Neighborhood enjoying new boom, station to station

January 27 - February 2, 2020

By Dwain Hebda


Jesse Perez shifts in his seat and inspects the work before him carefully. The artist, one-half of Love Spell Tattoo, studies the inside of the patron’s forearm he’s inking. Hip-hop music flows through a speaker overhead and cascades down over a wall full of sample artwork for customers to consider. Perez comes in close and adds some outline, his implement buzzing. “We’ve been getting a lot of support from the neighborhood,” Perez says, his eyes tracing his line. “[The shop] is easy to get to; all of our clients have had no trouble finding it. Markham street is heavy with traffic and that’s what we wanted … we wanted to be somewhere that had heavy traffic all the time. That’s easy to achieve on Markham.”


Perez straightens up and glances out the windows of the 400-square-foot shop, open since last summer. His assessment of the traffic is apt – multiple cars whiz by a few feet from his front door with each change of the traffic light overhead. He smiles. “I think what sold me was the charm of the building,” he said. “The building’s almost 100 years old and it’s hard to find this style of space, you know? The exposed brick, the big open windows. That’s the vibe we wanted for our business.”


Love Spell is symbolic of the new energy that’s coming to Stifft Station, a small midtown Little Rock neighborhood of some 1,500 homes and a clutch of businesses just west of downtown. Often lumped in with Capitol View to the east, the neighborhood is an eclectic mix both in architecture and in attitude, fiercely proud of its heritage while embracing new investment and ideas. 


“Well I chose this neighborhood on purpose because I wanted to have my store in a walking neighborhood. I wanted to be in a place where people could come from their houses, not have to get in the car,” said Cindy Booth, owner of Stifft Station Gifts, another relatively new addition to the business district. “I wanted to see kids grow up in the neighborhood; I’m seeing that and that’s wonderful.”


“What it is, actually, is an old timey kind of neighborhood where people know each other. There’s a real mix of age groups and ethnicities. And I would say the demographics are just all over the place,” said Booth. 


According to documents of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Stifft Station Historic District, bounded by West Markham, West Seventh, Woodrow Street and Martin Streets, includes portions of eight additions to the city platted between 1890 and 1926. The neighborhood’s namesake, Charles S. Stifft, was among investors who, in 1898, brought those eight additions into being (the “Station” refers to a streetcar stop that existed at Markham and what is now Kavanaugh Boulevard). Construction of the neighborhood reached its peak in the 1920s. 


Joel Tvedten, broker and owner of River Rock Realty, has lived in Stifft Station at various points in his life, as well as located his real estate office here. He said Stifft is attractive to new residents because it offers many of the same features as other historic neighborhoods without the sticker shock. “One thing that you find with buyers of owner-occupied homes in Capitol View and Stifft Station, some of those folks like the location for one, but also to be close to Hillcrest,” he said. “Hillcrest really has that electric vibe and a better walking score. But if you can’t afford it – with Hillcrest going up to $200 a foot on some streets – we’re still around $125 in Stifft Station. So you can still have that historic cottage with the front porch living in Stifft Station and walk up to Hillcrest if you want.”


Increasingly, however, Stifft Station is finding itself the destination, thanks to new businesses and rehabbed stalwarts alike. Stone’s Throw, a Little Rock microbrewery, opened its second taproom here and new ownership of both Pizza D’Action and Oyster Bar are breathing new life – and bringing new customers – into these longtime spots. The atmosphere is so full of possibility that even though the popular coffee shop The Meteor recently departed for Northwest Arkansas, no one around here seems too concerned the prime corner location will stay empty for long.


The neighborhood isn’t without its challenges, though. The homeowner improvements that have shined up bungalows and craftsman-style homes closer to Markham haven’t reached all the way to blocks abutting I-630 or UAMS yet. And traffic flow is a doubled-edged sword – great for getting people here, but tough on parking space and foot traffic once they arrive, to say nothing of the families who live here.


“The fact of the matter is, there are children that live south of Markham in Stifft Station that go to school at Pulaski Heights north of Markham,” Tvedten said. “Quite frankly, there’s not a safe place to cross the street. I think the speed limit is 35, but people do more like 55 and those are blind little hills.”


To that end, the neighborhood association has lobbied the city for a “street diet” which would change the lane structure of Markham through the neighborhood. A street diet refers to changing a thoroughfare by reducing lanes, creating a turning lane, converting a lane to bike traffic only or some other means to reduce vehicular speed and increase safety among various types of traffic and pedestrians. The proposal came to life in 2018 when during a four-week stretch cones were placed and new striping was done to create a center lane between one westbound and one eastbound lane on Markham from Kavanaugh Boulevard to Cedar Street. During this time, merchants leveraged the reclaimed street area as part of its annual PopUp in the Rock to give people a taste of the neighborhood should the proposal ultimately come to pass.


“It’s definitely a place, I think, that is a good investment for a first-time home buyer to purchase a home,” Tvedten said. “Once they settle that road diet issue, hopefully that does come to fruition, then you’re probably going to see property values increase. I emphasize that word ‘probably’ as a broker, because I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’d expect that would bring property values up.” Even as the street diet proposal winds its way through channels, residents and business owners alike remain high on the neighborhood’s mushrooming potential.   


PHOTO CAPTIONS: (PhotoS by Dwain Hedba) 


1. Feast your eyes upon the trolley mural by Little Rock artist Matt McLeod as it graces the wall of the 1931 Allen Building, situated in the heart of Stifft Station. As the neighborhood flourishes, take a deep dive into the slew of businesses and economic developments that are shaping Stifft Station. 


2.  Jesse Perez of Love Spell Tattoo works on a client’s artwork. The shop opened last summer in Little Rock’s Stifft Station neighborhood.


3.  Street signs grace a block-long commercial district in Stifft Station, one of which includes real estate office River Rock Realty.


4.  The view inside Stifft Station Gifts, featuring many items made by Arkansas craftspeople.


5. A portrait of Johnny Cash stares out from a mural in front of the Oyster Bar restaurant in Stifft Station.


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