Favorite

SoMa peeks over the hump 

When I first moved to the Quapaw Quarter in 1997, the question asked by friends and acquaintances was "Is it safe down there?" Understandable just a few years after the height of the 23rd Street Crips, the question became more and more detached from reality years after the gang battles had receded.

Over time, that question was replaced by another one: "I love the architecture down there, but where do you shop for groceries?" For over a decade, there was no good answer "down there" to that, a pretty fundamental one for a livable neighborhood. The Harvest Foods store at 17th and Main was slow to be replaced after a deadly tornado destroyed it in 1999, and when it returned it was perhaps the grimiest grocery store in the first world. Long-time downtown residents all have a story about giving the store one more chance only to witness a food felony in the store's produce section.

A couple of years ago, downtown residents got a better answer to the grocery store question. The demise of the Harvest Foods chain presented an opportunity for the Edwards family to open a Food Giant in that space. "The Meat People" (as is their slogan) do a bit more for those with a penchant for pork parts than vegetarians like me. In dramatic contrast to Harvest Foods, however, the store is tidy and well stocked and the staff is incredibly friendly and responsive to requests. (After they began carrying hummus when I asked for it, I felt a need to buy the item every time I entered the store whether I needed it or not.) The arrival of Food Giant came at a time that the SoMa (South Main) neighborhood showed real promise of finally getting over the hump and becoming a stable living and retail area driven not by gentrification but instead by a racially and economically diverse population like that seen at Food Giant on any weeknight after work.

Over the 15 years I've lived downtown, the neighborhood has, again and again, seemingly been on the cusp of that status, exceptional for urban living in Central Arkansas. There were signs of real promise following the end of the gang wars when I arrived in 1997, but the January 1999 tornado ripped the neighborhood apart, destroying numerous homes and creating a wasteland east of Main Street. In the first decade of the 21st century, the post-9/11 recession and the attention focused on the River Market area delayed additional progress in the area. After the River Market had become vibrant, there were repeated rumors that the Stephens family or some other investor was about to make the move to bring housing and retail down Main Street north of I-630, creating an opportunity for the area south of I-630 to connect across the interstate that divides the capital city. Nothing has come of those big ideas — the street remains pretty desolate at night between the freeway and the marvelous island that is the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. The SoMa neighborhood came to realize it couldn't rely upon financier Warren Stephens to stretch development down to it; it would have to generate development itself.

Although less marked than Argenta's recent progress, the last three years have shown steady progress for SoMa. First, Paul Page Dwellings began building contemporary structures on empty lots east of Main Street, providing an option for younger residents unable to afford the large old homes to the west and providing growth on both sides of the Main Street corridor. While originally annoying to Quapaw residents with a love for Victorians and Craftsmans, slowly the stylish modern homes have come to be seen as filling a crucial niche in the neighborhood.

Favorite

Speaking of...

Related Locations

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Jay Barth

  • Medical marijuana: more is less

    Polling this week reiterates that Arkansans are ready for the medical use of marijuana to become public policy in Arkansas.
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • The fragility of the gay body

    The shootings at Pulse nightclub early Sunday morning remind us that the "gay body" is also under continual threat in America (and, indeed, across the world).
    • Jun 16, 2016
  • Optimism gap

    I spent the second half of May immersed in two different Americas: one defined by pessimism about the future, and one decidedly optimistic. Those differences are at the heart of the dynamics that will determine the outcome of the 2016 elections.
    • Jun 2, 2016
  • More »

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • Casting out demons: why Justin Harris got rid of kids he applied pressure to adopt

    Rep. Justin Harris blames DHS for the fallout related to his adoption of three young girls, but sources familiar with the situation contradict his story and paint a troubling picture of the adoption process and the girls' time in the Harris household.
    • Mar 12, 2015
  • A child left unprotected

    State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife adopted a young girl through the state Department of Human Services. How did she, six months later, end up in the care of a man who sexually abused her?
    • Mar 5, 2015
  • 16 most important holdings of the Historic Arkansas Museum

    Swannee Bennett, deputy director and chief curator for the museum, provided the following list, and, like his cohorts at the Arkansas Arts Center, just had to offer more rather than the 15 requested.
    • Jan 1, 2015

Most Shared

  • Defense for Suhl asks judge to dismiss bribery indictment, citing Supreme Court decision in McDonnell case

    Attorneys for the businessman argue that his cash payments to a former deputy director of DHS, Steven Jones, did not constitute corruption. They say prosecutors cannot prove the money was given in exchange for any particular "official act" from Jones.
  • Nursing home bribery case details suspect judicial fund-raising

    Plaintiffs' lawyers made their case today to continue to trial with the civil suit over then-Judge Mike Maggio's reduction of a $5.2 million jury verdict in a nursing home negligence case to $1 million, a reduction he said he made in return for campaign contributions from the nursing home's owner.
  • Arkansas Heirloom Tomatoes at Edwards Food Giant for the Fourth of July weekend

    We are receiving 200-pounds of large heirloom tomatoes Friday morning from Times publisher and farmer Alan Leveritt. We have dark, brick red Carbons, Goldies (large, high acid golden tomatoes) and Annis Noire, a delicious French heirloom that is green with red marbling when ripe.
  • When America was great

    Donald Trump is right. There was a time when America was great and it didn't pussyfoot around to avoid offending people who thought they were victimized by discrimination. It was, let's see, the period after World War II, when everyone prospered and America was kicking butts, at home and abroad, and Arkansas's leaders were at the center of it.
  • Resistance grows nationally to freeway expansions

    The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has issued a news release about freeway expansion with relevance in Little Rock. It's about wasting money to widen freeways that only create more congestion. Sound familiar?

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31  

Latest in Cover Stories

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation