Change Arrived Long Before Immigrants

Bookmark and Share

SPRINGDALE, Ark. - Mayor Doug Sprouse moved to Springdale when he was 7.

Some of his earliest memories, he says, were running from shop to shop with friends, seeking out the few with air conditioning on hot summer days.

But the area along Emma Street, at the heart of historic downtown, doesn't hold the same allure these days. Many of the shops appear to have been closed for some time, and there's little foot traffic.

downtown Springdale, Ark.
Abandoned Emma Street storefront in downtown Springdale, Ark. (Photos by Will Skowronski)

The west end of Emma Street is tree lined and more active with banks and other shops, but the east end is bare and open to the southern sun. Hispanic-owned shops and a Taqueria stand out among mostly empty storefronts.

Immigrants, who have flocked to northwest Arkansas in recent decades, are taking over some of the abandoned properties, but were not the cause of the economic decline, says the 52-year-old mayor.

"I think our downtown, from a business perspective, had been in decline for many years," Sprouse says.

 He credits Interstate 540 with pulling business two miles to the west of downtown, where it slices through Springdale. Like much of small-town America, Springdale saw its downtown area suffer as cars took people in new directions. 

Long-time residents watched their community change long before Hispanics began moving here in large numbers.

Efforts are underway to restore the old downtown with new business, Sprouse says, but the faltering economy hasn't helped.

Taqueria in Springdale, Ark.
Taqueria in Springdale, Ark.

In the meantime, the bright colors adorning Hispanic businesses are some of the only signs of life on the old, east side of town, where Springdale's immigrant population is largely concentrated. 
--Will Skowronski