A fixture in downtown Little Rock for almost 148 years, Bennett's Military Supplies will close at the end of March, owner Sheree Meyer announced on social media this week.
The family-run store at 608 Main St. that specializes in "genuine military items, boots, clothing, packs and gear" advertises itself as one of the oldest "if not the oldest" business in not only Little Rock, but perhaps statewide. The store opened May 22, 1870.
"They've been mulling it over for several months," store manager Jason Cox said Thursday morning. "It's been slumping sales and every big box store has tactical gear sections now. The biggest thing has been shopping on the Internet.
"Everything is going to go, down to the fixtures."
A customer who Cox said was one of the store's regulars was walking out the door Thursday when he called back to Cox to say he was sorry to hear about the store's closure. The store has put everything at a 20 percent discount, Cox said, to start clearing out merchandise.
"I'll be back," the man said as he left.
Looking through camouflage jackets toward the back of the store, Navy veteran Steve Lawhon of Little Rock said he was looking for a Navy raincoat like one he used to own.
"I'm going to miss it," Lawhon, another store regular, said of Bennett's closing. "I can get a lot of things in here that are reminders from my military time."
Being able to buy the same types of products from online merchants made it tough for Bennett's to compete for customers, Lawhon said.
"It's bad that the Internet is putting businesses like this out of business," he said. "All they [online stores] need is a website. Makes me sad, all this technology. It's good in a way, but it takes away from the human activity, people talking to each other."
Unable to find the raincoat he sought, Lawhon browsed the rest of the store.
"I'll look around," he said. "I've got to find something."
Meyer took over the business after her father, Joe Kaufman, the store's longtime owner and operator, died in September 2003, Cox said. Kaufman's mother, Fannie Bennett Kaufman, and her brother opened the business in 1870 on Third Street.
Fire destroyed Bennett's original building about 1970, but the business reopened in a corner building across Third Street at 302 Main St. The store was a mainstay on that corner, with a long-barreled machine gun prominently displayed in the large front window, until 2014, when the business moved to its current location -- machine gun and all.
Outside the store, ongoing construction aimed at revitalizing Main Street and making it more pedestrian friendly has restricted street parking on two blocks, and only one traffic lane is open in front of the store for now. But Cox said the business has been supportive of the city's effort to revive Main Street, where Bennett's has been its longest-surviving business.
"It's time to be bringing Main Street back," Cox said. "It's growing pains [with the construction], but Little Rock investing in Main Street is a good thing."
It's possible, Cox said, that Bennett's could be revived someday if any of Kaufman's grandchildren decide to revive the business and extend its history with the city.
"They're working on seven generations is what they've said," Cox said of the family. "If ever it bounces back, it'll be because one of the kids wants to open it back up."
Metro on 02/23/2018