Mike McNeill

Mike McNeill is publisher and editor of magnoliareporter.com .

People have a tendency to live in the here and now. They ignore the fact that everything has a past, and that future events can’t be predicted. When the Columbia Shopping Center opened in the mid 1960s, it was a big deal in Magnolia. No one born in the 1970s or later would realize it, but original tenants A&P and Montgomery Ward were huge national companies and it was significant that both had Magnolia operations. J.A. West Department Store was a big regional chain. Sterling Stores didn’t know it at the time, but it was on the verge of its business model being disrupted by some guy up in Bentonville named Walton. Now those businesses are gone, and their spaces have been taken over by others. The same might be said of other Columbia Shopping Center businesses, with Dairy Queen remaining the only survivor of the retail changes that have swept both the city and the nation in the past half-century. Everyone has noticed the physical decline of the Columbia Shopping Center but wrote it off as just another piece of real estate with out-of-town ownership, with a situation that might improve if it was owned by local people. Well, we didn’t know until two weeks ago that plans have been afoot for more than three years to make that change happen. Josh and Dyan Spittler, the owners of Spittler Tire & Auto, bought the shopping center from out-of-town ownership after years of back-and-forth negotiating. CLICK HERE for more details. Change often means that young people come along – the Spittlers are in their 30s – to buy property, make money and pursue their own dreams. That’s what happened in our county after the Civil War. That’s what happened during the local oil boom. It also happened during the 1950s and 60s as young Southern – and Magnolia -- business men worked to snatch jobs from elsewhere with the promise of cheap labor. In recent years we’ve noticed local business people now past normal retirement age stepping back. New, younger entrepreneurs such as the Spittlers are stepping forward to create the Magnolia that will exist in 2030, 2040 and beyond. If the business practices of our new, young leaders are sound, our community will be sound going forward. For now, we’ll salute the courage and commitment that it takes to make a major financial investment in a small rural community, and wish the Spittlers well. We are optimistic from what we’ve seen. We look forward to see who will be the next business person, family or institution with the boldness to reshape the old Magnolia into the future Magnolia.

Maybe we’ll ask this as a future poll question since we just brought it up. Will Walmart be around in 50 years, or at the least, will it still exist in a form that today’s 20-year-old would recognize? Our thought is maybe, but probably not. We remember companies that were big in our youth that are no more, or are unrecognizable. Sears. Bell Telephone. TWA. E.F. Hutton. General Foods. Woolworth. Walmart will continue to rise but will also eventually fade into history.

A Rose on Main, located in the East Main block between South Jackson Street and the Magnolia Square, has closed after five months in operation. Opportunity.

Southern Arkansas University is moving rapidly to complete work at the Ozmer House and the Alexander House, which will be re-creations of typical homesteads in Columbia County dating to the late 1900s, and which would have been familiar to the students of the era of SAU’s founding. The ancient houses were moved to their campus location in 2016 and 2017, and they are being prepared for their future uses. Now under construction are a detached kitchen, which will also have modern, handicap-accessible toilets. A second “smokehouse” building will be a storage area and include a chicken house and goat pen, according to plans announced in 2017. The Ozmer and Alexander houses will be a focal point for education about the history of home and agricultural life from that period.

We have no particular objection to new Mexican restaurants in Magnolia as that is a type of food our residents enjoy to the extent that they support the Mexican restaurants now in business. If you’d like to see a restaurant with a different cuisine, we encourage you to invest in one, or open one yourself. There are plenty of available spaces for restaurants in Magnolia, or places that could be converted into one.

Lots of places around town are making plans for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

There are plenty of jobs available in South Arkansas. Among them are slots for substitute teachers. Our current online poll asks readers if they would consider such employment. We can think of many people who would be well suited for this work. 

Mike McNeill is publisher and editor of magnoliareporter.com . Email him at news@magnoliareporter.com or call him at 870-904-3865.

CLICK HERE to read past installments of Mike McNeill’s Diary.


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