Block party spotlights Little Rock neighborhood's potential

PopUp in the Rock showcases Stifft Station

Posted: June 24, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Jason Harper of Little Rock hangs his work Saturday during the PopUp in the Rock event in the capital city’s Stifft Station neighborhood.

Deserted storefronts in Little Rock's Stifft Station neighborhood were resurrected Saturday to show the dormant potential at West Markham and South Booker streets.

PopUp in the Rock is more than just a block party. It's a chance to showcase what a neighborhood might be if it embraced certain improvements.

This year, planners chose Stifft Station, a historic neighborhood adjacent to downtown that coalesced around a trolley stop on the Pulaski Heights Line.

One of Markham Street's four lanes was blocked off between South Booker and South Cedar streets. Artists and crafters set up booths in that blocked-off lane and were protected by traffic barricades.

Merchants also set up shop inside formerly vacant storefronts. Together, the changes are supposed to make the neighborhood more walkable and show what new shops could do to boost commerce.

PopUp in the Rock will run through July 7. It's put on by studioMAIN, a nonprofit design group, and Create Little Rock, an organization that tries to retain and attract young people to Arkansas' capital city.

Kathleen Littel and Miles Slarks, students at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, appreciated the record selection available Saturday. They've also grown to enjoy Little Rock's art and music scene in general.

It's much more robust than in Littel's hometown. In Plano, Texas, she said, "There's nothing to do but go out to eat and hang out at Whataburger."

Slarks, who is from Little Rock, said that when he was a teenager, the city seemed "boring." There was nothing for young folks to do, he said. But with new bars and restaurants, Little Rock is inviting a younger crowd than it used to, he said.

Holly Acre enjoyed a paper carton full of nachos underneath a tent that blocked the June heat. Acre said she loved Little Rock's neighborhood vibe and the city's quick access to the outdoors. It helps her feel like she's not trapped in an "urban jungle," she said.

Acre's friend, Lindsay Darling, agreed, saying Little Rock definitely seems like an "up-and-coming city."

Darling perhaps unknowingly echoed a sentiment on the city of Little Rock's website. In Mayor Mark Stodola's introduction, he says Little Rock will be "the next great American City in the South."

As the race to choose the next mayor ramps up, how Little Rock can be better for young people is a consistent talking point. The city also promoted Think Big Little Rock, a yearlong assessment to improve quality of life for young professionals, especially.

Inside what used to be Sandalwood Forest, a store at 3015 W. Markham St., Alex Flanders displayed her curated concert T-shirts for her usually online-only company, Crying Weasel Vintage.

Flanders has lived in Little Rock for about five years and recently moved from the Stifft Station neighborhood to the Hillcrest neighborhood. Flanders said she loved the idea of filling vacant storefronts with stuff because it's difficult to tell what a block could be when the stores are empty.

Plus, the intersection of West Markham and South Booker streets is often plagued by fast cars and crashes, she said. Because the sidewalk gets thin, people don't think of that spot as walkable, Flanders said.

Still, she added, Little Rock and Stifft Station have made strides.

"The Gen Xers and older millennials, we've been here, and we want things to do that big cities have," she said. Lately, people have been "making it happen," she said.

Outside, in a booth, an artist who goes by the name Sulac displayed his work. Sulac has lived in Little Rock since 1997 and said the city has a "good tight-knit community of supportive people."

Sulac hopes PopUp in the Rock shows young people what Little Rock can offer because "we need more cool people to stay here and keep it being cool," he said.

It's the cool stuff -- the shops, the bars, the young professionals -- that make a city desirable, Felecia Hancock said.

"If it was the weather, we'd all live in San Diego."

Andrew Wideman of Little Rock walks Henri, an Australian shepherd, across Markham Street on a newly decorated crosswalk during the Pop Up in the Rock ...

Metro on 06/24/2018