Conway surpassed $2 billion in retail sales in 2022, firmly establishing itself as a regional force for shopping and visitors.
The city features four distinct shopping areas, each with unique offerings. The city’s Eastside straddles Interstate 40 and is home to large shopping centers featuring national chains drawing regional shoppers from multiple counties. The Eastside transitions into Downtown Conway along Oak Street offering unique, locally owned retail establishments and a collection of restaurants, bars, bakeries, and coffee shops. As its name would suggest, Midtown Conway sits in the center of the city and features an ever-expanding mix of chain stores and restaurants along with local establishments. Nestled along Hogan Lane, West Conway offers a number of neighborhood-oriented retail developments.
“It’s a force to be reckoned with,” said Bill Puddephatt, an agent with Kelley Commercial Partners. “With 70,000 people, good education, affordable housing, and a good cost of living, it has everything you need.”
Pulse spoke with a handful of developers and commercial real estate professionals to better understand Conway’s retail industry, what’s coming, how it could develop, and how it bolsters Conway’s future.
Making Conway A Better Place to Live
The Salter family – through its companies like Engage Management, Salter Construction, and Salter Properties – has been an active player in Conway’s growth and development for half a century.
“This is home,” said Brent Salter, vice president of Salter Properties. “We want to make this a better place to live and that’s been our underlying goal since the beginning, sometimes more so than the bottom line.”
The 30,000-foot view is that Conway must be intentional about creating activity, said Salter. Some of its recent projects include mixed-use developments that offer retail and living space in the same building.
“The city has set out to make us more walkable and bikeable and that comes from mixed-use projects,” Salter said. “If we continue to separate the two – retail and residential – we’re only encouraging the use of the vehicle.”
Its projects on Dave Ward Drive at The Plazza at Centerstone easily welcome visitors from all three modes of transportation, Salter said.
“That’s what makes this a better place to live and allow us to attract better jobs and talent,” he said.
What Makes Conway Attractive to Retail
One of Conway’s newest shopping centers, Lewis Crossing, offers anchor stores such as Sam’s Club, Academy Sports, Ulta, and will soon add Aldi. The shopping center is represented by Kelley Commercial Partners, which has ties to retail across the city, including the Faulkner Plaza on Oak Street and the Conway Towne Center on Skyline Drive.
In representing some of Conway’s shopping centers as well as tenants and prospective tenants, Kelley Commercial Partners has seen some of the aspects that make Conway strong retail market.
“Tenants want to know they can find employees and that they’re going to be strong employees,” Brooke Miller, agent and partner at Kelley Commercial Partners, said. “You can’t beat Conway with its colleges and the support they provide.”
Conway is viewed from outside retailers as a standalone market in the region that businesses want to be a part of, said Kelley Commercial Partners Vice President and Partner Eric Varner.
“Our tenants love Conway,” he said.
What helps Conway attract retailers, said Puddephatt, is that it is viewed from the outside as a thriving city.
“It has evolved over the years from a place where people traveled from to shop, to a place where people come to shop,” he said.
Bullish on Conway
Colliers Arkansas sees Conway as a prime retail market in central Arkansas, said Principal and Vice President of Brokerage Lee Strother, with growth fueled by higher education, positively trending demographics, increased employment opportunities and high traffic counts along many arterials.
“Our firm remains bullish on the Conway market and feels the potential for more development and retail uses will only gain more momentum,” Strother said.
Colliers Arkansas has celebrated the addition of Five Guys and Rock & Roll Sushi to Conway at Lewis Plaza, where it serves as listing agent.
“Colliers is nearing the completion of 100% lease-up at Lewis Plaza within Lewis Ranch with tenants such as Rock & Roll Sushi, Five Guys and two new tenants on the way,” Strother said. “Our team is also working with two additional national restaurants under contract for lots at Lewis Ranch and will be able to announce their identities soon.”
Downtown: The Soul of Retail in Conway
Downtown Conway is home to more than 50 retailers who employ more than 350 people, including 150 full-time workers.
“Downtown Conway retail businesses play a pivotal role in the overall health and vibrancy of our city,” said Conway Downtown Partnership Executive Director Kim Williams. “It is not just the heart of commerce, it is also the soul of our community. When Downtown Conway thrives, it has a ripple effect that extends throughout the city.”
The Downtown district creates jobs, boosts the local economy, and provides a unique shopping experience that attracts residents and visitors alike, Williams said.
“A strong downtown is a testament to a city’s character and vitality,” Williams said. “As the saying goes, ‘Without a strong downtown, you don’t have a strong city.’”