Fun, Free, and Just a Step Away

Without the Third Friday Art Walk in Argenta, I would never have discovered Bang-up Betty.

Housed in a second-floor space above Ristorante Capeo (formerly occupied by Greg Thompson Fine Art), it’s a bright boutique with unique, cheerful and affordable gifts and jewelry, mostly created by local artisans. ‘Arkansas.

It’s where you’ll find hand-stamped and cast jewelry, greeting cards, smart t-shirts, memorable stickers, charming enamel pins, apparel, and other gifts that support local artists.

The important word here is “affordable”. It’s the kind of store that, casually inspecting its shelves, you’ll see something that specifically reminds you of a friend, co-worker, relative, neighbor you know will be thrilled to have, even for no particular reason.

Plus: the price is right.

One of my favorite places in the store is a section of stylish, lightly worn women’s clothing. “Where do you find them?” I asked store owner and jeweler Stacey Bowers. She smiled. “Out of my closet. Luckily we wear the same size and it tastes better than mine. It’s like having a personal shopper.

In an interview with arhub.org, Bowers says she started Bang-up Betty (named after her cat) in 2013. I’m naturally one to have a nervous backup plan, so it took me many years to feel comfortable enough to know: No, I have this, this is what I want to do, this is what I need to do, and get out there and finally do it.”

His motives? “I feel like Arkansas is just a place where everywhere there’s a small-town vibe and people want to come see you in person and shop in person,” she says. “I wanted a space like, ‘Yeah, you can come here to this store called Bang-up Betty and see everything. It’s nice to finally have a showroom to display my entire collection.’

And, like most Third Friday Art Walk venues, Bang-up Betty welcomes visitors with well-behaved dogs. Like me, with mine.

Another Walk favorite, which takes place from 5-8 p.m., is across the street at the Argenta Library. Kathy Sama, the branch manager who looks after the library’s art exhibits, has an incredible eye; every exhibit I’ve seen there has been eye-opening, and the artist is almost always there, welcoming visitors and happy to talk about his work.

Additional attractions include the chance to enjoy a glass of wine, a platter of snacks, the company of welcoming staff members, and the chance to meet and greet other lovers of locally produced art.

We also like to stop by CustomXM, a digital and print marketing and design company located on Seventh and Main streets that does everything from printing your company name on a bag to coordinating direct mail campaigns, social media, emails and websites. President Paul Strack, his son Michael Strack and daughter Amanda Strack, and friendly canine companion Mottley are welcoming and good company. Examples of the company’s work are on display, and the adult snacks and drinks are great.

Other occasional art walk participants include Argenta Gallery, Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, Argenta Counseling, North Little Rock Heritage Center, ACANSA Gallery, and Thea Foundation. Everything is free.

An Argenta Distric Art Walk Passport offers a reward for having a good time; it encourages visitors to collect stamps at each participating site, then turn in the passport at the last stop and enter a draw for a $25 gift certificate to Brood and Barley or Bang-Up Betty.

Want more? The same stretch of Main Street in North Little Rock offers Dogtown Throwdown the second weekend of every month from April through October. From Friday 4 p.m. to Saturday 10 p.m., a few blocks off Main Street cut traffic to set up tables shaded by umbrellas, as well as Baggo boards and other street games.

The many places in the area – including Cregeen’s, Skinny J’s, Reno’s Cafe, Brood and Barley, Four Quarter Bar (which serves poutine, which I fell in love with during a visit to Montreal a few years ago, as well minced pork, which you won’t find on many other menus) and Crush Wine Bar – move service outside, allowing visitors to purchase food and drinks, sit inside one of the tables and enjoy live music and people watching.

I remain a big fan of Second Friday Art Night across the river in Little Rock, with exhibition openings at The Galleries & Bookstore in Library Square, live music upstairs and local beer downstairs at the Historic Arkansas Museum (my favorite stop, especially when they’re serving products from Jacksonville’s Blade and Barrel Brewing Co.), Old State House Museum, and other participating locations in and around the River Market from 5-8 p.m.

But Argenta is closer to home. And you know where the heart is.

Karen Martin is the editor of Perspective.

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