May 7, 2008 Edition

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Frankly Speaking
John Bland

A trip to Blytheville left us impressed with their Main Street and with their ballpark complex, the Blytheville Youth Sportsplex located at the Thunder Bayou Recreation Area.

Blytheville is a Main Street Arkansas City, and on a recent Saturday afternoon, their Main Street was busy but not crowded. It underscored our desire that Walnut Ridge become part of the Main Street Arkansas program.

That Bookstore In Blytheville, owned by Mary Gay Shipley, is probably one of the best-known institutions in Blytheville. John Grisham helped make the bookstore famous, as he began signing his books there before he became famous. Because of Shipley's early support of Grisham, he continues to return to the store to sign books when he has a new release. Now when he comes to the bookstore, it closes for the day while he signs his books.

Something is always going on at That Bookstore, as it was when we stopped in. A group of some 15 people was in the TBIB Back Room, where a presenter was speaking.

Down the street from That Bookstore, a wedding party was gathered on the sidewalk in front a church located in a former storefront building. While some businesses appeared to be closed, others were open. The Ritz Civic Center was closed but looked interesting. It is a restored opera house on Main Street that stages live shows throughout the year.

The Blytheville Youth Sportsplex is a topnotch facility and was hosting a softball tournament, the reason for our visit. The complex contains approximately eight ball fields, which are all connected by wide concrete sidewalks. All fields have irrigation and underground drainage, states the website, It had rained the day before our tournament, but the fields there were all in excellent shape.

Speaking of ballparks, it looks like half our population descends on Stewart Park on any given weeknight for the T-ball, Little League, softball, high school or other levels of baseball games and practices. Most anyone involved with the programs would agree there is a need for more fields and more parking. All would agree that these programs provide a great recreational outlet for youth and adults in the area. Our hats are off to the many volunteers who make it happen.

The TD, with participation from area merchants, conducted a Mother's Day giveaway. We were amazed at the number of entrants. Without trying to count them all, we estimated there were as many as 2,000 or more entries. We appreciate all who entered and sponsored the promotion.

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