After 44 years of business, Hot Springy Dingy owners Hannah and David Mills are packing away their threads and thimbles, and hitting the road. It's been a whirlwind four and a half decades with many natural disaster wildcards dealt to their costume and accessory rental business, but one thing has helped the business survive downtown fires, floods and rockslides: The Hot Springs community. And now, they're hopeful someone from the community will purchase their business and help to carry on the Hot Springy Dingy name once again.
"We've had it 44 years, and I have loved every second of it," Hannah Mills said. "I love working with people, I love the creativity of the costumes, I love everything about it, but I have just reached 72 years old.
"I know I'm a young 72, and that's awesome. I could probably do this for several, several more years, but I want a life beyond. We want to travel. And I realize as long as I have this, short trips is all we'll be able to do. So it's time for my next life."
So while Hannah and David gear up to live a life of retirement traveling the country in their 1989 Chevy Camper Van, they will continue to search for a buyer of the shop, selling as-is — costumes, accessories and all — for $525k*.
"Our hope is that whoever buys this will buy it ... the whole kit and caboodle," Hannah said. "The name is a good name, and I mean we've worked real hard to make the Hot Springy Dingy a solid community name out there and it's well respected. So it's the building and the business that's for sale. So our hope is that's the way it will go."
And despite the building also having the option of being sold independently, too, it may just go the way the owners hope for. Hot Springy Dingy has a long history of the community coming through for it.
Before Hannah started Hot Springy Dingy, she owned an accessory shop in Boston. When she sold it, all she knew was that she wanted to go somewhere warmer. The year was 1977.
"I laid out a map of the United States, I closed my eyes, and I let my finger fall on the map and it landed in Hot Springs, Arkansas," she said. "And I went, Arkansas? The only thing I'd ever heard about Arkansas was hillbillies. So I was like well let me try this again.
"So I did it one more time and it landed on Transylvania, Louisiana. And I thought, Transylvania? Maybe I'll go to Hot Springs. I drove here, (and) I absolutely fell in love the moment I drove in. I saw the beautiful National Park and the hot water with the steam rising and just everything about it was just so beautiful.
"I did drive to Transylvania to look at it as well, but I turned right around and came (back) to Hot Springs. I found an empty building downtown in the 100 block ... then left to go find all the stuff to set it up with.
"... I was gone for about a week, and I got back late at night, drove into Hot Springs ... it had just rained and all the lights reflecting off of everything, it was just magical and beautiful.
"So I pull up in front of the store, I was going to start unloading the van and walked inside and the whole store was covered in inches of mud. Just thick, wet, sticky mud. I walked outside and looked at the streets and they're just as clean as could be. I looked in the windows of the merchants on either side of me and they were sparkling clean. And I thought, what is this? Am I being singled out? What's going on? So I locked the door and left.
"The next morning when I came back it was still there, and I thought, 'Oh, well do I want to go to Transylvania?' But then my neighbors came over and they brought mops and buckets and they said that we had had one of Hot Springs's famous floods while I was gone, and so they came to help me clean up and get ready for business. Is that not the coolest?
"And if I wasn't in love with Hot Springs before, I was then."
That was the first impression the local community made on Hannah as she was new in town opening up her costume accessory store. At that time Hot Springy Dingy was located at 126 Central Ave.
But at the shop's start, she did not sell costumes, let alone know how to sew. Her shop was also surrounded by numerous topless clubs, including the Black Orchid, Tender Trap, Face of Honey and Night Train. And the dancers at these clubs were what led to her costume creating and carrying.
"The girls would come over and they'd look around and they started asking me, since I sold costume stuff that made them think costumes, 'Can you find a place for us to get costumes for dancing?' And so I looked and I looked and I looked and there was no such thing out there. So I said, well, it doesn't look that hard. Maybe I can make them.
"And so I bought myself a sewing machine and a bathing suit pattern and a little bit of fabric, and then I started trying to figure out how to read the pattern."
Hannah found herself in her shop with everything laid out and at a loss as to how to start. She had no sewing experience whatsoever. It wasn't until a customer came in who saw her efforts, and then showed her the basics. The rest was history for Hannah's costume making as well as her friendship with the heroic seamstress who had stepped foot in her shop that day.
Things were beginning to bode well for Hot Springy Dingy and its new costume rental element. And then just a few years later downtown was met with a fire.
The fire started south of Hot Springy Dingy, spreading to its neighboring shops.
"Our business had the only firewall on the block," Hannah said. "So we stopped it, but we got water and smoke and it basically knocked us out. We had to start it over agin."
And so they did. But about a decade later came the downtown rock slide of 1995, which the Hot Springy Dingy was the "epicenter" of. The catastrophe completely wiped out their business, trapping and killing on of their employees too.
"After the rock slide, when we thought about reopening, it was tough because, like I said our employee didn't make it and there was just a lot of really hard feelings in our minds about what do we want to do next," Hannah said.
"This is three strikes, you know? Do we want to try to reopen?"
She said it was obvious her current store wouldn't be rehabilitated until about a year, and all the downtown storefronts were filled with merchants. They thought this would be the end. Then the Hilton Hotel, which is now Hotel Hot Springs, gave her a call.
"I got a call from the Hilton Hotel and they asked if we had found a place yet, and I said, 'Nope, not yet,' and they said, 'Well we're going to offer you a front space in our hotel to come and setup your storefront,' and they did. And they paid for telephones, they paid rent, they paid (for) everything they gave us for three months."
And after that three months, they found their new home, which is the current location of Hot Springy Dingy, at 409 Park Ave.
"But in every single case, in every single disaster, we didn't do this by ourselves to get back together, the people of the community came and helped," Hannah said. "I mean they carried out showcases and when we came back, they cleaned all the little items and took the dust off, and during the flood they were in there getting the mud out of all the nooks and crannies, and finding earrings buried in the mud and cleaning them and getting them ready to go back out. It was just amazing. We live in an awesome community."
"When you were talking about," David Mills chimed in, "who would we like to take this, it's basically people that understand how great a community it is and want to give back to the community."
Hannah said she would like to see someone take over her business that is "young enough to take it to the next level."
"Because we've now reached the age where our energy level is not anything like what it us to be," she said. "So I want someone who has enough of a creative flair and foresight and enthusiasm and energy to take this up to the next level because it still has such promise."
And Hannah notes buyers don't have to already know how to sew, they just need to have the desire to. She will gladly pass on her talents to new owners.
As for Hannah and David, while they are out traveling the world, Hot Springs will remain their home base.
"Park Avenue can't get rid of me that easily either, you know, because I've got a lot of work left to do here," Hannah said.
*Interested buyers can call Wayne and Kelly Thomason with Hot Springs 1st Choice at 501-627-3331.