The Observer Nov. 18 

The Observer picked up a copy of the Batesville Daily Guard in our office the other day, and saw a large and momentous headline: “Van Atkins to close.” The article explained that the last two Van Atkins stores in operation, one that had done business in downtown Batesville for 51 years and another at Monticello, were closing their doors for good. The Observer was saddened, though a little surprised, too, to find that there were a still a couple of Van Atkinses around. The heyday of the locally owned, family owned department store passed years ago, about the time the big discounters began opening up on the outskirts, and all the downtowns started dying. But at one time, in a big part of Arkansas, shopping at Van Atkins was part of growing up. There were 13 Van Atkins stores at the peak. According to the Guard, the first one opened at Walnut Ridge in 1949, under the ownership of O.M. Atkins, Guy Moseley and Earl Vanhook. The Batesville store, opening in 1953, was the fourth in the chain, following Pocahontas and Newport. Searcy, the one The Observer was most familiar with, wouldn’t have been far behind. Or Wynne. This northeastern quadrant was what The Observer always thought of as Van Atkins territory, not realizing that the chain had expanded into western and southern Arkansas — Harrison, Russellville, Malvern, Monticello, El Dorado. So now Van Atkins has gone to the same place as the locally owned newspapers, the mom-and-pop cafes, the downtown movie theaters, the old-timey drug stores with soda fountains. You can’t get there from here. Like baseball, basketball demands the accompaniment of a beer and a hot dog, so when The Observer went to Alltel Arena to observe some hoops, he hit the concession stand first thing. It was a nice dog, too, but we discovered a deficiency at the condiment table — no relish. Mustard was there, of course. Ketchup, mayonnaise, tomatoes, pickle slices, onions (the stringy slices, not chopped, which is the only way you can put onions on a hot dog). Some of this, we assume, was for the benefit of hamburger eaters. Surely nobody ever put mayo on a hot dog. But a lot of people, including The Observer, relish relish. Are the concessionaires at Alltel taking advice from Bill Valentine, a longtime opponent of relish at Ray Winder Field? They shouldn’t. The visitors to the new Clinton Library will be sophisticated, intelligent people, and if they decide to watch some basketball while they’re in town — or baseball, in the summer — they’ll expect relish. The Observer was denied a second beer, probably a good thing. One of the teams playing was Ouachita, and the Tigers had drawn a number of Baptist preachers to Alltel. “They drank us dry before the half,” the beer man said. The eighth grade American history class was talking about revolution. (Not revolting — this generation’s parents never knew Abbie Hoffman.) Mrs. Buford, as she is known to her students, asked her students if anyone knew what revolution was. It was a sign of these times, perhaps, that one boy raised his hand and offered this. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s in the Bible.” Whereupon another child stood to correct him. “That’s Revelations,” she said. About those beer-drinking preachers. That’s from the Bible, too. “And Jotham ran away, and fled, and went to Beer, and dwelt there …” Judges 9:21. (Or was it Revolution 9:21?) The Observer attended the dedication of the sculpture at the front of the Clinton Presidential Center on Sunday, the largest of six new pieces installed in the River Market area. The sculpture was draped and the roar of the cars overhead on Interstate 30 was drowning out the speakers, so people talked among themselves during the ceremony. One woman teased her friends, telling them the sculpture to be unveiled was an enormous bat. It did appear that way, but it is, of course, a landing eagle, its wings swept up and back. Another woman, seeing Jennings Osborne in the crowd, sagely predicted that he would be revealed as the purchaser of the monumental piece selected for the Clinton library entry. Why? we wondered. His support for Republicans is up in lights. That’s his style, she explained: “Mine’s bigger than yours.” She was right. About his being the benefactor.


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