By Jeanni Brosius :: Photography courtesy of Main Street Batesville
When Batesville set out to revitalize its downtown, it wasn’t joking. Tucked in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, this beautiful small town sits on the banks of the White River.
Batesville’s downtown has grown so much that Main Street Batesville director, Joel Williams, said a new parking system had to be created in order to increase parking and to create a safer environment for pedestrians. There are also several new parking lots within a block walking distance from Main Street.
Just a few years ago, Batesville’s Main Street was nearly abandoned. Rows of buildings sat empty, and traffic had slowed to mostly people coming downtown to the courthouse or the post office.
But in recent months, downtown has become home not only to a couple of new restaurants, but also to the newly restored Melba Theater and several retail shops.
“It changed out of necessity,” Joel Williams, Main Street Batesville director said. “The fact was three years ago Main Street was headed on the way out, and people had forgotten about it. Now, though, and as we continue to grow, Main Street Batesville hopes to create a self-sustaining main street that’s not just from 9 to5 but also from 9 to 9. Standard day life and a thriving night life for all ages.”
On the corner of Main and Broad streets sits a brand new building that fits seamlessly into the historic architecture of downtown Batesville. Inside that building is The Pinto, a unique coffee shop that serves up a wonderful cup of uniquely cold brewed coffee as well as breakfast and lunch.
“Coffee and burritos,” Haley Stephens said with a laugh, “that’s what we do best.”
By sticking to what Stephens and her husband, Brice, know best shows in the slow roasted chicken and pork carnitas with freshly made salsa and Mexican slaw that they serve up for lunch. Stephens said the menu will gradually expand.
For lunch, just across the street from The Pinto, Big’s offers up hearty sandwiches and salads in a nostalgic diner-like setting. In addition to the tasty and fresh foods, Big’s prides itself on and delivers outstanding, friendly service.
Another lunch option is Elizabeth’s, which is a mainstay of downtown Batesville. Known for her elegant, made-from-scratch lunch menu and luscious yeast rolls, Diane White took a chance 16 years ago when she opened her restaurant on Main Street. At that time, it was the only restaurant downtown.
“Main Street is the heart of every community,” Williams said. “It’s where it was founded, where it grew and was created. It is the heart of our community and every community. If you abandon your heart then there is no true growth.”
After a full day of shopping, dinner is a welcomed meal. One of the newest and hottest dinner spots is CIX Main. CIX is Roman numerals for 109, which is the street address of the restaurant.
Because the historic district is coming alive again in Batesville, co-owners Cliff Brown and Chintal Patel saw a perfect opportunity to give the community something new and different.
“The dim lighting and historic building give it an old-world feel while the cuisine itself opens up the possibility of international flavors that are like nothing else in the area,” Brown said. “I wanted to bring that vibe that I have felt in other places to my hometown. We may not be as large of a city, but we are not limited by that factor, and I know incredible things are beginning to happen here. We are thrilled to be a part of that.”
The menu at CIX sets itself apart from the standard dining experience, Brown said. The team has built the menu around the concept of sharable plates called flights. Brown said he believes this allows his customers to experience multiple items and a variety of flavors, while encouraging conversation and interaction during the meal.
The skewer flight is a three-plate combination of delectable meats on skewers, each with its own sauce. Flavorful grilled shrimp with Siracha aioli; classic chicken cordon bleu with mornay sauce, and juicy, tender beef tips with chimichurri. Each plate can also be ordered a la carte.
That same flight concept is also applied for the dessert options and the craft beer.
“We have even created a signature cocktail menu that puts a new twist on some old favorites and includes some one-of-a-kind offerings that we think will be fresh and interesting,” Brown said.
Just across the street from CIX, Unique Nosh Frozen Delights is another family favorite dessert spot downtown for after-school or after-dinner treats. With its selection of frozen yogurt, gelato and authentic French macaroons from New York, Unique Nosh has a good selection of gluten-free desserts. Unique Nosh is open until 10:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Main Street has a whole host of shops filled with interesting gift ideas, many made locally. The Batesville Area Arts Council has an art gallery filled with works by local artists. The Gallery on Main is also home to the Friday Painters, which is a group comprised of cancer survivors who use art as therapy and fellowship.
Back in Time Antiques is another long-standing Main Street shop that has weathered the test of time. Filled with interesting items, including many steam punk items, this shop is truly a step back in time, and the fun, deliberate window displays will never disappoint.
Etta’s Attic and Old Towne Mall are two flea markets that will keep shoppers engaged for hours, browsing through antiques, collectibles as well as locally made items.
For the book lover, the blue awning and beautiful antique red door beckon passersby into the Paper Chase Book Store. There may be an author signing copies of her books, or a group of ladies sitting around knitting. Owner Mayfan Thomas has created a cozy, old-fashioned bookstore that appeals to any age reader.
On most Saturdays, local farmers and crafters come to the Pocket Park to sell fresh vegetables, baked goods and jewelry. Brood Farm always has the freshest eggs and handmade soaps with goat milk from the farm. Five Acre Farm and Stewart Produce are other farms that are usually at the market. Five Acre Farm produces beautiful, organically grown produce. Stewart Produce offers free recipes and tips for cooking its fresh, chemical-free produce, such as butternut squash, kale and greens.
The crown jewel of downtown may just be the Melba Theater. Many Batesville residents recall watching movies in the theater as kids. The old theater was built in 1875 as an opera house.
The theater was painstakingly restored beginning in August 2014 by co-owners, Adam and Mandi Curtwright and Janelle and Joe Shell, and the restoration was completed in August 2016.
“We wanted to restore the Melba because at the time, Main Street was in somewhat of a decline, and we knew that it would provide a much needed boost in foot traffic to the
lower end,” Mandi Curtwright said. “We love our community, and we know that the Melba means so much to so many people. We’ve heard stories about first dates, movie time with loved ones who have passed and stories from former employees back in its early days.”
Adam Curtwright was one of those employees. It was his first job, and he always dreamed of restoring the theater. This year, his dream came true as one of the owners.
The floors in the auditorium were restored to their original state. Several layers of paint were stripped away to showcase the original hard wood flooring, Curtwright explained. When the Melba first opened, the ticket booth was in the middle of the entrance. Several years later, it was moved to the side. In an effort to restore things back to the original condition, the ticket booth was moved back once again to the center. During demolition, a tray ceiling was found in the lobby beneath a drop ceiling. Students from the Lyon College Art Department painted a cloudscape mural inside of it.
“In the auditorium, we were able to find the original light sconces from the 1940s and restore them,” Mandi Curtwright said. “They are lit every night during the movies. Lastly, we are so proud to have the neon lit once again.”
Curtwright said the first month after the Melba opened its doors, more than 3,000 people came out to watch movies.
The Landers Theater, which is up the street, was restored a few years ago and is now Fellowship Bible Church. This three-story stone and brick building was once used for vaudeville acts and X-rated movies. The facade of the old theater is historically correct, along with the marquee.
North Arkansas Dance Theater has been part of downtown since 1982.
“It has been so much fun watching the academy grow and seeing it thrive throughout the years,” co-founder Cindy Hubberd said. “We have had the opportunity to dance in the Pocket Park on several occasions and even in the street for a community event, and a number of our ballroom dancers participated in the Tribute to Frank Sinatra at the Barnett Building. It was a wonderful night for dancing.”
NADT is gearing up for its 12th annual performance of the Nutcracker. Performances will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 and 19 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville.
Tickets are available at the door, NADT Dance Academy, Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Batesville Area Arts Council, Carlee’s Crown Shop and Sav On Pharmacy. Adults: $15 Children under 11: $10.
If shopping and movies aren’t on the agenda, O’Neal Outfitters has just the ticket. With canoe and kayak rentals, owner Adam Garcia offers White River, and Polk Bayou float trips as well as shuttle services. Williams said O’Neal Outfitters will be opening a storefront on Main Street in the coming months. For more information on float trips or to reserve one, call 870.698.2222.
To learn more about future plans of downtown Batesville, visit www.mainstreetbatesville.org.