So much more than Walmart
Bentonville's Walmart Museum is a fun stop in the historic downtown square
Photo courtesy of Diane Tritt Eaton
Last month I drove to Bentonville, Arkansas, to visit a cherished friend from New York, who had meetings with the big-box giant, Walmart, headquartered in Benton County. It was a chance to get caught up and enjoy time in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains before Christmas. I had been to the area before, specifically to explore the world-class Crystal Bridges Museum, but hadn’t checked out Bentonville’s downtown historic district and its surroundings.
Upon arrival, I grabbed a map at the Bentonville Convention & Visitor’s Bureau on Central Avenue in the heart of the square. I was immediately impressed with this quaint town, laced with colorful two-story, old-world buildings housed with tiny boutiques and trendy eateries.
With map in hand, my first stop was the Walmart Museum, a perfect venue for kids at heart. The 5 & Dime shop, which is the original store owned and operated by Sam Walton himself, is a sweet spot, selling nostalgic games, toys and candies. The self-guided, complimentary museum tour extends beyond the register. There are a few small rooms containing attractive educational displays and a short video that helps to highlight Mr. Walton’s public and private life, and business philosophies and practices. Kids will enjoy the simplicity of the museum and the throwback feel of the tiny shop. The icing on top is the Spark Café located right next door, which serves old-fashioned milkshakes and locally made Yarnell’s ice cream. The signature Spark Cream flavor is served only at this store and, not surprising, is colored Walmart yellow and blue.
Food, Drink and Shopping in the Square
A few years ago, The Wall Street Journal named Bentonville as one of its up and coming culinary scenes. Of course, this is largely due to the business folks that have both moved here and/or conduct business with others from all over the world. In the downtown district, I visited the hip Pressroom, a boutique coffee shop that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, while encouraging its guests to simply hang out and plug in. I also sampled and purchased some locally hand-crafted, bean-to-bar chocolate at Kyya on Main Street. A real gem in town is a top-notch restaurant called The Hive, situated in the lobby of the ultra-chic 21C Museum Hotel. The executive chef, Matthew McClure, was named a semifinalist for the prestigious 2018 James Beard Foundation Awards. The children will love the unique experience; especially the giant vines, honeycombs and bee sculptures adorning the walls and ceilings throughout the dining room.
Window shopping is fun in this attractive and authentic downtown district. Unique, kid-friendly boutiques in the square include Rollie Pollie, a children’s store that sells “beautiful, high-quality, fair-trade goods from all over the world.” You can also find sports memorabilia galore at Bleachers.
Internationally acclaimed Crystal Bridges’ Museum, designed by famed architect Moshe Safdie, is a must see! Located on the fringe of downtown Bentonville, the museum and its expansive grounds are a collective gem. Sam Walton’s daughter, Alice, wanted to bring world-class art to the heart of America so more people could have access to it. The Walton family’s permanent collection spans over five centuries and includes works by John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol. A separate building, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House, was preserved and acquired by the museum and can be toured (but be sure to reserve passes in advance). Admission to everything on the museum grounds is free. Crystal Bridges’ grounds are connected to downtown Bentonville by a four-mile trail system if you want to get some additional exercise.
For more high quality, educational play, visitors must carve out time for the 50,000 square-foot Scott Family Amazeum. Here, play isn’t just for children. Adults and kids can interact with one another by engaging in hands-on learning exhibits and activities that incorporate the land, industries and people who built and sustain the Arkansas culture. Families can enjoy the 3M Tinkering Hub; General Mills Lift, Load and Haul; Market Sponsored by Walmart; Nature Valley Water Amazements; Nickelodeon Play Lab; Hershey’s Lab and so much more. The Amazeum exceeds all expectations in providing and enhancing family interconnectivity, which is hard to come by in these days of fast-paced living and technological toys.
Put Bentonville on Your Bucket List
Highbrow Town & Country magazine did a story about Bentonville in mid-2018, boasting, “Northwest Arkansas might not be at the top of your travel bucket list, but it should be. Its city of Bentonville…has reaped the benefits of having some of the richest people in the world, the Walton family, as residents.” Bentonville’s renaissance is in high gear and has become a welcoming blend of a charming old town with a new twist of innovation, invention and inspiration.
Bentonville is an easy two-hour drive from Tulsa. There are plenty of hotels and motels including an Embassy Suites a short 10 minutes off of the square. Or, for a really unique experience, the 21c Museum Hotel is right in the heart of all things downtown.
Check out www.visitbentonville.com for lots more details on all things fun to see and do!