Arkansas: The Middle

Photo Arkansas Middle 1A

Our store, Mountain View Mercantile (originally he O.R. Case Building) by Granny Chicken

The old pickup truck stopped to let me cross the street. The two passengers smiled and waved to me. Though I had never met these two men, I returned the wave and the smile, as I heard the driver yell out his window “Hey, Linda- If you need anything while your hubby is out of town next week, you just holler at us.” Feeling as if I was living on the movie set of Mayberry, along with Andy, Opie and Aunt Bee, I had officially settled into small town living.

I can honestly say that I never once was afraid to stay in that large building all by myself. Even on dark, rainy nights, I felt as if someone had their arms around me. Granny Chicken said that was probably Mr. O.R. Case, the building’s owner, who was glad it was being looked after.

Named by her grandson since she was the grandma with the chickens, Granny Chicken was a local artist who painted in the primitive style. A bit eccentric and dressed in her signature print dress and straw hat, she wandered into the store one afternoon. Having just read about her in a tourism publication, we struck up a conversation and made a date to meet for lunch. Soon after, I took a crash course in primitive art, started carrying her art on consignment in the store and became her agent.

Together, we traveled to events sponsored by the Department of Parks and Tourism to promote the Ozarks and Mountain View. Granny turned out to be more connected than I had imagined. She introduced me to then Governor Clinton and his family at the Governor’s mansion. At Winrock Farms, the Rockefeller estate, we clapped along as Winthrop Rockefeller sat on a bale of hay and played the spoons, but not before he had welcomed her personally. I remember thinking that the folks back home will never believe this.

It seemed that whatever I needed would just appear. Pouring over old books in the local library, I found just the right logo for the store. Hoping to find some original recordings back from the building’s era, I was surprised to find a collector of vintage music sitting against the building playing just such music and happy to sell me some tapes. Complete with that authentic tinny sound, it made for wonderful background music in the store. I was surprised when, out of the blue, a packaging salesman walked into the store asking if I needed any supplies. Keeping with the theme and my budget, I stamped my logo on brown bags and used bright colored tissue paper and rope as gift wrap.

Between the local cast of characters dropping in (my favorite was the local baker, a New York transplant, who resembled Woody Allen) and the tourists visiting, every day was an adventure. Students from the Soviet Union and China, soil and conservation experts from Morocco, Africa and South America and groups of senior RVers; you never knew what to expect.

Living in a tourist town did have its benefits. Visitors were upbeat, the small community supported each other and, together, worked hard to put their best foot forward. Somewhere between the advice of the other store owners (open when you want, close when you’ve had enough) and my methodical personality, I found my rhythm and enjoyed the ride.

Photo Arkansas Middle 2

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Arkansas: The Beginning

Photo Arkansas Beginning

Mountain View, Arkansas, (population: two thousand one hundred forty seven) was not on the way to anywhere else. You must travel into the winding mountains of the Ozarks to get there. The small town with its historic buildings, built of Arkansas stone and clustered around the Courthouse Square appeared to be frozen in time. Yet, there was a pulse and vitality you could feel.

Most every day, you’d hear music; mandolins, fiddles, dulcimers, guitars. It’s a long-standing tradition that musicians gathered anytime, day or night, and played together on the square. Known as the “Folk Music Capital of the World,” Mountain View was home to musical events such as the National Fiddler’s Competition.

My eyes shut tightly, Mr. Wiz* excitedly escorted me out of the car. I opened my eyes to find him standing in front of a large decrepit stone building, as he explained that the almost eight thousand square feet was once home to a car dealership. Since the wood furniture company Mr. Wiz was running was renting it as a warehouse, he wondered what I would think of trying a little experiment.

What if we cleaned up the first floor and displayed some of the wood products to sell during the upcoming festival? Based on the sales, we might consider buying the building and creating a retail store. What the heck; we had already moved there from Chicago and back then, we were ready for an adventure.

We got right to work, scraping off the black paint that covered the front picture windows and sweeping up the dirt and dust. Just as I was worrying what we might do to hide the large holes in the walls, a shy woman peeked in to say that she was looking for a place to display her handmade quilts during the festival. We made a deal, strung them up on clotheslines, put together some samples of the outdoor furniture (porch swings, Adirondack chairs, etc.) and were open for business.

The three-day Bean Festival brought over fifty thousand visitors to the little town to enjoy the famous outhouse parade, to taste the beans simmering in the big black cauldrons over an open fire in order to judge the best recipe and to play music on the courthouse square. Our cash and carry experiment was an overwhelming success and soon after, we became the proud owners of the O.R. Case building.

Built in 1928, we were excited to return this National Historic Register building to its original glory days. Even the old dust and dirt that stuck to our clothes, as we did some prep work before the construction crew started, couldn’t dampen our spirits.

It is said that because Arkansas rests on diamond mines there is a mystical aura around it. This not only explained the quilter showing up at just at the right time, but also a continuing series of events that to this day, still has me scratching my head in disbelief.

To be continued…

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:
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