Cruisin’ Conway: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Back in the days of cheap gas and big cars, Conway teens would often spend their weekends “cruisin” Conway. Teens of the 1970s thought this was their “thing” but their parents knew that this activity was not new—they had done it themselves!

In the 1950s, Conway teens would generally cruise downtown. The northern turnaround was at the end of Front Street where Hammett’s Dry Cleaners had a drive-thru. Teens would then cruise by the Conway Theater on Front Street and drive through downtown. Sometimes they would turn left on Oak Street and drive by the Grand Theater which stood on the southwest corner of Oak and Chestnut. They would turn south on Chestnut to circle the block and come back up Front Street to go by the theater again. Sometimes they would make a right on Oak Street instead and drive down Parkway before returning to Front Street.

Apparently the teen driver with straight exhaust pipes on his ride could turn around at the cleaners and rev his engine on his way south. When he reached downtown he could let off the gas and rattle the glass windows as he went through. Invariably, the merchants would call the police on this disturber of the peace. The next generation kept up the tradition of cruising by the movie theater. In the 1970s, a new movie theater was built in the new Faulkner County Shopping Center. The movie theater was located between the new Wal-Mart and Kroger stores. Teens soon created a regular route so they could cruise by these places.

The new circuit began with teens turning by the Sonic on Harkrider. They would travel through the area known as Cow Town, mostly on Willow Street, until they reached the back loading dock area of Wal-Mart. They would then circle around the north end of Wal-Mart and turn right so they could drive down in front of Wal-Mart, the theater and Kroger. They would then turn right on Oak Street and travel back to the intersection of Oak and Harkrider where they would turn right to make the circuit again. Others took the reverse route.

On any given Friday or Saturday night, teens would load up with their friends and “cruise Wal-Mart”. No one was in a terrible hurry so it might take fifteen minutes just to get around the north end of Wal-Mart. There was plenty of time to see and be seen.

As one would imagine, this did not sit well with the store owners and patrons. Eventually, security was hired to keep the teens moving along. The shopping center eventually rerouted the northbound traffic so that only southbound traffic traveled in front of the stores. Later, security made sure that no cruising occurred.

Teens continued to cruise the area well into the 1980s but times were changing. Gas prices began to rise and many tried to park in the various lots along Oak Street so they could save gas and visit. The local police would soon send them on their way.

In the mid-1980s, Wal-Mart would move to its third location in the new Conway Towne Centre. A new theater was built along with large retail stores. Faulkner Plaza Shopping Center declined until Hobby Lobby moved into the old Wal-Mart location. Kroger would also eventually move out and was replaced with Big Lots.

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