The Fall Of The Country Mercantile Store: Cotham's Fire Case Closed

Jul 20, 2017

Cotham's Mercantile in Scott, Arkansas before it burned to the ground on May 30th.
Credit Kat Robinson / Arkansas Times

The cause of the fire that destroyed an iconic, 100-year old Cotham's Restaurant has been left undetermined, with investigators closing the case. The Pulaski County Sheriff's Office said Wednesday there were "no signs of arson" and that all leads had been followed. Officials say the case is closed unless "further information is developed."

The mercantile store in Scott, east of Little Rock, garnered some acclaim after opening a restaurant in the store in 1984. It drew in local notables like then-Governor Bill Clinton. Its "hubcap" hamburger became part of the local parlance to describe large burgers.

The inside of McClellan's Country Store in New Edinburg, Arkansas.

Country stores serving food used to be a staple of many rural Arkansas communities and fire has hardly been the only threat to the survival of these cultural institutions. On June 23, an even older mercantile store closed in south Arkansas.

McClellan's Country Store in New Edinburg was originally established in the 1880s and served Friday night catfish and Saturday night BBQ as recently as this summer. But operators were forced to shutter the Cleveland County outpost, nestled between Fordyce and Warren, due to tough economic straits.

McClellan's has burned to the ground once too though. The last owners say the original structure was burned in the early 1900s and rebuilt into the now vacant building off Highway 8. Several families and incarnations steered the store through the decades including Arkansas political giant, U.S. Senator John McClellan's.