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Little Rock's Next Entertainment District

By Mills Hayes

A new entertainment district will hit the central Arkansas area next month.

The Historic Hillcrest Entertainment District was approved by the Little Rock city board of directors this week, and the community is looking to take the drinks to the streets to help offset the revenue losses from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We hope that we can bring more people out to come and visit with us being outdoors in a safe environment,” Sarah Bolanos, one of the owners of La Terezza Rum & Lounge in Hillcrest said.

Bolanos said she’s watched some of her fellow restaurant owners temporarily close up shop or never open back up at all.

“I mean it’s been a hard thing for everybody especially restaurants and retail,” Bolanos said. That’s why she’s hopeful the temporary entertainment district will draw in more people. “You can actually increase sales with cocktail sales curbside. It’s been really, really hard on us. A lot of other states approved that and they did a lot better because of that."

The new entertainment district is a covers Hillcrest’s First Thursday shop-and-sip events in February and March from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. The district extends along Kavanaugh Boulevard between Monroe and Walnut streets, as well as parts of Palm and Beechwood south of Kavanaugh.

“We will have to create a district and continually renew it every few months,” Steve Shuler, liaison for the Hillcrest Merchant Association, said. Shuler said restaurants and bars in the district will be able to sell drinks in approved cups that customers can take with them as they shop and walk within the district.

Shuler said they toyed with the idea back in 2019 when the Arkansas legislature first passed the law allowing for the creation of entertainment districts.

“There were concerns that Kavanaugh could become like Beale or Bourbon Street where we just be a nonstop party all night and this is a pretty quiet neighborhood,” Shuler said.

Shuler said that Kavanaugh would not be closed for the first two events and that events would end at 9 p.m.

“Hopefully 2021 will be the year of bringing a lot more customers to our restaurants and shops here and Hillcrest,” Shuler said.

Shuler said they have already started their second application for the spring that would close down Kavanaugh for street dining. Tables and tents would be set up where restaurants could sell their food and drinks, while customers enjoy street dining.

Shuler said residents saw the success of other entertainment districts like Argenta and SoMa, and hopes this will help business owners in Hillcrest survive this harsh year.

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