A Little Rock resident since the 1980s, Anita Davis has been a driving force in shaping the South Main neighborhood into one of the city’s finest, funnest neighborhoods. We caught up with her to see how she feels seven years after opening the ESSE Purse Museum.
Anita, you’ve been instrumental in the revitalization of the South Main neighborhood. How does it feel to see it become one of Little Rock’s most thriving neighborhoods?
I’ve been active with the South Main neighborhood since 2004 and it has gone from a quick exit street to an area that people view as a Little Rock destination. I love seeing people enjoying strolling our neighborhood. Many people have chosen to place their small businesses in this area, making it an interesting place to spend time.
Speaking of the South Main neighborhood, what are some of the must-see highlights that visitors should know about?
I love our antique stores, fun retail shops and the food scene. One of the highlights is Bernice Garden featuring works by Arkansas sculptors and several new herb beds.
There are only two museums dedicated to women’s handbags: one in Seoul, South Korea and one right here in Little Rock. Do you think people are surprised to find a museum like the ESSE Purse Museum here?
Esse is really more of a women’s history museum as told through the purse. Esse opened its doors 2013 after traveling the United States as an independent exhibition from 2006 until 2011. People from all over the country and around the world seek the oddity of a purse museum as a destination.
What have been some of the highlights of it over the past seven years?
One of the best surprises is how much people enjoy their time in the museum. Men and women alike seem to relate to remembering women (mothers, aunts, sisters and grandmothers) personally and men particularly love the historic aspect of the museum.
During the years since 2013 we’ve had quarterly temporary exhibits to expand the concept of women’s interests. Vintage bathing suits, hats, undergarments, sewing notions, Barbie and Girls Scouts of America to name a few. We have published our own museum book about women through the decades.
The ESSE Purse Museum is just one of myriad of things that makes Little Rock such a special place. What are some of your favorite things about the city?
I love the natural beauty of our city and the uniqueness of our different neighborhoods.
One final question for you … If you were giving someone a tour of Little Rock, what are some of the can’t-miss places you’d take them?
At present, our walking paths in nature are soul soothing that is so necessary these days. Our neighborhood has a feeling of a simpler life as well.