Each weekday at 2:30 p.m., Lisa Hastings looks out the window of her cupcake shop on Second Street in Rogers, and watches the change in downtown. That’s when more than 200 students begin to walk out of the new campus of Haas Hall Academy, one block away.
About an hour later, 144 high school and middle school students from the newly relocated Crossroads Learning Center, four blocks to the north, and 247 students from the Arkansas Arts Academy at Poplar and Fifth streets, finish their classes for the day.
In a year’s time, with the addition of Haas Hall and Crossroads, the number of students attending school in downtown Rogers has more than doubled, from 228 students at the Arts Academy to more than 540 students at all three. Next year the number will grow even more with the expansion of the Arts Academy, which can house up to 600 students, according to CEO Mary Ley.
Community leaders say downtown is changing as a result.
“[The schools] bring more people to downtown, make families aware of a lot of the family-friendly activities we have going on and bring more customers to the businesses,” said Karen Wagaman, vice president of downtown development for the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. Mayor Greg Hines agreed, saying businesses should see an increase as a result of the schools.
“It’s a pretty good consumer base when you’ve got from educators to parents of the students all meandering through the downtown area in some form or fashion at certain times of the day,” Hines said. “It’s going to drive commercial business, I think, in a very positive way.”
Mayor Hines said he believes downtown will continue to change as people move to the city center to be closer to the schools.
“I think the fact that you’ve got Arkansas Arts Academy and Haas Hall and [Rogers] Heritage High School and New Tech High School and Crossroads all within this walk-able, bike-able distance from one another, it’s going to drive people’s decision-making in whether or not to live downtown,” Hines said.
Business owners say their businesses are changing, too. Hastings, who has owned Kirby’s Kupcakes in downtown Rogers for seven years, said she welcomes the adjustment that comes with the opening of the new schools.
“We’ve been doing this [selling cupcakes] for seven years, but now it’s like [the schools] are changing the face of downtown. As downtown changes, my business will change,” Hastings said. “I have to change with it, or it’s not going to work. We’re totally open and excited about that.”
Hastings said one major addition she made because of the opening of the schools was the purchase of an ice cream machine.
“I know kids love that, and that would be a big draw … So it was one of the major investments we made knowing the school was going in,” she said.
Hastings has also added a “happy hour” for students, when she offers discounted prices on some items, and has added products to her menu.
“Kids, when they get out of school, are just ravenously hungry and sugar isn’t always the best thing with cupcakes, so we do waffle dogs and things like nachos,” she said.
Hastings is also considering offering tutoring and fundraising events for the schools.
Elizabeth Corron, owner of Norroc Lash Artistry on Walnut Street, said she sees the schools’ presence bringing a different type of shopper to the downtown area.
“I think it is going to bring a younger, hipper crowd,” she said. “Unless there’s a huge event going on downtown, like Frisco Fest, we don’t have a lot of a younger crowd. So, I think it’s going to bring fresh faces, a fresh generation and maybe a more consistent crowd of people downtown.”
Corron said her business has grown 45% since opening two years ago. With the growth and the opening of the schools, she said she has added three new employees in the past month. Elizabeth Sullivan, owner of Anna Grace Formals on West Elm Street, has also added five part-time employees in the past year.
“This month we are starting our third year, and we’ve almost doubled our business over the past year,” Sullivan said. “There is growth in this area, and downtown is booming. And it’s really a place to be.”
Sullivan has noticed an uptick in foot traffic since school began.
“Our store has been noticed more since people are walking downtown after school and parents are picking up their students in the car line,” she said. “So they know we are here, so they’re stopping in more, walking in after school.”
Mockingbird Moon, a retail yarn shop that teaches knitting and crochet, is located next door to the Crossroads Learning Center on Second Street. Owner Loralee Canfield said the school building is a beautiful addition to the area from a visual standpoint. She also enjoys seeing young people take an interest in what is going on downtown as they visit the businesses there. In keeping with her business plan, which includes community outreach, she has offered to give lessons to the students at Crossroads.
“I’m very excited to be able to work with them in one capacity or another,” Canfield said. “I’m not sure what that’s going to look like yet. I think there’s definitely some opportunities there to work together.”
With added people and cars downtown, some business owners are concerned about traffic and parking issues. Rush Running is located behind Haas Hall on First Street, and owner Mike Rush is concerned about traffic and lack of parking possibly keeping customers away from his store.
“With all these new schools and an influx of people from every direction possible, I get more exposure for free, if you will,” Rush said. “But my big concern is with the teachers, the staff, parents, going in for meetings and picking up their kids during the high time drop-off and pick-up hours. What’s happening with parking?”
At first Hastings said she worried about the added traffic and parking when it was announced Haas Hall would be in the renovated Lane Hotel, but now sees it as a good thing.
“When there was the very first whisper that it was a school, I went, ‘Oh no. All that’s going to do is clog up parking.’ But then as I thought about it, I started getting really excited,” she recalled. “There will be growing pains and it’s hard when you thrust that many cars into the downtown area and not have any added space for them.
“So everybody’s kind of grumbling, I’m sure. But once you work through these growing pains, I think everybody’s going to see that it really has a benefit for downtown.”