When Anita Davis decided in 2008 to turn an empty lot she owned at the southeast corner of Daisy Bates and Main streets into a sculpture garden, she called it a "feminine approach to downtown revitalization."
So, on land where a Captain D's fast fish food restaurant stood before it burned to the ground, the Bernice Garden — so named for Davis' grandmother — is bringing life to the neighborhood through art. With the help of grants from the Southside Main Street Organization (SoMA), more than a dozen Arkansas artists have created and exhibited there.
Davis has continued to make structural improvements to the garden, which is landscaped with sturdy grasses and other natives, by adding seating, a shelter that is sculptural itself, and a sign featuring the garden's blackbird icon. Along with permanent pieces, works that have made an appearance in the garden or are there now include the reclaimed and recycled steel "AgriGate" by John Mark Van Horn; a chair featuring teapot-topped columns and flipper feet (Kursilimapuluhlima") by Kwendeche; Heidi Mullins' tall wood piece made to look like a hollow tree and engraved with the route traveled by Indian woman on the Trail of Tears; soaring aluminum birds by Alice Guffey Miller; painted arching steel by the late Mac Hornecker.
Davis, who is an artist herself, cooked up another idea to bring new life to the South Main neighborhood: a cornbread festival at the Bernice Garden corner. The Nov. 5, 2011, festival was a rousing success, another first on the city's only public park on private land.
In the former Sweden Creme, The Root Cafe does sandwiches, salads and sweet treats made from all-local ingredients. It's homey inside, with only a handful of tables, mismatched cloth napkins and serve-yourself tea and lemonade. We're big fans of the burger and curry chicken salad. Across the street is the venerable local bakery Boulevard Bread Company's new headquarters. The outlet doesn't keep the same early evening hours the Heights location does, nor does it offer as extensive a selection; maybe later. For now, the best baguette in town is plenty. Down the street is another venerable bakery, Community Bakery, a South Main hangout since time immemorial. Coffee and donuts in the morning, the best chicken salad in town for lunch, soup for dinner — it's not hard to come up with a reason to visit.
When Juanita's abandoned the neighborhood for the River Market, SoMa lost its entertainment anchor. But now that the Oxford American magazine has signed a five-year lease on the space and said it hopes to eventually house a Southern cafe where it'll host noteworthy musicians, writers, artists, photographers, chefs, filmmakers, playwrights and others for evening programming, the neighborhood is over the moon about the prospects.
The Green Corner Store is just what it sounds like. It's green — meaning it sells locally-made items. It's on the corner of Main and Fifteenth Street, in a historic-register building that's seen a century pass by and was home for decades to Dawson Drug, and its front door makes a quirky architectural statement by facing that corner. And it has a store of items that you won't find just anywhere, like jewelry and one-eyed monster dolls and soaps and candles made by local crafters; home décor items; kitchen musts like cutting boards; sweatshirts that say "I heart ar," and, delightfully, small-batch ice creams by Loblolly Creamery. The soda fountain ghosts that hang out around the old wooden bar still there will be pleased, especially when the owners perfect the fizzy soda they're working on. The kind of store Little Rock needs more of.