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Cleaning up the town; main street Lonoke trying to revive downtown area.

The recent renovation of Lonoke's downtown area may come as a surprise to some.

Of course, some may be surprised that Lonoke has a downtown area.

The county seat of Lonoke County, Lonoke relies on agriculture and the aquaculture trade as its chief support industries. The surrounding area, in fact, is home to some 100 fish farms, including I.F. Anderson Farms Inc., the world's largest minnow producer.

And, like most agriculture-based areas, Lonoke has seen its share of economic ups and downs. Competing with nearby Little Rock hasn't always been possible for the merchants of this 4,000-population city.

An effort to give the city's business people a competitive boost started in February with the creation of Main Street Lonoke.

A non-profit organization formed to revive what amounted to the city's downtown district, Main Street was created by the local business community in hopes of bringing customers into what once was a thriving area.

When Peggy Keller, program manager for Main Street, joined the organization, nearly a dozen empty storefronts lined Lonoke's Center and Front streets. Now all but two are in the process of being renovated and reopened. New businesses have moved into the area and a sense of pride among local merchants has been rediscovered.

"That shows me the commitment of the people on the local level to make this thing work," says Keller, whose organization is funded solely by the area's merchants. "They're willing to help themselves."

Up, Up and Up

In the course of helping local business people "paint up, clean up, fix up" their outlets, Main Street has overseen several major renovation projects.

After spending two months remodeling what once was a Christian bookstore, Suzette Parker plans to open Herald House II later this month. Extensive interior and exterior work was done to the store, which will offer a wide variety of gifts and similar accessories.

An effort to restore the original storefront was made in the renovation of the building now housing Dennis Staton Photography. The commercial and architectural photographer is open on a part-time basis until the renovation is completed.

All of the renovations are paid for by the merchants, who are able to receive long-term, set-interest loans from First State Bank of Lonoke on the recommendation of Main Street.

With more businesses opening in the downtown area, Main Street soon will turn its attentions to educating those businesses in ways of promoting their products.

A merchandising workshop will be held for merchants in October to offer ideas on better store window displays. An eight-hour course in merchandising, planned for early next year, is devoted to teaching businesses like McCrary's, a fourth-generation family-owned department store, how to compete in today's market.

Another tactic that Main Street is preparing to tackle is an aquaculture museum designed to offer examples of the importance of the fish farming industry to the state and nation.

A preliminary meeting was held between Main Street officials and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission to discuss building the museum, possibly in the commission's visitors center off Interstate 40. Keller expects the project to take 3-5 years, "because we want it to be worthy of our industry."
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Lonoke County, Arkansas
Author:Taylor, Tim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 7, 1992
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