Who among us hasn’t rushed into Dillard’s near closing time to grab a nearly forgotten gift for a friend? Or gone to Walmart in the wee hours of a frantic night when we couldn’t sleep? While there are certainly advantages to chain stores (especially those based in Arkansas), there’s something about shopping local that’s both charming and fruitful.
Fort Smith is flush with mom-and-pop shops and eateries run by owners who become our friends. We spend money that stays in our hometown. We help businesses that keep a close eye on the bottom line while giving us the best deals they can.
But more than that, these local shops have the most extraordinary products that make our lives happier, healthier, and keep our little part of the world a whole lot brighter.
The Market by Black Bison
8434 Phoenix Avenue
The Market by The Park
3400 Rogers Avenue
For those who know Fort Smith, The Market by Black Bison is in the old Movie Town location, which was the city’s last video rental store. Now, the airy space is populated by things you knew you needed and those you’ll soon discover you can’t live without. The 4,500-square-foot shop opened in November 2023, just in time for the holiday shopping season.
Owners Carey Thompson and Josh Palmer also have the nearby Black Bison Gift Shop on Eighty-seventh Street and are co-owners at The Market by the Park/Sweet Bay Café. And, of course, they’re the force behind Black Bison Coffee.
The Market by Black Bison is the perfect place to find gifts for those you love (or want to impress). Wow the foodie in your life who throws around words like chiffonade and flambe. Get a new toy for your four-legged friend. And, okay, grab a few things for yourself.
Gorgeous teapots sit beside a display of some of the most colorful handcrafted wooden spoons you’ve ever seen. Against one wall is a cabinet devoted to the Italian appliance maker SMEG. State-of-the-art machines shine, especially a pink electric tea kettle that will make you swoon. Reusable towels meant to replace paper towels come rolled on a holder. They sit next to a potholder with the image of a 1950s housewife holding a pie. The caption reads: You Wanna Piece of This?
Rows of specialty foods fill the shelves near the front, next to Razorback mugs and a selection of food-related books. Then, there’s the actual food. Olivelle infused olive oils and barrel-aged balsamic vinegars. Rows of sauces, spices, and mixes like Soberdough Brew Bread. Take-and-bake meals that are made at the Sweet Bay Café and brought to The Market by Black Bison. Things like Baked Spaghetti, Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken Alfredo, and meatless options. Plus, meats and cheeses, fresh eggs, Loblolly ice cream, even coffee cake. In the works is a deli and a wine section. Josh and Carey have added several products at the suggestions of customers, an interaction that makes them happy.
After you’ve had your fill, walk over to Black Bison Gift Shop for even more treasures.
Olde Fashioned Foods
123 North 18th Street
8434 Phoenix Avenue
In the space next to The Market by Black Bison is one of Olde Fashioned Food’s two locations. The other shop is at 123 North Eighteenth Street. Step inside either store, and you’ll be greeted with that wholesome, earthy scent: a mix of vitamins, herbs, essential oils, organic produce, blackstrap molasses, and handcrafted soaps and candles, I suspect. Whatever the combination, it marks the entrance to a magical place.
The family-owned business started in 1959, long before the nationwide health food movement, in the garage of Mary Adams’ parents’ home on Free Ferry. This year marks the sixty-fifth anniversary of this iconic Fort Smith brand.
You’ll find organic meats, vegetables and fruits, vegan and vegetarian options, frozen meals, cheese, milk, eggs. Staples you’d expect in a natural grocery store. There is also a large section of vitamins, minerals, and skin products. Lately, mushroom coffee has been flying off the shelf alongside castor oil products (touted to accelerate eyelash and eyebrow growth), as well as turmeric, omega 3s, collagen, immune support products, and local honey.
If you’re used to natural food shops, you’ll feel right at home at Olde Fashioned Foods. If you’re not, the experience will broaden your horizons. The staff is always available to help. Soon you’ll be discussing kefir and fermented vegetables with the best of them.
Mary is overwhelmed by the gratitude Fort Smith has shown her family over the decades, and as Olde Fashioned Foods enters its sixty-fifth year, she’s proud of the connection her family has with the good people of the River Valley.
Farmers Market Direct
Inside The Shops at Brick City
3215 South 74th Street
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Josh Bice says he and Dr. Sean Baker began talking about the traditional systems that brought us our food and necessities. You probably remember the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 and seeing store shelves depleted of ordinary items. As they discussed the state of the world and its delivery systems, they knew there had to be a better way of connecting local people with local food.
That was the beginning of Farmers Market Direct, owned by Dr. Sean and Erica Baker, and Josh and Kim Bice.
Today, Farmers Market Direct offers 750 products sourced locally and regionally and offered through the website farmersmarketdirect.com. Dry goods and items with a longer shelf life are sold at their shop inside Brick City. Ordering is easy on the website, and there is a limited delivery service that runs on Fridays. For those not on the circuit, orders are available to be picked up at 6500 U.S. Highway 71 on Tuesdays. (See website for more information.)
The beauty of this business model is that it connects local farmers, ranchers, bakers, and gourmet shops with customers they might never otherwise reach. For example, your order can include produce from a nearby farmer, beef from a local rancher, bread from a top-notch bakery like Harvest Moon, free-range eggs, pickled vegetables, or already prepared foods like roast and vegetables.
There are also subscriptions available for farm-direct basics. Josh says the business has grown past his expectations, and it has proven to him how vital it is to eat local. Now, he says, it’s easier than ever.
LOCAL FARMERS MARKETS
Fort Smith Farmers Market (open all year round)
44 North 2nd Street
Saturdays, 8:00am – Noon
Fresh, locally grown produce, handmade goods, home-raised meats.
Van Buren Main Street Farmers Market and Makers Market
833 Main Street
Produce from farmers within a 50-mile radius, as well as other handmade products and art.
Second and Fourth Saturday from April through the second week of November.
Greenwood Farmers Market
Greenwood Town Square
May 18, June 15, July 20, August 17, September 21 – 8:00am – Noon
Produce, herbs, coffee, flowers, hand-dyed yarn, soup, food trucks, kids’ entertainment, and much more.