Murfreesboro native Anita Davis has a bachelor of science degree and varied business life experience that began in the 1980’s with her mail-order catalog called “Pure and Simple.”
In the early turn of the 21st century, Davis became an accidental real estate developer. In 2004, Davis bought the Bernice Building at 1417 S. Main. In 2005, she purchased the empty lot at 1401 S. Main. It was in 2005 that Davis, at a meeting of the National Main Street group in Seattle, learned about "placemaking," the design of public spaces that reflects the character and assets of a community.
In 2006, Davis bought the 100 year old Lincoln Building at the corner of 15th and Main, where StudioMain, the Green Corner Store and the soda fountain that has helped make Loblolly Creamery’s products well known across Arkansas are all located. In 2007 on the other side of Main Street, she bought the Bernice Building which now houses the downtown location of Boulevard Bread Co. Also in 2007, she bought the Sweden Creme property where The Root Cafe now thrives. In 2011, she bought a building next door to the Root for her purse museum. With a 3,000+ collection of women’s purses, Davis decided to create the Esse Purse Museum at 1510 South Main St. The museum opened in June 2013.
In 2014, The Huffington Post included Esse on its list of the “World’s Hottest Museums.”
The Bernice Garden, established in 2011, is now a place that is home to everything from Mardi Gras celebrations to beard-growing contests to farmers’ markets to the annual Arkansas Cornbread Festival each fall.
Mayor Mark Stodola, a former downtown resident and president of the Quapaw Quarter Association, called Davis "a godsend to South Main."
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:08.6] J: Welcome to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned at the end of the show to see how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents.
Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all Up In your Business.
[0:00:23.9] KM: Thank you Jesse. Like Jesse said, I’m Kerry McCoy and it’s time for me to get up in your business. If you listen to the show with regularity, you may notice that Jesse is sitting in for my usual co-host, Tim. Today, Jesse will be doing it all; running the board, recording the show and taking your phone calls. Feel free to give him a grade at flagandbanner.com.
[0:00:44.1] J: Uh-oh.
[0:00:46.8] KM: If right now you’re sitting at your computer, you might want to watch us live on flagandbanner.com’s Facebook page. It’s fun to see what goes on behind the scenes. Today, there’s a lot going on. Roger Robinson is a guest technician and a friend to our show and he’s in the studio and he’s got three cameras going and we’re going to have a professional Facebook feed, as soon as he logs in to flagandbanner.com’s Facebook page. If you’re sitting at your computer, get ready. We’ll be going live there in just a second.
Also joining Flag and Banner’s team here is my long-time neighbor in Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, the good people at AB Arkansas Marty. He is over there watching the levels. When we do get on Facebook, you’re going to be shocked at how many people are in this hot room. It’s a hot room and a lot of people breathing. You all quit breathing. Hot air over there.
This show Up In your Business with Kerry McCoy began with entrepreneurs in mind, a platform for me, a small business owner and a guest to pay forward our experiential knowledge in a conversational way. As with all new endeavors, it’s had some unexpected outcomes, good outcomes. For instance, the show began with entrepreneurs and want to be entrepreneurs in mind, but we found it has a much wider appeal, because after all, who isn’t inspired by every day people’s American-made stories.
Another discover that I find interesting is that many, many of my guest have a spiritual bent and the heart of a teacher. Last, that business in of itself is creative. My guest entrepreneur today, Miss Anita Davis is uber creative, evident by all the restoration and changes she’s made to the once abandoned part of Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, now known as SOMA, or South on Main.
If you’re just tuning in for the first time, you may be asking yourself what’s this lady’s story and why should I listen? Well, Jesse is here to tell you.
[0:02:39.1] J: That’s right. Over 40 years ago with only $400, Kerry McCoy founded at Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades, the business has grown and changed dramatically, from door-to-door sales to telemarketing to mail order and catalog sells and now Flag and Banner relies heavily on the internet, including the newest feature, live chatting.
With time and experience, Kerry’s business and leadership knowledge grew, as well as the confidence to branch out into multimedia marketing that began with the nonprofit Dreamland Ballroom, as well as the in-house publication of Brave Magazine and now, this very radio show. It was in the fall of 2016 when Kerry found herself mentoring yet another ambitious person and decided in a broader way to pay forward not only her life experiences, but others too.
Each week on this show, you'll hear candid conversations between her and her guests about real-world experiences on a variety of businesses and topics that we hope you'll find interesting and inspiring. If you would like to ask Kerry a question, or share your story, you can e-mail email@example.com.
[0:03:49.6] KM: Thank you, Jesse. My guest today is the developer, preservationist, visionary, purse collector, yes, purse collector and entrepreneur, Miss Anita Davis. Born and raised in the small town of Murfreesboro, Arkansas, Anita grew up in a time of downtown communities with sidewalks and locally owned shops.
In 2004 when she moved to Little Rock, Arkansas and saw a group of old buildings in disrepair at the south end of Main Street, she got inspired to recreate a time gone by and began the decade-long revitalization of what we now call SOMA, or South on Main. At the corner of 15th and Main, Anita is the landlord for the Green Corner Store, Loblolly Creamery, my favorite, and the nationally recognized Root Café.
On the next corner, a block down, she lovingly constructed a sculptor garden and named it after her grandmother, Bernice Garden. In 2013, Anita had the idea of sharing her lifelong addiction of purse collecting into yet another unique and thoroughly modern concept by opening the Esse Purse Museum, with a private collection of no less than 3,000 period purses. I love that.
It is a pleasure to welcome to the table the shy and creative entrepreneur, Miss Anita Davis. Talk to me about your life in Murfreesboro, Arkansas.
[0:05:13.1] AD: Well, I was born in 1946. By the time I was 12, it was the 50s. We had three pharmacies and we had three grocery stores. That we had everything we needed. We had a Dairy Queen by the 60s and a Five-and-Dime soda fountains and car, auto dealership.
[0:05:46.1] KM: Yeah, I love small business.
[0:05:47.0] AD: Right. Yes. You could walk everywhere. Not that everybody did walk everywhere, but you could. I guess, I was getting a little training in what neighborhoods could be if they weren't the suburbs, where you had houses altogether and then the businesses away from that.
[0:06:10.5] KM: Which was the rest of the world. We were all moving towards suburbs.
[0:06:13.9] AD: Yes, yes.
[0:06:15.2] KM: You were still living in a small town, with small town, small town qualities.
[0:06:21.2] AD: Yes.
[0:06:22.6] KM: Conveniences in the community. I like that. You went to college?
[0:06:27.8] AD: I did. I went to college. I went to two Baptist schools.
[0:06:33.5] KM: In Arkadelphia?
[0:06:34.6] AD: I went to Ouachita and then I went to Baylor and then back to Ouachita, because I had quite a bit of fun at Baylor.
[0:06:42.8] KM: Your mom made you come back home.
[0:06:44.0] AD: I had to go back, so closer to home. Yes.
[0:06:47.4] KM: I read you have a degree in science, is that right?
[0:06:50.2] AD: It is. It was home economics, back when we had home economics, and you had as much science as a physician would have.
[0:06:57.2] KM: Is that right?
[0:06:58.0] AD: Yes.
[0:07:00.0] KM: I did not realize that, because cooking is science people.
[0:07:04.1] AD: It is.
[0:07:05.6] KM: It really is. I think also, I read that you are an artist.
[0:07:13.2] AD: Actually, I love to make the – well, one of my real passions has been in my life and I don't get to do it very much anymore, but I love flea markets and I love antique malls. Then I love studying about things that are as you say, spiritual. I've studied some dream work while living here. I think that doing those things coincided with each other. I would make things that came from the teaching that I was either dreaming, or learning. I would find these objects and put them together and then put a name on them.
[0:07:59.3] KM: What did you call that when we were walking up the stairs?
[0:08:01.2] AD: I'm not saying.
[0:08:02.9] KM: You’re not saying.
[0:08:06.2] AD: It’s assemblage.
[0:08:07.2] KM: It’s assemblage. Oh, that’s what it was. I love it. Artistics assemblage. I think that’s really fun. I have another girlfriend like that and she's listening and I want to tell her, it’s Kathleen King.
[0:08:17.1] AD: Of course. I had lunch with her yesterday.
[0:08:19.7] KM: Oh, you did?
[0:08:20.3] AD: Yes.
[0:08:21.0] KM: Well, small town Little Rock. Let me tell you, she's the same way. She likes to collect things and she calls it mosaics. You could call it mosaics, I guess. Then, is this true? Because I couldn't find anything, but one little sentence about this, did you own a mail-order catalog company?
[0:08:38.5] AD: I did. Back in the 80s, I owned a business called Pure and Simple. I had a little store of brick and mortar store on Main Street in Nashville, Arkansas.
[0:08:50.1] KM: Oh, from Murfreesboro to Nashville.
[0:08:51.2] AD: Yes. Well, I've lived a lot of places in between. I've actually lived in Little Rock for 30 years.
[0:08:57.2] KM: Oh, so you didn't move here in 2004?
[0:08:59.2] AD: No, no.
[0:09:00.2] KM: Okay. Lies again. Can't believe everything you read on the internet.
[0:09:02.7] AD: That’s right. Absolutely not.
[0:09:05.0] KM: No. You ask we cannot. I had a guest on last week who said, or a week – a couple of weeks ago and the internet actually said he was born in Tennessee and he said, “I absolutely was not born in Tennessee. I was born in Arkansas.” I thought that was interesting.
[0:09:18.9] AD: Yes.
[0:09:19.5] KM: I'm fascinated by mail-order catalog, because Arkansas Flag and Banner also does mail-order. The 80s was when Lillian Vernon came out.
[0:09:29.2] AD: Yes.
[0:09:30.0] KM: Is that what inspired you? Was that catalog?
[0:09:31.7] AD: Well, I love the Horchow catalog and from Dallas. I also love to collect things that were made by hand in the south. I sold willow furniture and handmade quilts, decoys and that sort of thing.
[0:09:53.4] KM: You could do willow furniture with mail-order cataloging?
[0:09:55.9] AD: Yes, back then. I would sell it to New York City. On Park Avenue, they buy it for their other second home and that thing.
[0:10:04.9] KM: Is there anybody still making willow furniture in Arkansas?
[0:10:06.8] AD: I'm sure there are.
[0:10:07.7] KM: I don't think so.
[0:10:09.3] AD: I haven't really tried lately. I was in Nashville, which is the thick of it. We had lots of willows and we had people that knew how to make it and it was fun to sell.
[0:10:20.6] KM: For anybody doesn't know what that is, Google it, because I had some.
[0:10:24.3] AD: Bent willow.
[0:10:25.1] KM: It’s wonderful. It's very beautiful and artistic. I just love it. I will say this, the squirrels also love it.
[0:10:30.0] AD: Yes.
[0:10:30.6] KM: They eat it.
[0:10:31.2] AD: Right. It doesn't last a real long time.
[0:10:34.6] KM: Not unless you – I guess, if you put it indoors it might, but who wants a willow tree chair indoors? Pure and simple, how long did you do it?
[0:10:42.8] AD: Oh, not very long. It was very expensive. You would bring in a lot of money, but the postage was so much and then you had to buy a list for names. Anyway, didn't last really long. It took in a lot of money, but it was –
[0:11:01.0] KM: Expensive to run.
[0:11:01.8] AD: Right.
[0:11:02.5] KM: The overhead was high. You had a big cost of goods.
[0:11:04.6] AD: Right.
[0:11:05.3] KM: Then you had to have to ship it and crate it.
[0:11:07.2] AD: Yes. Right.
[0:11:07.9] KM: By the time – and back then, I don't think people were using credit cards. Probably, everything was on credit, or were they doing a lot of credit cards?
[0:11:13.1] AD: There weren’t credit cards then, but it was just a different situation. We were featured in the Chicago Tribune. It was really fun, because it was – it was one of those risk things and people recognized it. Then also, it was a niche. Not a lot of people were doing that.
[0:11:31.9] KM: No. Catalogs were the new thing in the 80s. You have two daughters. Were they born already?
[0:11:38.2] AD: Oh, yes. One was born in 72 and in 1976.
[0:11:44.1] KM: Did they help you with it, or –
[0:11:45.6] AD: No, they weren’t old enough. Yeah.
[0:11:47.4] KM: You went in and out of your house where your children were young, I guess.
[0:11:49.1] AD: No, no. I had a little place on Main Street in Nashville.
[0:11:53.9] KM: You are a complex woman. I can't follow your whole business career. What was your business career?
[0:11:59.3] AD: Well let's see, what is the word? A little jagged. It's not real consistent.
[0:12:07.0] KM: I know. You're very creative. You dabble in this, you dabble in that, you do a lot of different things. After you sold that business, what did you do for a living?
[0:12:15.8] AD: Well, I had vagabonds up in the heights.
[0:12:18.5] KM: Oh, really?
[0:12:19.2] AD: With Tracy
[inaudible 0:12:19.9]. There again –
[0:12:22.8] KM: Tell our guess what that sold, what you sold at vagabonds?
[0:12:26.4] AD: Oh, we were some of the first that had espresso coffee and we had vintage clothes and just cool things, modern things. They're retro. We also had desserts and then we had people that played music. It was behind boulevard in the heights.
[0:12:50.4] KM: Why'd you quit doing that? Because it was successful. Just got tired of?
[0:12:55.3] AD: Well, I’m just not a – Yes.
[0:12:58.2] KM: You’re so creative. You're like, made that, did it, got to go on to the next thing. What did you do next?
[0:13:06.6] AD: Well then, it was – 2004 happened after that, so that was –
[0:13:11.8] KM: Are your parents entrepreneurs?
[0:13:13.9] KM: Yeah. Well, my dad was in a family business. He was a lumbermen and had timber. My mother loved to – she was quite gregarious and she was always involved in things, community things. She would come to Little Rock for keep Arkansas beautiful and that sort of thing.
[0:13:35.8] KM: Your mother was involved in the community, which makes sense with you. Then your father was an entrepreneur, which makes sense with you and you got the best of both of those people. All right, this is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with the South on Main developer, entrepreneur extraordinaire, Esse Purse Museum curator, Miss Anita Davis.
[0:13:56.3] J: You're listening to Up In your Business with Kerry McCoy. If you missed any part of this show, a podcast will be made available next week at flagandbanner.com’s website. If you prefer to listen on iTunes, YouTube or SoundCloud, you'll find those links as well. Lots of listening options. We'll be right back.
[0:14:33.4] KM: You're listening to Up In your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Miss Anita Davis, leading developer of South on Main in Little Rock, Arkansas and curator of her very own Esse Purse Museum, with a private collection of over 3,000 purses. Now that was in an article I read that was a few years old, so how many is it now?
[0:14:52.8] AD: I'm not telling.
[0:14:56.3] KM: If they weren't adorable purses, we'd call you a hoarder.
[0:14:59.2] AD: Yes. That's true. If they were all piled up to the ceiling, that could also be a clue.
[0:15:07.3] KM: Are they piled up to the ceiling?
[0:15:08.1] AD: No.
[0:15:08.6] KM: Oh, good. Before the break, we were talking about growing up in a small town and how it affected you and how you liked the community of a small town when everybody else in Little Rock and the bigger cities were moving to the suburbs. Murfreesboro, Arkansas was staying the same. I thought you moved to Little Rock in 2004, but you said you'd been here for a while being an entrepreneur in the heights area with vagabonds.
Now we're coming up on 2004. You've become the driving force in the development of – developing the whole south end of Main, Bernice Garden, the Lincoln Building, the Sweden Creme drive-in, that's now the Root Cafe and your Esse Purse Museum.
[0:15:50.2] AD: The Bernice building where Boulevard and Moxie, that was my very first building and I still own that one. I sold the Sweden Creme building to Kerry and Jack –
[0:16:02.1] KM: Oh, you did?
[0:16:02.8] AD: - a year or two ago. I can't remember exactly. After they got the wonderful grant, they really wanted to invest in that property and it made sense to them to buy the property. We really wanted to keep them in the South Main area.
[0:16:21.3] KM: Anita Davis, can I just say I love you. That was a very good thing for you to do with them.
[0:16:26.9] AD: Well, they're just such a boon for our area.
[0:16:30.1] KM: They're great people.
[0:16:30.7] AD: Yes.
[0:16:33.2] KM: I'll quit saying you own the Sweden Creme drive-in, where the Root Cafe is. You did buy it, develop it for Root Cafe and then they have recently –
[0:16:40.7] AD: Well, I didn't – It was before I even knew about them. It's like, you're pregnant with something, but you don't know exactly what you're going to get and you're getting the room already. That's the way it was.
[0:16:53.3] KM: I've noticed that all entrepreneurs have that spiritual bent. You just described it perfectly. You're pregnant with these ideas and you just have faith that if you keep growing your idea, it's going to all work out.
[0:17:06.7] AD: Well, it's really interesting how that happens. It's also interesting that if you identify your philosophy, other people will pair up with you and understand that that's my philosophy too. I want to do that. It's really just taken care of the land. We want a walkable community, so that we don't have to rely on our car so much. We want to make it slow, the traffic slow down just a bit, so that we can all walk and not be scared that we're going to be hit.
Then also, it makes us pay attention to the litter and the trash that's on the street, so that it's not going down into the storm drains and ruining the fish creek. There's all kinds of opportunities there. The garden is about having more dirt. The dirt takes in the rain and we don't have as much flood. We have beautiful little curb knockouts in our area that are actually planted with a lot of beautiful things.
[0:18:17.1] KM: What do you mean you have curb knockouts?
[0:18:18.7] AD: Well, they’re those things at –
[0:18:21.8] KM: Okay. I know it's radio, it's hard to visualize.
[0:18:23.3] AD: I know.
[0:18:24.7] KM: It's along the curbs you have –
[0:18:26.5] AD: Yes. It's where there is dirt where you can grow things right there at the corners.
[0:18:32.9] KM: Oh, gardens all the way up to the edge.
[0:18:34.8] AD: Yeah.
[0:18:35.4] KM: I love that.
[0:18:37.1] AD: The Business Improvement District takes care of that in our area.
[0:18:41.4] KM: You've been called an accidental real estate developer.
[0:18:44.3] AD: Yeah, it was accidental for sure.
[0:18:46.9] KM: Mark Stodola, our mayor, he said you're a godsend to South on Main.
[0:18:51.4] AD: Yeah.
[0:18:53.4] KM: Look, she's rolling her eyes. People out there in radioland, she's rolling her eyes. You went to a convention, a main street convention in Seattle, Washington and found, heard this term called placemaking and it resonated with you. Did you already own the property when you heard this term, or did you hear this term and decide, “I'm going to start buying up property.” Which came first?
[0:19:19.5] AD: I think I bought the property first, but I was also – I mean, I had already tried to figure out what my part in taking care of the earth was. It's gelled to think about my upbringing in this little bitty town and to see this area that could use some goods and services for the neighborhood. That's how it played out.
[0:19:47.0] KM: Goods and services. Tell people what placemaking means.
[0:19:52.8] AD: Well, it's I guess you would – okay, so in 2004 I bought that property. I've got to tell you the story about that. It's the Bernice Building and Bernice is my grandmother's name. I looked at –
[0:20:07.9] KM: Talk about serendipity.
[0:20:08.8] AD: I know. I looked up and I thought, “I believe this may be the one.”
[0:20:13.1] KM: A sign.
[0:20:14.1] AD: Then in 2005, I bought the property next to it, that State Patrick owned and he moved, he bought property down a little bit further on 15th Street, 15th.
[0:20:30.3] KM: In Main?
[0:20:30.8] AD: Uh-huh.
[0:20:31.3] KM: Okay.
[0:20:32.8] AD: Then it gave me the opportunity to build the garden and do it sustainably, so that it has a drip system and all that. I'm getting to your question just a minute.
[0:20:44.2] KM: I’m following. Keep it up.
[0:20:46.0] AD: Okay. My grandmother was – she had four children and she really didn't get to live in one town for very long. She lived here with her sister toward the end of her life and she worked at Frankie's Cafeteria. Basically in the south part of our world, they say that's when a person never got a dinner. It's a old saying that they weren't really honored the way they probably would have been appropriate for her to be honored.
[0:21:23.1] KM: Why? What do you mean she wasn’t honored?
[0:21:25.4] AD: Well, I mean, she never got a dinner.
[0:21:28.1] KM: What do you mean she never got a dinner? What do you mean? Is that a saying she never got a dinner?
[0:21:31.9] AD: Yes. Right.
[0:21:33.1] KM: What does that mean?
[0:21:33.9] AD: It means that she – okay, so when people retire, they either give you a watch back in the old days, or they give you a dinner.
[0:21:41.7] KM: She never got a dinner. She never got a dinner party basically.
[0:21:45.3] AD: Right. Yes, yes. Well, that would be from Little Rock and would say they never got a dinner party.
[0:21:50.0] KM: Yeah, but in the south she never got a dinner. She didn’t get a gold watch, she didn’t get her dinner.
[0:21:54.5] AD: She got a garden on Main Street.
[0:21:58.2] KM: Oh, I love it. I see it now. It came together right there, Anita. Thank you.
[0:22:02.6] AD: Yes. Okay, so but that's not exactly placemaking, but it is sort of, because that is a place that could be where community gathers. There were several groups. The main street –well, there were several people that contributed to the sculptures. UALR helped us so much, UA Little Rock, the sculpture department, Michael Warwick helped and we had a scholarship fund. Each year, we would get a new sculpture.
We throw a big party and everybody could come and it was free at first. That's placemaking. That is when you can bring people together and also you offer them things that they need. 2007, here comes Steve LaFrance and Steve Edwards. They did the Edwards food giant. He bought that and improved it, I believe. Then Steve LaFrance did USA Drug. We have groceries and we have drugstore. Then we have some of these quaint little things that we have in our little pocket of the world, from 14th to 15th.
[0:23:27.2] KM: I read placemaking, the design of – I've read the definition of it. The design of public spaces that reflects the character and the assets of the community. I think that's perfect. Did you plan for it to be a sculpture garden when you started it, or was it just going to be a brown, a place for dirt? Would you say a dirt spot, so that it was more natural and just took care of the earth, or did you plan for it to be a sculpture garden or
[0:23:49.6] AD: I wanted it to be a sculpture, because at that Seattle trip in Seattle, at that time it's been a long time since I was there, but they had sculptures everywhere. It was so fun to look at all the sculptures to me.
[0:24:05.3] KM: That was 2011. I believe you opened it in 2011, so it’s 7-years—old.
[0:24:10.9] AD: Well, actually 2007 is when it was landscaped and it was Larsen Bernsen Smith and now they're called the ecological group, I think. They did a lot of things that would be sustainable. Then the roof on the top was built in 2011.
[0:24:30.8] KM: I love the roof on the top.
[0:24:32.3] AD: I love it too.
[0:24:33.3] KM: The whole place is beautiful.
[0:24:34.4] AD: Thank you.
[0:24:35.6] KM: Now it is a home for everything; the Mardi Gras celebration, the beard growing contest, we have a great beard growing contest here in Arkansas, Farmers Market in the summer, your annual cornbread festival, I think is your baby isn’t it?
[0:24:50.0] AD: Yes.
[0:24:50.6] KM: Because you grew up eating cornbread.
[0:24:52.2] AD: Yes. Cornbread and sweet milk at night.
[0:24:57.7] KM: I’m southern too. I didn’t put the sweet milk on there, but I did the cornbread with regular milk. How do people find out about your events? Does Bernice Garden have a website?
[0:25:07.5] AD: Yes. We have a website, we have an active Facebook page and we're combining the Farmers Market and the Bernice Garden Facebook in all our social media.
[0:25:19.2] KM: What’s that? You know what that Earl is? You know what the address to that Facebook page is? Just put in Bernice Garden and it ought to come up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Also, would you rather people – I like Facebook better. It's easier to keep up with Facebook with what's going on. If people went to Bernice Garden’s Facebook page, they could keep up with the events because you probably got somebody posting events on there all the time.
[0:25:40.1] AD: Yes, yes. I'm not good at that.
[0:25:42.7] KM: Well, you can’t do everything. You can’t do everything. I learned that a long time ago. I don’t post to our Facebook page. It's too much. It's a full-time job these days.
[0:25:50.9] AD: Yes. Sure.
[0:25:51.8] KM: Social media is. You're really proud of that. You feel like it was serendipity. Your grandmother's name, Bernice Gardens. Then the building that was Bernice building is now Boulevard bread, is that right?
[0:26:05.7] AD: And Moxie.
[0:26:07.2] KM: Which is a mercantile store. Moxie mercantile.
[0:26:09.4] AD: Yes. A really, fun wonderful store.
[0:26:12.0] KM: We've got to take a break, but I want to tell you Moxie mercantile story. She's the reason I have this radio show.
[0:26:16.7] AD: Really?
[0:26:17.1] KM: She really is. I one day left church and I was driving down Main Street and she was open on that Sunday. I thought, “I’ve never been in there.” I heard they had dirty funny dirty cards. I went in there to get a funny dirty card and I'm looking around and she was working, the owner was working and she found out who I was and she said, “Oh, I've got some internet questions I want to ask you.” We talked for 30 minutes about advertising and internet marketing. When I got in the car I thought, “Oh, there's a bunch of things I forgot to tell her.”
Then as I drove away I thought, “Well, I'll call her later.” Then I realized that that week, I had been e-mailed, called and run into somebody who had asked me business advice and I thought, “I'm going to start a radio show and start telling people what I know.”
[0:27:04.1] AD: I love that. Laura Kaler is an incredible woman.
[0:27:09.0] KM: She's doing a good job down there. All right, let's take another break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with the South on Main developer, entrepreneur extraordinaire, Esse Purse Museum curator, Miss Anita Davis.
[0:27:22.9] AM: Arkansas Flag and Banner is proud to underwrite Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. McCoy began this broadcast with the intention of offering a mentoring platform for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Through candid conversations and interesting interviews with business and community-minded Arkansans, listeners gained insight into starting and running a business, the ups and downs of risk-taking and the commonalities of successful people.
Kerry McCoy, Founder and President of Arkansas Flag and Banner believes in paying knowledge and experience forward and developed this radio show as a means of doing so. The biographies, life experiences and wisdom of her guests would likely go unheard if not for this venue.
Rarely do people open up for an hour to an audience about their life, mistakes, triumphs and pitfalls. This unique radio show allows the listener intimate access into the stories of prominent leaders in our state.
I am Adrienne McNally, Manager of the Arkansas Flag and Banner Showroom and Gift Shop located on the first floor of the historic Taborian Hall on the corner of 9th and State Streets in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas.
In business for 43 years, we offer an old school shopping experience with front door parking, clerks to help you and department store variety; open to the public Monday through Friday, 8 to 5:30 and Saturday 10 to 4.
[0:28:42.3] KM: You're listening to Up In your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Miss Anita Davis, leading developer of South on Main in Little Rock, Arkansas and curator for her own Esse Purse Museum, which we're going to find out a bunch all about in just a minute.
We were talking about your visions for starting South on Main, how reminded you of Murfreesboro and that quiet community. We're talking about what an entrepreneur you were and how you've done so many things. Then we talked about how it was almost a God thing, or spiritual thing that you were led to by a building that had your mother grandmother's name on it. Then you went to a Main Street convention in Seattle, Washington and heard this term placemaking and your vision began to really, really grow. What was it about – you'd lived in Little Rock for a little while. What was it that happened around 2004 that made you decide to start –
[0:29:38.3] AD: My mother died.
[0:29:39.8] KM: Oh.
[0:29:40.9] AD: Yeah.
[0:29:42.5] KM: My mother died in February.
[0:29:44.0] AD: Would she?
[0:29:44.2] KM: Yeah. I'm happy for her. How old was your mother?
[0:29:47.0] AD: Big influences.
[0:29:48.8] KM: Our big influences.
[0:29:51.2] AD: My mother was 80 – she died on – her funeral was on the first day of the year, so I always get a little confused, but I think she was 83.
[0:30:02.3] KM: It is funny how you do that. I'm like, “Was mother 94 or 95?” I can’t remember. I know. Your mother passes away and you've decided all of a sudden, it's time to pay forward.
[0:30:14.7] AD: Well, I'd been thinking that. Anyway, I had reached an age that I had dabbled in this and dabbled in that. Then I thought, time is coming on and you really could make a difference somehow. I had pinpointed a few things that seemed important to me, but how to do them was the question. That's how it all – it seems that it's been working my whole life towards something. It's weird how that feels, because when I moved to Little Rock in the 80s, the late 80s, I was real fortunate to get to have a dream teacher, Susan Sim Smith. I really didn't have much influence about my own – investigating my own self. That was a first. I didn't speak up. I was in a group of women for a year before I would even speak. I was a little – you think I'm shy now.
[0:31:23.1] KM: I do.
[0:31:24.1] AD: I was practically a mute.
[0:31:26.7] KM: A mute.
[0:31:27.7] AD: Yes. Anyway, in the south it's interesting when you are around women, because there's a lot of competition sometimes, but with this group, I was safe. Anyway.
[0:31:41.5] KM: You started buying them in 2004, I believe and you bought all the way up to – you started buying placemaking and buying all the way up, until you bought the Esse Purse Museum in what year, the building that it's in?
[0:31:52.0] AD: Oh, that was 2011.
[0:31:53.3] KM: From 2011 you bought the Esse Purse Museum. Was that the last building you bought?
[0:31:56.6] AD: Yes.
[0:31:58.0] KM: How did that come about?
[0:31:59.3] AD: Well, I had a traveling exhibit that travelled the United States from 2006 to 2011. It started in Concord, Massachusetts and it ended up in Seattle. It went to a lot of history, small history museums in between and it came to a ham here, historic Arkansas Museum. Bill Worthen rented it. He rented it again, because he said it was the best attended special exhibit that they had. That gave me a clue that whenever it came back from this traveling exhibit, that it might be a good idea to plant it in the SOMA area.
[0:32:43.4] KM: The name of that exhibit was The Purse and the Person; A Century of Women's Purses.
[0:32:48.5] AD: Yes. That was right.
[0:32:50.2] KM: I've never known anybody that had a traveling exhibit ever. Do you get paid to – do people pay you for your exhibit?
[0:32:56.5] AD: No, you don't. You have to pay the curators yourself. It’s an awful lot of work, because –
[0:33:06.1] KM: I bet.
[0:33:07.6] AD: - it is all packed up, it's identified correctly and it's shown, then they curate it and then they put it in a semi-trailer truck. Then they rent it in all these different places. Many of the exhibit companies have went out of business. That was between 2006 and 2011. 2008 was really hard on that business.
[0:33:35.2] KM: Why?
[0:33:36.0] AD: The economy.
[0:33:37.9] KM: Oh, that's right. 2008, the banking crisis.
[0:33:39.9] AD: Right. Anyway, I knew that if I ever wanted to do anything with the purses, it would give it good promotion that collection.
[0:33:56.0] KM: Tell me how you started collecting purses.
[0:33:58.7] AD: Well, let's see. My mother was quite a fashionista, a clotheshorse and she loved to shop. I was an only child and dragged along past after her. I learned a lot about accessories and shoes and purses and all that.
[0:34:18.3] KM: How many closets did this woman have, or a room. A room.
[0:34:22.6] AD: Yeah. Anyway.
[0:34:26.4] KM: She started really collecting.
[0:34:28.4] AD: Well, she just bought, because she didn't like anything old necessarily. She just wanted new things. Somehow, I got the gene for an old thing. Anyway, I would go to the flea market, but I recognized the quality that my mother taught me, so that's I guess – when you go to a flea market and you see things that other people don't value but you value, you get excited about it, especially if it's not where you are expecting to find it.
[0:34:59.2] KM: Why purses?
[0:35:00.7] AD: I don't know. I don't know. What I do know is looking back, I was being taught when I moved here about the feminine, the divine feminine all in the – Susan was really teaching me all this stuff. Then I was learning how to interact with women in a healthy way. Then I realized that I was collecting a container for the feminine, but I had no idea that any of that was really – I mean, this sounds so crazy, but it's a truth and it's the way it happened.
[0:35:36.6] KM: The divine feminine. Is that a phrase that can be Googled?
[0:35:41.2] AD: Yes.
[0:35:43.6] KM: I think we should put that on the website, the divine feminine. It led you to where you are today. I've heard you call this in the South Main, the feminine area of Little Rock.
[0:35:53.3] AD: Yes, because I feel it's a warm and friendly place and it is something that has – this whole area has suffered and I feel like it is a part that really is in need of nurturing and a woman is a nurturer by usually.
[0:36:17.0] KM: Can't help it. You can’t help it.
[0:36:18.2] AD: Nope.
[0:36:19.5] KM: If it's broken, we'll fix it.
[0:36:20.8] AD: Try to anyway.
[0:36:22.0] KM: We’ll try to anyway. Root Cafe is renovated and they’re in at the corner of Main and 15th or 16th or where is that?
[0:36:30.7] AD: 15 Main.
[0:36:32.5] KM: 15th in Main. Now you decided to buy the building right next door, because your – the person, a century-old woman's persons, your traveling exhibit has done so well, you think there's a need for this. You put it in. We have to say the Huffington Post once you did put it in, included it in their list of the world's hottest museums.
[0:36:52.6] AD: In 2014. Yeah, that was exciting.
[0:36:54.8] KM: You were right. You were right, because they – I mean, that's nothing to sneeze about. You decided to buy this building and started working on it in 2011. Tell us about that.
[0:37:03.5] AD: Well, it was Stage Works and John Cook was ready to – he really could do his work not on Main Street necessarily and he was willing to sell his building. He rented back from me for about a year, because I wasn't quite ready to go after that building to redo it.
[0:37:22.3] KM: Tackle the renovation.
[0:37:23.7] AD: Yes. Then we opened in 2013, in July.
[0:37:30.8] KM: What do you think, so it's the divine feminine, and was that just your driving goal, or was it a driving goal to do something with your collection so that you could display it, or what do you think the driving goal was that made it come together?
[0:37:45.9] AD: I think sharing it was important, because women are not. There's not another Women's History Museum. Basically, that's what it is. Women, it's such a timely manner. We need to celebrate ourselves and honor ourselves. That's what this building is about. We are showing the challenges that women have had throughout the time. We show history decade by decade and we have through 1900 to 2000.
We show purses, what might have been in the purses, photographs of women holding their purses and then a brief history. You can see in the case where the teens is World War I and it's a very drab somber time and the purses reflect that. Then in the 20s, it's more fun and people are wearing makeup, and so there's makeup in the purses and smoking accessories.
[0:38:48.3] KM: My favorite.
[0:38:49.0] AD: Yeah, all kinds of fabulous things. Then 30s also was – it was trying, but women, I went to Washington DC not – well, two or three years ago and there were all kinds of statues and sculptures and everything all about men. It was as if women. I didn't see very many women, things that honored women.
[0:39:17.8] KM: I never thought about that.
[inaudible 0:39:19.9] not even up there?
[0:39:22.5] AD: I took the tour. The thing that you can go through the little trolley. Even the person that was giving us the story, the history of our nation –
[0:39:33.3] KM: Left out women.
[0:39:34.2] AD: Well, we did play a small role. We were the hostess.
[0:39:42.2] KM: I do love doing that, I must say. That is nice to be the hostess. Yeah, I think we've done more than that.
[0:39:48.6] AD: Yeah.
[0:39:49.2] KM: I have to say, prior to birth control, which you and I remember, it was hard for us to do a lot.
[0:39:56.1] AD: Yes, of course. Yes.
[0:39:57.7] KM: Once birth control happened in the 60s, women's lives changed dramatically.
[0:40:03.6] AD: Let me tell you this, people donate to our museum. Their grandmother's purses are there. Then when they come in, they tell us the stories. There was a woman who was an artist and she – her daughter, she had just died and her daughter brought these three fabulous purses in and she was telling me about her mother's life. That she paid her own way to school in Denton, Texas. Then she got her – she graduated and she wanted to buy a car and she couldn't buy a car, so she had to move back and get her dad to buy her car, but she paid for it.
I mean, she just moved right on. It was as if she didn't have a lot of hurdles. Then another woman brought her mom's – her great-great grandmother's things and her grandmother, however she was related, learned she was born in the 20s and she learned to fly an airplane and she had her own airplane. This is Arkansas people
[0:41:14.0] KM: Then there's Katharine Hepburn. There were a lot of women who really were progressive. There was even the – I just watched her biography and boy, this is when I needed him to help me pull these things out of the air. There was a biography I watched on TV, about a woman actress who invented the –
[0:41:34.7] AD: Marlene Dietrich, I bet.
[0:41:36.5] KM: No, but you're getting really close. All right, we're not going to torture anybody.
[0:41:40.6] J: Have you guys heard of –
[0:41:41.7] KM: Turn your mic on. Turn your mic on.
[0:41:44.7] J: Have you guys heard of
[inaudible 0:41:45.8] City Sioux?
[0:41:47.6] AD: No.
[0:41:49.3] J: Have you ever watched Mash and the scene there where they have the clips of the radio show with the woman preaching against the war? Well, that's actually a woman from Arkansas.
[0:41:57.4] AD: Really?
[0:41:57.8] KM: Well, there you go. We got one more.
[0:41:59.0] J: That’s based on a woman from Arkansas.
[0:42:01.0] KM: Well, we have to look her up.
[0:42:01.9] AD: Yeah, we will.
[0:42:03.2] KM: I want to take this time to tell everybody you're listening to Up In your Business with me, Kerry McCoy. I'm speaking today with Anita Davis. We're about our time, so we're not going to go to a break. Tell us what your favorite purse is.
[0:42:14.7] AD: I love a purse that's black flannel and it has a great big safety pin. It's like this big for the handle and it’s fast.
[0:42:25.6] KM: That’s 12 inches you all. She’s holding up 12 inches. It’s the radio.
[0:42:29.8] AD: It’s this big.
[0:42:33.9] KM: All right, so it’s how wide? 2-feet wide with a 12-inch safety pin on the front?
[0:42:39.2] AD: Well, it's not really 2-feet wide. It's deep. It looks like –
[0:42:44.6] KM: A diaper.
[0:42:46.4] AD: Audrey Hepburn would have carried it. It's very beautiful and elegant.
[0:42:51.9] KM: I love the plastic persons stamp at the top, that I guess they're probably the 40s.
[0:42:55.9] AD: Yes.
[0:42:56.6] KM: They don't carry enough today, because today you almost need a briefcase, or a backpack to carry all the stuff you want to carry. I find that very disheartening, because I want to put a person on with my outfit and you almost have to have a person's out of a purse.
[0:43:11.3] AD: Right. You can lay your purse at Esse and then you are admonished if it's real heavy.
[0:43:17.5] KM: Is that true? That's funny.
[0:43:20.0] AD: Because you hurt your back.
[0:43:21.3] KM: That's right. Do you carry a lot of different purses, or do you like everybody else –
[0:43:27.9] AD: I'm very much like everybody else, because I have so many purses. Occasionally in the store, there'll be one that I think I have to wear this and I just love this one. Before I opened, I'd carried the same let's see, shoulder bag, I guess it was and for about 10 years.
[0:43:50.2] KM: When is a bag too heavy? What's the weight that you –
[0:43:54.3] AD: I can’t remember.
[0:43:54.5] KM: - that you would say. Okay. What’s the word esse? I looked up the word esse for Esse Purse. I thought maybe it was your mother's name.
[0:43:59.8] AD: No, no. It means ‘to be’ in Latin and a woman's purse holds who she is, her essence. You can smell a woman's purse, I mean, if you remember what your mom's purse smell like. Mine was tea rose. My mother's purse was tea rose. You can just remember her essence, and so a woman's purse is really important as far as holding her identity.
[0:44:27.5] KM: I think mine smells like dirty diapers half of my life. I do. I was like, “Oh, yeah.” What's next? I know you got something next. Don't tell me you don't, because I know you do.
[0:44:41.6] AD: Look, she's not one to know if she's going to tell us or not. To be continued. To be continued. You started the cornbread festival, because you grew up eating cornbread.
[0:44:52.0] AD: Plus this neighborhood is similar to what I grew up with. It feels that this could be – it's a cornbread’s heritage. It's something that we can all remember, and you all can't remember. A lot of the people in this room can't remember, but –
[0:45:09.4] KM: They don’t eat cornbread anymore.
[0:45:10.3] AD: They don't eat cornbread anymore.
[0:45:12.3] KM: They’re too affluent. America is too affluent.
[0:45:15.0] AD: Right. Anyway, cornbread is good and it's part of the slow food movement and eating vegetables along with your cornbread. We'll do it until we don't.
[0:45:30.3] KM: What's your legacy? What do you want your legacy to be?
[0:45:35.1] AD: I don't really even like thinking about my legacy. It's you live your life and then other people can figure out what it is that was important. I have two fabulous daughters. One lives in Santa Fe and one lives in New Orleans. Just talked to them most days and enjoy watching them grow with their wisdom and their interest in their eccentricities and all that. I think that will be decided by other people maybe the legacy.
[0:46:09.6] KM: I drove down South Main on my way here, because people don't know this, KABF is on Main Street at 22nd or 21st and Main. All of your good work is between 14th and 15th in Main. I drove down Main Street on the way here and I noticed how absolutely thriving and clean like you said, and just full of activity and there were people everywhere. I thought to myself, “I would be so proud of myself if I was you.”
[0:46:42.3] AD: Well, look at all the people. Okay, Joe Fox has been there the entire time and he's right there at the – and just like these other fellows are at the other end. Then we have Rock Town Distillery that's just come in. John Brandenburg is working with Joe Fox at community bakery. We have a new t-shirt shop, the escape place reinvented vintage, I believe, in South on Main, the restaurant and Oxford American. There's just so many Rodina of the – Then John Bell and Chris Clement. I would just go on and on and on and it's so wonderful to –
[0:47:21.2] KM: It's very much like you said. You've got the drugstore down there, you've got a grocery store down there, you've got restaurants down there, you've got a green space down there. Do you live downtown now?
[0:47:32.5] AD: I don't. I live in the same house that I've lived in for 30 years. Yeah. I love my house, but I'm not as social as –
[0:47:42.9] KM: You're shy. You are shy.
[0:47:44.5] AD: Well, I'm an introvert basically. That helps me to keep – to have enough time to keep myself sane.
[0:47:54.9] KM: Right. Right, you need to get away from it. If you were going to tell yourself of 20 years ago something, or 40 years ago or something, what would it be? That's always a hard one.
[0:48:08.3] AD: Figure out who you are.
[0:48:10.5] KM: Do more dream work. I think that dream work, you've mentioned it several times, really opens you up.
[0:48:15.1] AD: Yeah, it’s important. Important to me. I was raised Baptist and I was taught about dreams in that religion.
[0:48:25.2] KM: In the Baptist religion?
[0:48:26.7] AD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not to the union extent, but it made it okay, because I was very trying to do the right thing. It did open up a whole world for me that taught me things that I feel have impressed on me for all my life.
[0:48:45.6] KM: The Bible is full of dreams.
[0:48:47.7] AD: Yes.
[0:48:48.5] KM: It really is. We had a woman in here not too long ago who lost her Madonna Badger and she lost her three daughters and her mother and her father in a house fire, then Christmas Eve the night before.
[0:49:01.7] AD: Oh, in New York.
[0:49:02.7] KM: Yes. She was on the radio show about a month ago and she come on and she said that the turning point for her or was one day when she was in her bathroom crying and looked in the mirror and said – and we had this out-of-body experience and she said that woman in the mirror is in so much pain. She said, “It didn't even look like me.” She said and while she's staring at this woman in the mirror thinking, “Wow, that woman's her,” her children, her deceased children and mother and father came around her in the mirror and told her that it was okay, and that dreams were more real than life.
[0:49:41.1] AD: I love it.
[0:49:42.0] KM: She said from that point on, she began to get well. All right, it's the end of the show. I've got a present for you. I usually give people a flag, but for you I'm giving a purse of course from Arkansas Flag and Banner.
[0:49:54.0] AD: I love it.
[0:49:55.1] KM: It's a black and white American flag over the shoulder purse.
[0:49:59.1] AD: I love it.
[0:50:00.1] KM: Thank you. It's you. Beyonce made this black and white flag image popular on her tour. What was that tour called Matthew? You went to Beyonce's concert where she wore black and white. You remember the name of the tour? No. What was it?
[0:50:15.2] M: The one she had Jay-Z, whatever that means.
[0:50:17.1] KM: Whatever. She did a tour of Jay-Z. Nobody knows. I need Tim, my tribute guy here to tell me all that stuff. Anyway, she made black and white American flags really popular, so it's a sign of the times. Thank you so much for coming on.
[0:50:32.3] AD: Thank you so much, Kerry. It's fun to tell your story.
[0:50:35.2] KM: It was great to hear your story. Man, oh man, you're an inspiration to all of us. Jesse, who's our guest next week?
[0:50:41.0] J: Steve Clark.
[0:50:42.5] KM: Oh, yeah. I've known Steve Clark a long time. We were acquaintances. He probably doesn't remember this, but I know him because he was the Attorney General in the 1980s for Arkansas. He actually is today the executive director for Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce and he's knocking it out of the ballpark people.
I think something interesting about him is he and Bill Clinton, I read this on his Wikipedia page, he and Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham before she was Hillary Rodham-Clinton were all in law school at Fayetteville together. I know, talk about small world. He almost ran for governor in 1990 against his friend, Bill Clinton. Crazy guy. That politics, it doesn't care does it? I don’t care if you’re best friends or not. I’m going to run against you in the next election, but he didn't. I just want to tell everybody out there if you've got a great entrepreneurial story that you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Send a brief bio and your contact info to –
[0:51:39.6] J: Questions@upyourbusiness.com.
[0:51:43.8] KM: That's questions with an S. Finally to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you're right, but it's also been for me. Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny. My hope today is that you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening and that it whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life.
I’m Kerry McCoy and I'll see you next time on Up In your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:52:21.3] J: You’re listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. If you’d like to hear this program again, next week go to flagandbanner.com, click the tab labeled “Radio Show” and there you’ll find the podcast with links to resources you heard discussed on today’s show.
Kerry’s goal, to help you live the American Dream.