AP NEWS

Decades-old Arkansas barber shop threatened by new overpass

July 29, 2018

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — City Barber Shop near the corner of East Nettleton Avenue and Watt Street has been around since 1923, but owner Melvin Thomason fears his tiny shop’s days are numbered.

“I’ve been here 23 years, owned it for 17,” Thomason said.

It’s not that the old-fashioned barber shop doesn’t have customers — he had five waiting when a Sun reporter stopped by this month.

“This little hole in the wall does a lot of business,” Thomason told the wife of a new customer who was getting a shave. “I’ve got customers who come from Evening Shade, Poughkeepsie, Pocahontas, Strawberry, Hoxie, Black Rock, Black Oak, Caraway, Blytheville, Manila, Monette, Osceola, Harrisburg and Trumann. And Paragould.”

Four generations of men and boys visit the shop regularly, but Thomason said he may not be able to keep his business after planned construction of a railroad overpass just feet from the shop disrupts the traffic pattern.

With just 19.5 feet of road frontage, on-street parking is tight for his customers. It’ll be even tighter when construction is completed, the Jonesboro Sun reported.

While the Arkansas Department of Transportation will pay Regions Bank $129,927 for 1,290 square feet of right of way and a temporary construction easement at a shuttered branch adjacent to the barber shop, Thomason will get nothing.

Brad Smithee, district engineer for ArDOT, said the overpass project was designed to avoid taking any of Thomason’s property.

“This is about as complicated a project as you can imagine,” Smithee said.

The street elevations of both Watt and Nettleton will be raised to accommodate the overpass over the BNSF tracks. Nettleton Avenue in front of the shop will be about seven feet higher than it is now and the center line will be moved a few feet southwest, taking out some boarded up buildings on the other side of the road.

Part of the price being paid to the bank is $111,907 for “diminution in value of remaining real estate,” according to an appraiser’s report. The bank property has been listed for sale for $499,000.

The barber shop may suffer diminution in value, but Smithee said ArDOT can’t pay Thomason because it isn’t taking any property from him.

“If we don’t, by law we can’t. We legally don’t have the right to buy it,” Smithee said.

ArDOT, will, however, provide a concrete stairway so that customers will be able to get down to the shop from the newly elevated street.

Thomason said the lawyer for the owner of Old Nettleton Town Centre has already sent him a letter, warning that his customers won’t have permission to park in her lot.

Thomason pleaded his case at a recent Jonesboro City Council meeting, and Mayor Harold Perrin said he would have his staff look for solutions.

“We’ll do everything we possibly can,” Perrin pledged.

But, as Smithee explained, it’s complicated.

___

This story corrects the byline.

___

Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly