Friday, April 08, 2011

TOP STORY > >Jacksonville welcomes Little Rock Expo Center

Leader staff writer

The Little Rock Expo Center has found a new permanent home in Jacksonville.

After nearly a year of successful monthly Memphis Flea Markets and other shows, the company decided that it wanted to make the old Walmart building its permanent location.

The signs went up earlier this week.

General manager Sandy Hembree said they considered calling the building the Jacksonville Expo Center, but “we are known throughout the region as the Little Rock Expo Center—we own that name—and we want all of our old shows and contacts to know that we are the same management and will put on the same great show for them as we did when we were located on I-30 west of the Little Rock city limits for 12 years.”

“We are very excited to have them no matter what name they use,” Mayor Gary Fletcher said.

The mayor, along with Jim Durham, the director of administration, both said that the expo is just one of many new businesses com ing into the city and doing well.

“We’ve had a number of new restaurants either open or are opening up,” Durham said. “We’ve got Cayenne Cajun Cuisine, the First Street CafĂ©, Feastro’s, and Firehouse Subs either opened up or breaking ground,” Durham said.

Fletcher added that the Crooked Hook is reopening under the tutelage of the original owners. “We’ve been planting economic-development seeds for two years. It just takes time,” Fletcher said.

Hembree’s group got to the point in their I-30 location where they were putting on shows 52 weekends out of 52 weekends a year. “There were some weekends where we had two or three different shows going,” she said.

But the building that housed the expo was sold to Pulaski Technical College and became their south campus.

The sale put the flea market and the expo shows into hiatus for five years while they searched for just the right location. Last spring they came to Jacksonville and tried out the old Walmart building and have been happy ever since.

“It is home to us now,” Hembree said, and the shows are coming in.

This weekend is both the Memphis Flea Market and Duck Duck Goose. The flea market continues to be strong and solid. “ If it wasn’t doing great, we wouldn’t be getting vendors in this weekend from Chicago, Branson, Kansas and Texas,” she said.

The flea market will continue to be a monthly event on the second weekend of each month. It will feature a hunter’s expo in August, an antiques auction, car shows, more gun shows, liquidation sales and a concert.

Hembree said another reason for keeping the Little Rock Expo name was that “we wanted people not to think of us as something new, but as an old friend coming back, and besides it’s hard to advertise that we are in the old Walmart building; it has no pizzazz.

“We hope to build up to being as big as we were when we were on I-30,” she said.

The new Little Rock Expo Center, formerly known as the old Walmart building, has 125,000 square feet of usable space under air and heat. “We can accommodate just about any event here,” Hembree said.

The mayor, who tries hard not to miss any flea markets or events in the now Little Rock Expo Center, said it does him good to visit the different out-of-state vendors. “They always brag on how wonderful our city and our people are and how they enjoy their time with us,” he said.