RUSSELLVILLE — Revitalization efforts in downtown Russellville have not gone unnoticed.
Main Street Arkansas recently recognized two local businesses with awards during the Arkansas Municipal League’s 2018 Winter Conference at the Fort Smith Convention Center. Dog Ear Books received the Best Downtown Retail Award, and Old Bank Sports Grill received the Best Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Project Award.
Main Street Arkansas is a preservation-based economic development program housed with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, which is an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage. The Main Street Arkansas awards are presented biennially to recognize outstanding achievements by individuals, organizations and communities in helping to revitalize their downtown areas. Main Street
Russellville is one of approximately 20 organizations involved in the Main Street Arkansas program.
“It’s a big deal for these retailers and property owners to win awards from Main Street Arkansas,” said Betsy McGuire, executive director of Main Street Russellville. “These awards are only given every other year. There were some amazing projects recognized at this year’s conference.
“These local property owners have made a big investment in their community,” she said. “It means a lot to them to be recognized.
“Emily Young and her mother, Pat Young, saw a real need for a book store, and out of that vision grew Dog Ear Books,” McGuire said. “Pat is a former schoolteacher, and Emily knows about marketing and business.
“They took a large commercial building and reinvented it,” McGuire said. “It’s absolutely amazing what they have done. They have made a large contribution to our downtown.
“Billy and Marlene Newton invested multimillions of dollars in renovating the old Bank of Russellville
building and turning it into the Old Bank Sports Grill,” McGuire said. “They have done an amazing job.
“These two buildings are catty-cornered from each other,” McGuire said. “They are right on Main Street, which is [U.S.] Highway 64. They are part of the activity in our downtown that is thriving. You cannot come downtown in the evening when it is not jam-packed with people and cars.
“These two businesses have brought a lot to our downtown.”.
Pat Young said she and Emily “were very surprised” when Main Street Russellville nominated us for that award.
“We were amazed and honored when we heard our name announced,” Pat Young said. “It is so exciting for us. We never dreamed our little venture would be recognized. We are very honored by the award.”
Pat Young said Emily “is very community-focused.
“She takes the lead on most of what we are doing,” Pat said. “We are open for people to come in, hold events and promote things. We want to help make the community better.
“We already have very loyal customers,” Pat said, adding that Dog Ear Books, at 301 W. Main St., opened in November 2016. “This old building was built in 1853 as a clothing store and has been many things over the years. We are very happy to be in this spot in downtown Russellville.”
Billy Newton said he and his wife are natives of Pope County.
“I was born and raised in Russellville, and Marlene is from Hector,” he said. “I graduated from Russellville High School and went to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where I played a little football. Then I went to pharmacy school at [the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences].
“My dad had a sporting-goods store in downtown Russellville, so I guess you could say I was a town rat,” McGuire said, laughing. “I grew up roaming the streets in downtown Russellville.
“I have a love for the town, and want to see it return to its former glory,” he said. “I remember how alive it was in the ’50s. It was such an electric place.
“When I got out of pharmacy school in 1970, I bought one of the three buildings that are included in the renovation project,” Newton said. “I had Newton’s Pharmacy here for many years. This project includes my old pharmacy, a little barbershop and the old Bank of Russellville.”
Newton said he and his wife worked closely with Main Street Russellville and Main Street Arkansas in getting tax credits for the project.
“It took us about two years, start to finish,” said Newton, adding that the Old Bank Sports Grill, 200 W. Main St., opened Oct. 24, 2016. “But I think it’s turned out really well. I think we have helped liven up downtown.
“We are very honored to have received this award. It makes you feel good to be recognized.”