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Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA

steven@stripepage.com

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Fort Smith Downtown, AR (Source: Wikimedia)

The City That Has Everything – Fort Smith, Arkansas

Hey there y’all! So I moved to the Fort Smith, Arkansas area from sunny Vacaville, California just over a month ago (I live in a suburb of Fort Smith called Barling.) I run my web design business from home, so it wasn’t really necessary for me to find an employer before I moved here, but I did need to know what it was like! Even though I did a fair bit of research before I got here, I still ended up being surprised by what I discovered, so I thought I would give you the low-down on what it’s like to live here and what’s available for you to enjoy. 

A Little Background…

Until recently, Fort Smith was the second largest city (by population) in Arkansas. It just recently got beat out by Fayetteville. In case you’re wondering, here’s a quick breakdown of the largest 3 cities in Arkansas. 

1. Little Rock – Pop. 204,405 

2. Fayetteville – Pop. 98,023

3. Fort Smith – Pop. 89,728 

Note: The above stats are based on the 2020 U.S. Census.

When I was deciding if Fort Smith would be a good place to live, I checked out some videos and, aside from some cool murals, honestly, it looked pretty boring. There was a tourist-centered video on YouTube that the city put together, and it made me think there was nothing but a few museums and some downtown restaurants. It also looked as though there weren’t any of the typical chains like Panda Express or Wingstop or anything like that. Why? Because the City of Fort Smith markets the area as “Where the New South Meets the Old West.” I question that decision. 

The thing is, I’ve only lived here for a little over a month and I haven’t seen anything that makes me think of the “New South” or the “Old West.” Quite frankly, I don’t even know what “New South” might mean. Maybe I haven’t got out enough, but I notice that Fort Smith pretty much rocks. They should change the motto to “Fort Smith – The city that has everything.” It’s true! The only thing this place lacks in terms of businesses is a Costco, but they’ve got Sam’s Club to (closely) make up for it. Also, it’s naturally beautiful here, with tall trees and lots of grass. But that goes for Arkansas in general. After all, it’s not called “The Natural State” for nothing. I will say though, where in the world are all the flowers? You have to hunt down flowers like truffles around here! 

Fort Smith Gets an ‘A+’ for Convenience

In my opinion, convenience is Fort Smith’s number one benefit. Name a type of business and you will find it in Fort Smith, and not only that, it’s convenient to get to as well! Almost every major chain sets up shop on Rogers Ave. That means you only have to travel down one street (which admittedly should have more lanes) to get to Lowe’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Panda Express, Freddy’s, Kohl’s, Cane’s Chicken Fingers, and some other businesses.

There’s also a huge variety of “mom and pop” restaurants on Rogers Ave and plenty of ethnic foods. There is a notable little Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Vietnam that resides in an old gas station – a trend we might be seeing more of in the future with the adoption of electric cars. There is also a cool-looking ramen joint called Ninja Japanese Express that I still want to try. Hey! It looks like they need a website, so if one of you ninjas is reading, hit me up!

In my opinion, convenience is Fort Smith’s number one benefit. Name a type of business and you will find it in Fort Smith, and not only that, it’s convenient to get to as well! Almost every major chain sets up shop on Rogers Ave. That means you only have to travel down one street (which admittedly should have more lanes) to get to Lowe’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Panda Express, Freddy’s, Kohl’s, Cane’s Chicken Fingers, and some other businesses.

Northwest Arkansas web design

Fort Smith Downtown, AR (Source: Wikimedia)

There’s also a huge variety of “mom and pop” restaurants on Rogers Ave and plenty of ethnic foods. There is a notable little Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Vietnam that resides in an old gas station – a trend we might be seeing more of in the future with the adoption of electric cars. There is also a cool-looking ramen joint called Ninja Japanese Express that I still want to try. Hey! It looks like they need a website, so if one of you ninjas are reading, hit me up!

Starting a Business in Fort Smith

As I mentioned before, I’m a full-time web designer that works from home, so I feel for those who want to have their own business and need fertile soil where they can grow too! If you’re looking to set up a shop, you’ll be happy to know there are a lot of small businesses here and plenty of places still available to rent as well.

As far as commercial rent rates go, a cursory look at the current prices seems like they average about $10-$12 a square foot per year, which means an 1800 sq ft place would cost you about $1500 a month (at $10 an sq ft). If you’re interested in starting a business in Fort Smith, the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce assists both established and new companies, and the chamber can help with info on taxation, insurance, and stuff like that (Livability). 

If you’re looking to start a business in Fort Smith that is in demand, then you might want to consider anything in the home improvement category. The wait for a typical contractor or handyman is currently one or two months. That includes bathroom refinishers and glazers – we know from experience, and we’ve also asked around. 

Now, there is one particular business that I think might be a bad idea to start here, and that is a nail salon. The market here is pretty saturated. There are like two nail salons per corner, and this has driven the price of a manicure to pretty historic lows. I know because my wife is a manicurist, and she’s always saying, “Only $25 for a pedicure… man!” (Manicurists get a percentage of the retail price, usually about 55%.) There are a lot of Vietnamese people in the area, and that’s probably why there are so many nail salons. The Vietnamese population is a big plus for us since my wife is Vietnamese, and it’s also been great for my mother-in-law (who doesn’t speak English) to meet other Vietnamese people. 

Fort Smith is the Manufacturing Hub of Arkansas

Maybe you want to start the next Chobani Yogurt or Ikea – be better than Ikea, please! Did you know that there are more goods produced in Fort Smith than anywhere else in Arkansas? Even international companies like Gerber Foods, Whirlpool, and Rheem have facilities in Fort Smith. 

Why is Fort Smith popular with manufacturers? Maybe the transportation advantages. The Arkansas River envelops the city on three sides which provides valuable shipping options. The trucking industry has Interstate 40 and 49 that run through the region. And finally, companies that ship by rail can move their goods via Kansas City Southern Railway or the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad.

Shopping Destinations

In our family, we do a good amount of shopping online, but we still do a lot at big box stores. I don’t know what people are looking for when they go “shopping,” but I assume they are mainly looking for clothes. For that, people think of the mall or perhaps Burlington, Ross, or Kohl’s – we have all of them in Fort Smith! The Central Mall in Fort Smith is the largest indoor mall in Arkansas, and honestly looking from the outside it just looks like an ordinary mall – it even looks a little run down. 

Central Mall has lost a lot of its luster (at least partially due to COVID) but they still have some major retailers including Dillard’s, JCPenney, Bath and Bodyworks, and, of course, a Pretzlemaker. Ah Pretzlemaker, if malls ceased to exist would I ever have your warm, soft, oily, bready goodness again? 

There are more retail locations in the city like the Fort Smith Pavilion, GreenPointe Shopping Center, Massard Crossing, Phoenix Center, Stonewall Village, and Williamsburg Square (Livability). Quite frankly, a lot of those are strip malls. But, hey! Some strip malls have a Best Buy… oh and Old Navy too!

University of Arkansas Bell Tower night view

University of Arkansas Bell Tower (Source: Wikimedia)

Fort Smith Historical Sites and Tourist Attractions

“Where the New South Meets the Old West,” is how they describe Fort Smith. I’ve already stated that I take issue with that motto since I don’t think it represents all the coolness of Fort Smith. But it does indicate how history plays a vital role in the development of the city. Admittedly, I’m not typically drawn to tourist attractions, but I thought I would include this section for those of you who like that sort of thing.

Fort Smith Murals

No discussion of Fort Smith would be complete without mentioning the giant murals. The murals in Fort Smith are cool, although some of them are a little weird, even for me. There’s even a whole web page on the City of Fort Smith website dedicated to locating all the murals in the Fort Smith area. I wish that website had better photos because the tiny images don’t do the murals justice. I know a local web designer who could help with getting some better pictures up there – just saying. 🙂

The Great Outdoors

The world-renowned Riverfront Skate & Bike Park features areas for beginner, intermediate, and advanced-level biking and skating, and a bridge that connects the park to the 7-mile multi-use Greg Smith River Trail.

Chaffee Crossing Historic District

Fort Chaffee had an important role in American military history beginning in WWII, and the Chaffee Crossing Historic District is a museum that showcases it. Many historic structures where thousands of soldiers lived and trained for conflicts like WWII and Vietnam can be seen there. Just a few years ago, it was a collection of abandoned army barracks; it now holds multiple museums. The Chaffee Crossing area has 42 neighborhoods, 35 miles of trails, and a Farmer’s Market.

Upcoming: The U.S. Marshals Museum

After years in the selection process, Fort Smith was chosen to host the U.S. Marshals Museum. (For those who don’t know, marshals are essentially the police force of the federal government.) Since more marshals died while riding out of Fort Smith than any other location in U.S. history, it holds a special meaning. The soon-to-be museum is expecting 125,000 visitors a year, and more than half of the traffic would be out-of-state tourists (armoneyandpolitics).

Summing Up

The third largest city in Arkansas has a lot to offer. It’s “The city that has everything.” – convenient shopping, great restaurants, outdoor experiences, and lots of museums. The thing I like most about Fort Smith is its convenience. Its central location means there are so many neighboring cities that are only 20 minutes away. A huge variety of restaurants and big box stores are on one long street – Rogers Ave, and this makes finding your way around a breeze. The one thing I would change? More flowers! Where in the world are all the flowers?

Fort Smith Interesting Facts:

  1. Fort Smith was named after an army fort established by General Thomas A. Smith in 1817 (Britannica).
  2. The relatively large Vietnamese population of the city is due to refugees entering Fort Chaffee after the Vietnam war (around 1975). 
  3. It only snows a couple of times a year, causing much jubilation. 
  4. The people are super-friendly and willing to chat. Be prepared to have a conversation with cashiers – even drive-thru ones! 

Hope you enjoyed reading, and God bless!

Steven Orlosky web design expert arkansas

Steven Orlosky

Owner/Lead Designer

Steven started StripePage in 2021. Since he was a kid, he’s always loved to draw and do designs, but he never made it a career until he was encouraged by his best friend to do a website for him – the rest is history.