at the price of rental space in Downtown Fayetteville lately? The numbers don’ work.

The continued downturn in housing and the fallout of the credit crisis is going to be with us for a while, along with higher fuel and commodity prices. Speaking of real estate, I’m interested to see what happens in our burgeoning condo-market when the Underwood’s Plaza comes online. There will be scores and scores of condos on the market at the same time and frankly I don’t see any of them moving quickly. Just in the Dickson/Square area we have The Legacy Bldg. (trainwreck, crazy expensive), Underwood Plaza (new), One East Center (Crazy expensive), UARK Bowl (maybe this is fully occupied?), 3 Sisters (don’t know if this is sold out), Campbell Avenue Terrace (maybe the oldest of the Dickson St. condos and most successful), Campbell Bell Building (fully occupied? ), Lafayette Street (old Catholic church, not sold out), Sycamore Lofts (new??),
Metro District Lofts (behind Flying Burrito of West Ave…have any of these sold?). Wow, that’s just off the top of my head and I’m sure I have missed a few. Many of these are $200 per sq foot or more; is the total addressable market of buyers large enough for these along with all of the houses on the market? Is our downtown going to be full of high-priced, empty condos with developers servicing debt, or banks crossing their fingers that the developers will make their interest payments? It’s a very interesting situation and I wish the Free Weekly or NW Ark Business Journal or someone would do an in-depth article, or series on this market.

Fayetteville is a quirky place. It seems to be torn between wanting to develop and grow and wanting to stay the same. Look at the situation with the high school, for example. I would venture a guess that says any school district in Arkansas or the southeast that needs to grow like Fayetteville would JUMP at the opportunity to sell their current school to an adjacent university for market price and take the proceeds to help build a new school on a bigger parcel of land with much more room for amenities. The scenario is puzzling to me.

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