Bricktown and Bentonville

Gluten-Free Bakery in Bentonville, Arkansas

A lot of America is subject to cultural stereotypes, good and bad. Southern hospitality. Hot tubs in Marin County. Rude New Yorkers. Traveling through Oklahoma and Arkansas, I am reminded that people from these states have been type cast as “backward.” The stereotype can probably be traced to the Dust Bowl disaster of the 1930s, when thousands of “Okies” and “Arkies” migrated to California to find work. Many had been farmers and ranchers who found themselves powerless during an economic depression that left many homeless or barely getting by in a strange new place. Maybe people who are feeling that vulnerable could seem a little “backward” to their more fortunate, and sometimes disdainful, new neighbors.

“Maman,” Sculpture by Louis Bourgeois at Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas

But Oklahoma and Arkansas so far don’t support the stereotypes. My San Francisco bestie, Carol, met me in Oklahoma City this week and we loved it. Our hotel was in a fun neighborhood called “Bricktown,” which the city has restored by creating parks, a waterway, and walking trails. That in turn has attracted restaurants and bars, innovative architecture, and a lot of people enjoying themselves.

Bricktown in Oklahoma City

A few blocks away, the civic center is similarly walkable and currently full of brightly-colored tulips and daffodils. Most impressive is the neighborhood’s memorial to honor the victims of the 1995 bombing of the city’s Murrah Federal Building. The memorial is two marble walls at opposite ends of a granite reflecting pool. One wall represents the time before the bombing and the other represents the time after the bombing. On the adjacent lawn, 168 granite chairs name the tragedy’s 168 victims. Describing it doesn’t do it justice. The memorial is a powerful work of art that is both inspiring and peaceful.

Oklahoma City National Memorial
Graffiti on the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum wall

Yesterday, we left Oklahoma City and headed east to Bentonville, Arkansas. Bentonville is the home of the Walton family and Walmart’s corporate headquarters. I wanted to visit this small town to understand how a family that has put small businesses out of business, exploited working people, and homogenized the things we buy has created a place where small retailers are thriving, residents are well-heeled, and individual expression is celebrated.

The first “Walmart” is on Bentonville’s city square and is now a museum

Bentonville is truly a place where most Americans would want to raise their kids. Giant parks provide miles of groomed and flowered trails for hikers and bikers. On the tree-line town square, locals stand in line for 99 cent scoops of Walton ice cream. This community of 50,000 residents also has a world class art museum. The museum itself is a work of art, designed to complement the geography of the Ozarks, and inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. Its exhibits acknowledge — in English and Spanish — how art presents us with varying perspectives, cultural biases, and hope for what is best in us.

Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas

The museum is free, bringing visitors from around the world who can enjoy excellent restaurants, public art all over town, and a feeling that the world is a nearly perfect place. All of what is best in this town is courtesy of the Walton family, whose business shelves beauty products for black women in locked cases, and requires people buying them to use a special register at the back of the store. https://www.wjtv.com/news/national/i-was-shocked-new-walmart-checkout-policy-called-racially-biased/

The Walton family seems to have an amazing vision for American communities. What if they used their enormous power to create more Bentonvilles? Isn’t that a legacy any family would want? Maybe there’s a suggestion box somewhere around here.

“Lantern Bearers” by Maxfield Parrish at the Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville

Each Wal-Mart store should reflect the values of its customers and support the vision they hold for their community.

— Sam Walton

26 comments

  1. I was just in Bentonville! We (husband and I) visited our older son & family in Wichita, and we all spent a long weekend in Rogers AR and Bentonville. With an infant and a preschooler we didn’t see all we hoped and plan to return. The Waltons’ investment in museums and parks (Rogers also has lovely family parks and trails) has sparked growth in the community, and it’s a really interesting area. We were there just ahead of spring, must be really lovely now.

  2. Glad to hear there’s culture in middle america. I agree– would love to see Walmart profits plowed back into small towns across the country. Next up: dealing with the aftermath of Amazonization. Enjoy wandering!

  3. I had no idea. A really interesting post with so many different perspectives to ponder. It is so important to overcome the stereotypes we all carry so we can see each other’s humanity. However Walmart is still a blight on our collective souls and communities. Glad there’s a “quaint” little town to celebrate them.

  4. Another spider sculpture! I’ve seen one in Ottawa, and I remember another blogger posted a photo a while back of a second one… though I can’t remember where it was. But there are a whole bunch around the world.

  5. This description of Bentonville makes me think it’s more like Hollywood movie set than middle America. Is it the kissing cousin of the fake “Potemkin Village” the Soviets created during the height of the cold war to replicate an American town so their spies could be trained to better infiltrate the US? It can’t cover up the awful practices of their racist money making machines which thrive on the backs of underpaid workers both here and in the countries of their suppliers. Is it the “Stepford Wives” of townships or maybe DisneyLand’s Main Street entranceway? Looks nice, but it’s fake. It may be real to the 50,000 lucky souls to live there and to visitors, but what about the rest of us?

    The bottom line for me is that the Walton Family has accumulated well over a quarter of a TRILLION dollars (!!!) and only given away figurative pennies to non-political non-profits. Their largesse may sound impressive, but their commitment (around 1% of their wealth) is a teensy-weensy fraction of what the Gates Family has done. The Walton’s grants are pocket change to what’s been called the wealthiest family in America. Contrast that the Gates’ family who are following through with their commitment to donate 95% of their vast wealth to non-profits. Shame on them!

    Okay, I will step off of my soapbox now and admit that in recent years some of the Walton’s have actually embraced the responsibility thrust upon them by their great wealth and are doing good things in charitable works, so maybe they can redeem the Walton name and create a positive legacy..

    On a brighter note, your description of Oklahoma City really wowed me and brightened my day. Having not been there in several decades, it seems to have changed dramatically from the somewhat dowdy, rundown and depressing city it once was in my eyes. I’m impressed with the works of art, parks, walkways and other attractions you describe. Sounds like a nice place to live. A REAL place. Yippee!

    Keep on trucking’ Kimmie!

  6. Okay, get ready for a rant.

    Bentonville isn’t real. It’s a fake Hollywood movie set. It reminds me of the “Potemkin Village” the Soviets created during the height of Cold War to replicate an American town to familiarize their spies with Americana before inserting them into the US. Or maybe DisneyLand’s “Main Street”. It’s the “Stepford Wives” of townships. Okay, enough of the analogies. Yeah, it’s fine and dandy for the 50,000 lucky souls who live there and visitors, but it’s been built on the backs of the hundreds of thousands of underpaid and uninsured workers here and overseas; The Waltons historically practiced racist policies in their hiring and store management practices and brutal anti worker tactics to avoid paying decent wages and benefits. And they’ve given incredible and intolerably little back to the world from the riches they accumulated through the sweat of others.

    The Walton Family, called by some the wealthiest in the US, has been historically horrible in terms of their charitable contributions. They’re collectively worth over a quarter of a TRILLION dollars (!!!) and have given away figurative pennies to real non-profit charities, About 1%. Compare that to the Gates Family which has committed and proceeded to give away 95% of their vast wealth. Disgusting and not inevitable consequence of capitalism as the Gates and others have shown. Okay, the Waltons have done better recently as the younger generation seems to be trying to redeem the Walton family name from the sins of their ancestors. And I praise them for that and hope they continue to try to rebuild their family legacy into something meriting pride rather than distain.

    Okay, rant over.

    Now onto Oklahoma City. Yay!!! Your description of the city made me feel hopeful. When I last spent significant time there decades ago it was a dowdy if not thoroughly depressing place. There was no there there. Now, from your blog description it seems to have been transformed into a vibrant “happening” place with lots of attractions, things to see and do, and people enjoying themselves. Parks, public art worth our attention, walking trails, places for foodies to frequent, and other amenities worthy of public acclaim. Yippeee! There is hope!

    Keep on truckin’ Kimmie!

  7. Yes all of that…Although I am not a fan of donations to large charities since most of the money goes to marketing, fundraising and six figure salaries. Might be better if the Waltons just paid people a living wage and gave them health care benefits, and supported local communities.

  8. So enjoyed this post and especially Victor’s rant! The only time I have been to a Walmart’s was in their parking lot last year in Hays County, TX as a great place to register eligible Latinx to vote! On my last shift to do so, a Latinx manager coming to work her shift and aw me and questioned if I had “permission” and I lied and told her a woman manager had given me permission. I had already been kicked out of 3 HEB (largest chain) grocery store parking lots as of course what I was doing is considered “subversive” by Republican biz owners in TX. Never imagined I would go to OK City but now, well if it’s on the route up from TX, you never know…

  9. Que interesante Kim!! DesconocĂ­a el origen de esta poderosa empresa y me siento algo decepcionado. Te felicito por decir las cosas como son. Saludos desde MĂ©xico.

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