And the Small Businesses That Help Them Grow
By Katy Henriksen
Sometimes a hometown calls you back, and you can go home again.
This particular story begins with a swell of lightning bugs and moonflowers in the sultry June of 2004. I was 26, married a week earlier beneath a noble oak in my parents’ backyard in my hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, when my new husband and I packed all our belongings into a moving van and drove 28 hours straight to the metropolis of New York City.
For four years, at the northernmost tip of Brooklyn, we called a third-floor walk-up, one-room railroad with tin ceilings in the kitchen our home. We’d started a successful poetry reading series and a handmade chapbook press, and had cultivated an extensive community of friends in the big city. Noon brunches every weekend, closing the bar at 4 a.m., hours lost wandering the Metropolitan Museum. When there wasn’t a poetry reading starring one of our friends—though it seemed there always was—I was guest-listed to indie rock shows. I slowly worked my way into music writing via stories for the now-defunct women’s music mag Venus Zine and the cultural monthly The Brooklyn Rail. But we were barely able to make rent each month, me working low-level office jobs in publishing and my husband teaching comp and lit classes as an adjunct instructor at colleges spread across three boroughs. That’s when the Arkansas Ozarks called me home.
The oldest mountain range in North America, the Ozark Mountains span Southwest Missouri, Northwest Arkansas and a little bit of Eastern Oklahoma. Fayetteville, Arkansas (pop. 74,000), nestled right in the hills in the Northwest corner of the state, is home to the University of Arkansas. It’s the first home of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the last home of the illustrious Senator J. William Fulbright. It’s also the place I thought I’d left forever.
Just after my 30th birthday—there was dancing in an art space, red velvet cake from Junior’s and champagne, all orchestrated as a surprise party by my husband—we said goodbye to our beloved Brooklyn. Traded our stoop for a porch swing, skyscrapers for trees and fell in love all over again with this quirky place that now boasts a burgeoning local and DIY scene.
What I remembered as a sleepy college town—one with not much more than good live music every once in a while, a couple of good restaurants, a really rad used bookstore and one vintage shop—has blossomed into a community where both small business and creativity thrive. Though our initial plan was just to catch our breath and regroup for our next move to another big city, we decided to stick around, maybe even start a family. By winter 2009, we were expecting our first child.
My daughter is now 3 and we still call Fayetteville home. By day I program classical music and produce arts stories for KUAF, the local NPR affiliate; nights and weekends I edit the music column for the Bay-area literary and culture publication The Rumpus, attend DIY punk shows at art spaces and walk up the hill to the downtown square to buy bunches of kale, heirloom tomatoes and artisan-baked bread. I meet friends for locally roasted coffee and freshly made crepes at the former train depot. I bake pies from pears freshly picked from an old high school friend’s tree. His daughter attends preschool with my slightly younger one, nearly fully outfitted in her hand-me-downs. At a boutique where I buy handcrafted jewelry, I get my hair cut by an expert stylist who moved here from Seattle to start a family. The shop also offers vintage and new clothes by up-and-coming fashion designers who all call Fayetteville home.
We regretfully left the bustle of the big city and thought we’d said goodbye to so many things we held dear. I still miss the subway, the dizzying array of culture oversaturation and many dear friends, but it turns out my hometown had a lot more to offer than I’d ever have expected. I may now be a mom to a 3-year-old and live far from either coast, but I still manage to interview indie rock stars, comb vintage shops for that perfect ’70s shift dress and, if I’m lucky, get fresh eggs from friends with chicken coops in their yard.
Small Businesses I Love
Here are some of my favorite local, independently-run businesses in Fayetteville:
Housed in a former laundry, this used-and-out-of-print bookstore on the main drag has thrived for more than 30 years. Having worked both here and at the legendary Strand in New York, I have to say this bookstore wins, hands down. Whether looking for an academic study on the Bauhaus group, a first edition collection of Disfarmer photographs or a pulp sci-fi classic, this place is a must visit for anyone who loves books.
Sweet potato fries, veggies from the farmer’s market and local sausage are just a few of the options at this restaurant focused on conscious cuisine. When my friends from the big city come to visit I’m sure to take them here, where we can devour daily specials with an Ozark flair.
I was worried about where I’d be able to get my long locks layered and my blunt bangs trimmed, but I didn’t have to because Mayapple Boutique exists. Housed in a warehouse downtown, it also offers clothing and jewelry from local designers as well as vintage wares.
We didn’t know where we’d be able to host a poetry reading series when we moved back, but Nightbird Books, a thriving independent bookstore with a brand new breezeway space for readings—plus all-ages shows and art events—is the perfect space. Not to mention, I live in the same building, so I can consider it my home away from home.
Becoming a parent is overwhelming, so I was quite thankful to find this locally-owned business dedicated to natural parenting. I learned all I needed to know about cloth diapering here, plus they carry amazing wooden toys, as well as organic and upcycled clothing for babies and toddlers from both local and national designers.
The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.
Katy Henriksen is Music Editor of The Rumpus and Classical Music & Arts Producer at KUAF 91.3 FM public radio.