Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
Corey Bacon, owner of Little Rock's Old Heights Corner Store and its West Little Rock counterpart Rock City Kicks, describes OHCS as a "grumpy old man shoe store" — a place that sells a lot of throwback shoes and offers none of its products online, where devoted sneakerheads do much of their buying and selling these days. "I wanted to return to the idea we had when we first started, and have an environment and offerings and methods that are conducive to what I find most attractive about buying sneakers," he said, explaining his motivation for opening OHCS.
Some of the store's merchandise, which includes hats, socks and koozies, can't be found anywhere else in Arkansas, save for Rock City Kicks, Arkansas Times' readers' pick for best shoe store. Lines of buyers interested in OHCS' biggest releases have snaked around the corner outside. Inside the store, sneakers ranging from Converse High Tops to seersucker ASICS line the walls, which are paneled with wood flooring from the old basketball court at Clinton High School.
The store offers two kinds of sneakers: the latest releases and established classics. Rock City Kicks offers basketball and running shoes, but Bacon wanted to keep things simple at OHCS. "We basically offer those standards that guys, girls, whoever that are my age  or even older remember having those shoes, they're still drawn to those shoes and still have an interest there," he said. Glancing around the store, shoppers can easily see how brands like Nike, Adidas and ASICS have changed their styles over the years.
Old Heights Corner Store, which opened in April, is a return to Rock City Kicks' original intimate setting. RCK first opened in a small shop on Beechwood Street across the street from Kroger in Hillcrest in 2008, but due to space limitations, the store moved out to Bowman Road in West Little Rock in 2010. In 2011, Bacon opened a store in Fayetteville that he's since franchised. Another store in Conway opened around the same time; it has since closed. As the Rock City Kicks brand spread through word of mouth and social media, its online sales skyrocketed, but Bacon grew tired of how impersonal the transactions had become. "If it wasn't for [online sales], we wouldn't be able to have a place like this, but now that things are a bit more comfortable, I can return to what I feel is the real way I wanted to handle business," he said.
The staff has tried to make OHCS a social hub. Shoppers were invited to hang out and watch the Copa America and EURO soccer tournaments earlier this summer. A foosball table sits in one corner of the store alongside a wall of memorabilia that features a picture of John Daly, a Sports Illustrated cover of Corliss Williamson and scarves from European soccer clubs. If you're lucky, you may run into Babe, a bluenose pit bull puppy that occasionally roams the store looking for tug-of-war challengers and has his own Instagram account.
The store's atmosphere reflects the laid-back attitude of Bacon, media consultant Matt Rowe and the rest of the staff. They jokingly toss around ideas for merchandise, many of which they follow through on. A few hats include phrases like "Heights Hustlers" and "Dad Hats Are Back Again" embroidered across the front. ("Sometimes it's fun just to do. I don't care if it sells or not," Bacon said dryly). Their hats and shirts patterned with the Arkansas Travelers' old "LR" logo have been a hit throughout the city. "You can have [state Rep.] Clarke Tucker [D-Little Rock] in the Capitol building some day with [a hat] on, and you could pull up a YouTube rapper wearing the same hat," Rowe said.
Bacon also created Arkansocks, a separate business that offers socks patterned with the same LR logo. The store will release an expanded line of Arkansocks this fall that will include additional patterns and logos. Caleb Prichett, a tattoo artist and printmaker whose work graces Lost Forty Brewing's beer cans, designed the new line of Arkansocks.
It took Bacon a while to get his foot in the door with shoe companies. "It's easily assumed that we're in the armpit of America. They're like, 'You want a boutique store in Little Rock ... ? OK, buddy,' " he said of their initial reactions. However, his persistence paid off when Adidas gave Rock City Kicks its first shoe account. After that agreement, it became easier for Bacon to set up accounts with other reputable brands. Now, Old Heights Corner Store and Rock City Kicks are the go-to places for shoe collectors throughout the state.
Old Heights Corner Store is located at 5919 Kavanaugh Blvd. It's open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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