Evelyn Hills Sporting Healthy Outlook

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2011 brought a renaissance of sorts to Evelyn Hills Shopping Center, which for decades was a bustling center of commerce in Fayetteville but fell on leaner times as retailers migrated north toward Joyce Boulevard.

In 2002, the 155,000-SF center on North College Avenue at Memorial Drive was nearly half-vacant. And over the last 10 years, it’s seen plenty of retailers and restaurants come and go.

But Northwest Arkansas’ oldest shopping center added eight new businesses last year, bringing the current total to 25. That leaves only two large spaces — about 10,800 SF and 5,800 SF, respectively — and a few smaller office-type spaces vacant, said Matt Dearnley, CEO of Flake & Kelley Commercial Northwest, which leases and manages the property.

Jordan Jeter, a partner with Flake & Kelley, said they’ve got some leads on the larger spaces and hope to get those filled soon.

The newest tenant in Evelyn Hills is a vegan restaurant called Something Better, owned by Tina and GW Chew. The couple opened the restaurant Dec. 4, and are amazed at the heavy customer traffic they’ve had already.

“It’s not what we expected,” Tina Chew said during a pre-holiday lunch rush. “It’s been so good.”

The restaurant perfectly complements the center’s anchor, Ozark Natural Foods, and many of the other businesses that are health- and outdoor-related, said Alysen Land, ONF’s general manager since 2001.

The resulting mix has turned Evelyn Hills into a destination that draws shoppers from a much wider area than the immediate neighborhood. Land said people who come in her store for groceries, for instance, may stop to check out the gear at Uncle Sam’s Safari Outfitters on their way to lunch at Something Better.

Lifestyle plays a major role in the center’s appeal, Land said.

“That’s why a lot of people shop here, because they’re into a healthy lifestyle — they’re hikers, campers, they really like being outdoors,” she said.

Also, the low rent — around $9 per SF — and central location make Evelyn Hills attractive to small businesses, mostly locally owned, that offer products and services shoppers won’t find anywhere else.


Ambitious Beginnings

Built in 1959 by oil-and-gas contractor John D. Askew on what was then the outskirts of town, Evelyn Hills was for years anchored by a Montgomery Ward department store.

Land, a Fayetteville native, was 5 when the store opened and remembers riding an elephant in the parking lot during the grand opening festivities. She also recalls the shopping center’s heyday in the 1960s.

“By the early 1970s, it started to wind down,” she said.

The Northwest Arkansas Mall, which opened in 1972 at North College and Joyce, drew shops and restaurants to that vicinity. After the 820,000-SF mall underwent major renovations in 1998, it began attracting more national retail chains.

In 1995, Askew sold Evelyn Hills to Weingarten Realty Investors of Houston for $3.24 million, according to Washington County property records. Montgomery Ward closed in 1999.

ONF moved from Dickson Street into a portion of the Montgomery Ward building on the north end of Evelyn Hills in November 2000. Some of its neighbors say the co-op’s presence brought new life to the shopping center.

In June 2006, a partnership comprising Rolin Park LLC of Hot Springs, Central Properties Inc. of Little Rock, Evelyn Hills Partners LLC of Springdale and Giles Properties LLLP of Little Rock bought the center from Weingarten for $10 million, property records show.

At the time of the purchase, John Selig was listed as the managing member of Rolin Park and president of Giles Properties; John J. Flake as president of Central Properties; and Dearnley as manager of Evelyn Hills Partners.

The investor group took out an $8.5 million mortgage from Summit Bank in Little Rock to finance the deal, according to Northwest Arkansas Business Journal archives.

ONF bought its building from the investor group in 2008 for $2.2 million. The building also houses Powerhouse Fitness.


Eclectic Mix

Next door to the fitness center, Land’s sister Carol Agana and her husband, John, opened an African imports store called Treasures from Africa last summer.

Land’s husband, Skip Selvey, helps Carol Agana mind the store these days while John Agana spends a few months digging water wells in his native village of Zaare in Ghana.

The store’s handmade items such as furniture, drums, clothing, masks and trade beads are mostly from Ghana, but some come from other western African nations like Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso.

Selvey said the store gets visitors from all over the world, along with local shoppers who come by after a trip to ONF.

“The same people who buy natural foods also like handmade stuff,” Selvey said.

The store’s runaway best-selling items during the Christmas shopping season, he said, were colorful baskets made from elephant grass and dyed with natural pigments.

The women who make the baskets support their families with the income, and Selvey said the Aganas give a lot of the store’s profits to Zaare for needed improvements such as the water-well project.

At Evelyn Hills’ south end is Avalon Nutrition Center, which Betty Morris has owned since 1997. The store has been there since 1993.

Morris said that while most of her customers are from Fayetteville, some come from Springdale, Farmington, Winslow and other area towns.

Customers like the personalized attention she can give them, Morris said, and the fact that there’s plenty of parking space.

Next door to Avalon is Evelyn Hills’ longest tenant, ShowCase Florist. The shop, now owned by Jackie Hall Weiland, has been there since 1968.

Weiland, like Land, remembers riding an elephant at the center’s opening. She recalls that the elephants escaped into the hills behind the shopping center, and ended up in the yard of famed architect Fay Jones, where they were rounded up by their handlers.

Weiland also related “an old, old story” about how Evelyn Hills got its name.

In the old days, she said, young people who were courting would go up on the hillside at night to look at the moon.

“They thought they could see a woman in the moon and they named her Evelyn,” Weiland said. “So that area became known as Evelyn Hills.”

The shopping center was the beginning of a shift of business away from Fayetteville’s downtown, she said, but for a while seemed to have been left behind.

“It was like a ghost town a few years ago,” she said. “Now it’s started to fill up.”

Weiland, who worked at the shop for many years before buying it about six years ago, plans to stay put.

“It’s such an old, established shop, I’ve hated to think of moving it somewhere else,” she said.

Besides Treasures from Africa and Something Better, other businesses joining long-term tenants like ShowCase Florist and Natural Nails last year were Powerhouse Fitness, White’s Jewelry, Personally Yours, Family Dollar, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Painting with a Twist.

And while it’s by no means a new store, Uncle Sam’s did get a new owner last year.

On July 1, store founder Robert Ginsburg sold it to J.R. Arnold, a Fayetteville builder.

Ginsburg, who’d moved the store to Evelyn Hills in 1985, said he was ready to turn his focus to other interests. He hosts a weekly jazz program on NPR affiliate KUAF-FM, and does promotional work for the Walton Arts Center.

Land said she’s surveying the center’s business owners to gauge interest in forming an Evelyn Hills Merchants Association. The idea is that would help them support each other and promote the center.

“We all get along really well,” she said. “We’re not in competition with each other.”