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RIVER VALLEY AREA: Miles of sales to line highway during Bargains Galore on 64

By Lisa H. Armstrong

This article was published July 31, 2008 at 3:45 a.m.

— The Dog Days of August are plenty hot and humid, but that won't prevent lots of activity from taking place during the ninth annual Bargains Galore on 64, which be held Thursday, Aug. 7, through Saturday, Aug. 9.

"The concept is to draw people off Interstate 40 and into rural and smalltown Arkansas," said event organizer Linda Hiles of Ozark. The event encourages chambers of commerce, businesses, clubs, churches, and residentsto have sales and special promotions in an unbroken stretch for 160 miles from Beebe to Fort Smith, all on U.S. 64.

Modeled after the U.S. 127 corridor event that extends from Kentucky to Alabama, Arkansas' sale is more condensed.

"Most of the communities along the highway take part in the festival, with individual yard sales, flea markets, and antique shops getting in on the action," Hiles said. She and her husband, Frank, started the ball rollingtoward an Arkansas extended yard sale in 2000, after attending the 127 corridor sale.

Not long after her visit east, she approached the Altus Chamber of Commerce. "August is such a slow economic ebb in our state, and we had an antique shop at the time," Hiles said.

The three-day event attracts hundreds of diverse merchants, from professional antique dealers to people cleaning out their attics. Shoppers can find just about everything offered for sale, said antique dealer and organizerCathie McMahan of Morrilton. "If you collect anything, you'll be able to find something to add to your store," she said.

Tin items, tools, and Beanie Babies can be found, she said. Refreshments and baked goods will be available. Food vendors will be selling snow cones, shaved ice, barbecue, Chicagostyle hot dogs, and other food items, she added.

A six-block area of downtown Mor-rilton will host about 100 vendors. Those who want to break away from the sale may also visit local attractions or even come back later. McMahan said that over the years, she has noticed that dozens of groups of people will return to shop and stop at attractions in the Morrilton area during the year. "They buy so many antiques that their trucks look like the one in The Beverly Hillbillies - they can't get anything else on it without tying stuff onto the back," she said.

Buyers and the curious will find booths in the parking lot of the First Assembly of God Church at 851 Highway 64 in Vilonia. First-time Bargains Galore organizer Laura McNeel was one of those selling household items herself last year. She and her husband moved to Vilonia from Michigan. "Last year, there were about 15 booths. We have a couple of retail vendors along with individuals selling yard-sale style," she said. One unique business, Wings & Rings Gamebird Resort of Mount Vernon, offers quail eggs, baby quail, ringnecked pheasant and other wild game, she said.

This transplanted Arkansan also said the buying traffic is not all local. "One family from Oklahoma shops the sale as their family vacation and they go across the entire 160 miles. With the prices of new goods going up, hopefully buying cheaper second-hand items will continue to be appealing," McNeel said.

David Lindsey of Atkins said, "People are always looking for bargains and visitors also welcome the friendly atmosphere. Even with the gas situation, I haven't seen the real 'sale people' slow down much. It may shorten the distances that they are willing to drive, though," he said.

The way the event is organized varies from location to location, with some chambers of commerce, Main Street offices and advertising and promotion commissions helping out as sponsors. Hiles said. Each town also has its unique challenges in the logistics of booth setup. "Conway doesn't really have a good place to set up a large yard sale. And in Fort Smith, vendors are only set up at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building on Midland Street," she said.

Smaller towns seem to benefit more because they recognize the positive boost that the sale can have on the community's economy. Lindsey, a retired home repairman and Bargains Galore organizer, said, "Almost everyone gets involved here (Atkins). There's usually so much traffic between Atkins and Pottsville that it's almost impossible to drive down Highway 64," he said. Although a few dislike the snarled traffic associated with the sale, almost all admit that the sale is good for sellers' pocketbooks, with some netting as much as $1,000-$2,000 per day.

Locals sell their crafts, accommodations are filled, restaurants are crowded, and those renting vendor spaces all addup to boost the local economy. Participation and interest was further buoyed by a 2004 study of the event's economic impact by Dr. Robert Wofford, an associate professor of business at the College of the Ozarks. According to the study, the Ozark area alone produced more than $71,000 from the three-day event. And the money that circulates through the community totaled more than $191,000.

"Factor in the other participating areas, and the advantage to the region is tremendous," Hiles said.

Further west, Emily Williams started organizing Bargains Galore in Ozark nine years ago. Williams also works with the Ozark Chamber's Advertising and Promotion Commission, which helps advertise the event. "We bring in about $1,000 a year to publicize the sale in publications like Antiques Magazine" and others, she said.

You can find the Bargains Galore group in Ozark at Eastside Park, where there will be about 30 booths, and no shortage of traffic, she said. "Last year, the Corps of Engineers put in a counter, and there were 3,000 cars that came through there in the three days," she said. "We always have a big variety of booth - kids' clothes, paintings, dishes, antiques. There's a lady who makes jewelry, a quilt-maker, and last year, we had one booth that sold custom-made underwear for large women that caused quite a stir," she said.

It's not Route 66, but shoppers might still come across some kicks on 64.

River Valley Ozark, Pages 73, 77 on 07/31/2008

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