How long do we routinely drive through a place before we stop and get to know it? For me, the answer is about eight years. That’s how long I’ve been driving West on Highway 412 – usually on my way to Tulsa – and zipping through one small stretch of Siloam Springs, Arkansas without much more than a glance.
That all changed a couple of weeks ago when, on my way home from Tulsa (naturally) I succumbed to the Historic Downtown signs that led me off the main drag and onto a wonderful three-hour detour through Main Street Siloam Springs.
The city — which has a population of about 15,000 and is referred to by locals simply as Siloam — is known for being the home of Simmons Foods, Dayspring Cards and John Brown University. While Siloam is located in Benton County, nearby Bentonville and Rogers frequently get top billing.
Like its neighbors, however, Siloam Springs is enjoying the fruits of Northwest Arkansas’ economic boom, evidenced by the revitalization of its historic downtown district.
On my first visit to any Main Street area I make a beeline for one place: the local coffee house. Being born and raised in Seattle — and having owned my own coffee business — I am a self-professed coffee snob. The local coffee place also tends to be the hub of any community. I was pointed in the direction of Pour Jon’s Coffee & Tea, located on Wright Street.
Pour Jon’s is everything a good coffee place should be — funky, filled with students and clearly bent on providing an authentic, artisan espresso experience. I ordered an iced mocha and warned the barista of my impressive coffee pedigree. She gave me a smile, started pulling shots and informed me that she was from Portland, Oregon. Needless to say, my drink was amazing.
I couldn’t resist popping into the Main Street Siloam Springs office, where I received a warm welcome from Executive Director, Meredith Bergstrom. “Siloam Springs’ downtown has an incredible story to tell,” explained Ms. Bergstrom. “Over the past decade, private investors and small entrepreneurs — with the support of community development partners and local corporations — have reinvested an estimated $8 million in building rehabilitation, new businesses and public improvements. We’ve gone from zero restaurants and few attractions to a lively, unique retail mix, excellent eateries, and a growing number of family activities, events and attractions.”
I’ve just scratched the surface of what Siloam has to offer, but I can heartily recommend the panini sandwiches at Cafe on Broadway, the wood-fired pizza and gelato — made fresh daily — at Fratelli’s, and the all-American fare at Barnett’s Dairyette (established in 1957 and probably hasn’t changed much since). Also check out the bolts of fabric at Sager Creek Quilts & Yarnworks, and browse the stacks at Books on Broadway, a delightful independent bookstore with plenty of titles to get your head into and comfy chairs for the rest of you.
“Our downtown area is scenic, relaxed and peaceful,” said David Fields, owner of Resource Management Professionals, a business intelligence company based in Siloam Springs. “The businesses are inviting and looking for ways to serve the community,” added Mr. Fields, who is a graduate of JBU and has lived in Siloam since 1993.
“Downtown is once again the heart of Siloam Springs,” said Ms. Bergstrom, who has been a resident for almost eight years.
If all you know of Siloam Springs is what you see from Hwy. 412, do yourself a favor and head for historic downtown Main Street. You’ll be glad you did.
Update: Just days after this post was published, Siloam Springs was named by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the “20 Best Small Towns in America.” Congratulations, Siloam!
Author: Barbara Taylor
Barbara is co-founder of Allan Taylor & Co. and a former New York Times blogger. She has been a small-business owner since 2003. Barbara lives with her husband, Chris, and their two sons in Northwest Arkansas.