On the corner of Mena and Janssen for several years, there was an eyesore of a building. It was built in 1899. Over the years it had served in various capacities. By the fall of 2014, it was in complete disrepair. The two-story structure was a dirty white stucco with worn windows and rotting windowsills outlined in black. By the time, it was to be auctioned off, several thought it should just be torn down as it was in such bad shape.
Judy McClara, her husband Bob and their three grandchildren moved to Mena in 2012 from Canton, Texas. Judy had retired from the US Postal Service in bookkeeping/accounting. When she attended an auction out of curiosity in October, 2014, Judy says she had no plans to buy a building. But buy it, she did and became the owner of one of the saddest looking buildings in downtown Mena. Even though she didn’t have plans to buy the building, she quickly decided what to do with it.
At that time, she was renting a booth from a consignment store. Judy said that she knew she had enough merchandise to start a business. For the next eight months, work was done on the building, much of it by Judy and Bob. The exterior was repainted but remained white with black trim and a sign was installed officially making it ‘The Mercantile’. The interior was bright and cheerful. One side of the building held her merchandise. The other side was divided into consignment booths.
Later on in 2017, along with Rick Chrisman and Judy Thompson, she attended a workshop at Main Street Arkansas in Little Rock which inspired and excited her. She met their exterior design consultant, Mason Toms, and discussed her building, specifically the outside. When they returned, Judy McClara forwarded a photograph to Mason and shortly afterwards, he sent her a proposed rendering of what her building could look like if restored to some of its old character. She was so impressed that in January & February, 2018, the building façade was completely redone with an appropriate color palette, awning and signage. What was once the eyesore in downtown became one of the most eye-catching buildings. It has since appeared in several publications in Arkansas for the excellent manner in which it was done.
An additional room was later opened at the Mercantile for Mena and Arkansas souvenirs and includes items such as t-shirts, mugs and kitchen towels. An avid quilter herself, not long afterwards, she began Judy’s Quilty Pleasures in the shop. She sells a wide selection of quilting fabric, notions and quilting supplies. She also gives quilting classes in The Classroom, another repurposed room in the building.
Judy McClara has been active in downtown activities since she opened The Mercantile and assisted with the formation of Mena Downtown Partners. She has served in different capacities in the organization.
In replying to a question about how she felt about downtown Mena, Judy replied “I just love it. I love downtown Mena. It is a thriving downtown and with the changes that are happening, it is getting better and better.” For all the time, effort and money she has put into her business and for what she has contributed of her time, the monthly Spotlight is well deserved.