Levy is different. Different, even, than Dogtown, which is different in and of itself. A lot of the businesses along MacArthur Drive have been there since The Observer was a lad: Stanley Hardware (where our dear, crotchety aunt and uncle have worked for an age), Undercar Garage and the Bellwood Diner. It's a place that feels old school, covered in grit from the railroad tracks. The businesses that start there tend to stay. Sadly, that will not include The Gettin' Place, a mom and pop store and deli that stood at 5303 MacArthur Drive since September 2000, the building built with owner Tony Runions' own two hands on a site occupied by another store since 1948. Friday of last week was their last day. They don't plan to reopen elsewhere.
It's the kind of joint The Observer might have stopped into with Pa for a pint of chocolate milk back in our roofing days. The walls were hung with neon beer signs, one side was full of Formica booths, the fare included fried bologna and chopped ham and cheese sandwiches, ordered from a lighted pegboard over the cigarette rack and served on white butcher paper.
Sandy Runions, Tony's wife, worked behind that counter almost every day for 17 years. On Thursday of last week, she stood behind the counter and clutched a dishrag with which to dab her tears. She had been crying all day, a victim of the march of progress. Up the street, work continued, as it had for the past three years, on the new, wider bridge over the railroad tracks. Slowly, unstoppably, the construction had curved like a blade and sliced off the parking lot out front, the land taken through eminent domain and on the strength of a document from 1942 establishing a state right-of-way, which Tony said hadn't turned up in the original title search when he bought the property. In the beginning, Tony said, representatives of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department told them they would be contacted with an offer to buy the place or to remodel so they could move their parking lot to the side, but those calls never came.
Before the construction, they'd had around 750 people a day through the store, picking up a sixer of Bud Light, a pack of smokes or a hot ham and cheese from the deli, loyal folks they knew by name. Over the past two years, business dropped by 40 percent. Some of the hardhats working on the bridge have become regulars. Until Sandy was forced to fire two of her four employees back in December, the girls joked with the construction workers when they tromped in for lunch, telling them they were the enemy. Nobody is joking anymore. By this time next year, traffic will be rolling past at 50 miles an hour, 15 feet from Tony and Sandy Runions' former American Dream, for sale or lease. Over the years, Tony said, he's collected and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales taxes. "With the amount of taxes I've paid, I figured somebody from the city would have stood behind me and helped keep the store open," he said. "But it's not that way."
Ever since the couple posted on Facebook that the store would close, Tony said, there had been a steady stream of customers through, saying their goodbyes. "This week has truly been like a funeral," he said. "Sandy's been crying all day. Every group of customers who comes in the door, they say it's like coming to a visitation." Behind the counter, Sandy Runions wiped tears from her red eyes with the dishrag, and considered what it would be to say goodbye tomorrow to the waitress wiping down the tables — a single mother who had worked there 14 years — and what it would be like to work somewhere else herself. Meanwhile, up the street, progress continued.