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celebrating two decades of fabulous fashion
story by Shaila Creekmore, photo by Amy Long

When Richard and Gayla Demaine opened Steamroller Blues on Nettleton Avenue in 1994, the store quickly became a popular shopping spot for high school and college students who were looking for the latest fashion trends.

One of those young students, Jennifer Runkel Cude, began working at the
store after school during her senior year at Jonesboro High School and found
the retail clothing business to be exciting.

“I knew early on I was going to buy the store,” said Cude. “I started going
to market at 17 years old and Gayla and I talked about my buying the store
one day.”

With that possibility in mind, Cude received her degree in marketing from Arkansas State University and eventually began managing the store for the Demaines. In 2007, Cude along with her husband, Travis, purchased the business. This month, the store is celebrating 20 years of business in Jonesboro and also celebrating the first anniversary of their Little Rock location.

After long discussing opening a second Steamroller Blues location, the Cudes happened upon a great location while visiting with friends in The Heights area of Little Rock.

“During our visit, we noticed there wasn’t really anything like (Steamroller Blues) in that area,” said Cude. “It all happened very fast. We found a spot that is pretty comparable to our floor space here and (our store manager) was willing to move.”

Opening the Little Rock store was a stressful time for Cude, but she said she felt very blessed by the reception they received from customers in Little Rock. The Little Rock store isn’t able to carry as many lines as the Jonesboro store because of the larger market in that area, but the store is able to carry some lines not
available in the Jonesboro location.

The store’s reputation has long been one of carrying the latest trends, as well as looks not found in your typical mall storefront. With the help of Jonesboro Manager Allison Jones and Little Rock Manager Kaitlin Minton, Cude visits market four to five times a year to bring in the current styles.

“I’m not afraid to carry some of the more edgy lines,” said Cude. “Sometimes there’s some really trendy stuff that you’re just not sure about when you see it at market, but people here are willing to try it. There are a lot of things we’re not sure about, but people try it and really like it.”

Cude said that in the early days of the store, the majority of Steamroller Blues customers were young women in their teens and early 20’s, but today, the age of shoppers varies greatly.“Some of our customers have gotten a little bit older,” said Cude. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of stuff that caters to a lot of different people.”

Jones said that many of the store’s most loyal customers are ladies over 50 who like the quality of nice clothes and aren’t afraid to try new looks as they come from the fashion industry each season.“We have pieces that are trendy and popular and can work for a young person, but then the older age groups or different body types can also wear them,” said Jones.

Cude said she tries to be sure to keep the store’s inventory varied in styles and price points to cater to the various needs of her customers.“Some of the more ‘out there,’ trendy stuff, I try to bring in at a lower price point because you don’t always know how those things will sell here. And the younger customers tend to have less to spend on some of the trendier things,” said Cude. “Older
customers tend to buy more staples.”

Another addition to the store’s business in recent years has been sales through social media. Cude and Jones said the volume of business through Facebook and Instagram sales have essentially created a third location for Steamroller Blues. Each day, the store photographs and posts items available for shipment with the stores $5 shipping fee. Established customers with Steamroller, whether
through their Little Rock or Jonesboro stores, or by giving the store their billing and delivery information, can simply reply to a post with “run/ship” and their size, and the store sends items directly to their customers.

“We have really great customers who I’ve never seen,” said Jones.

To help further build this market, Steamroller Blues has created partnerships with celebrities such as Charity Vance, a singer/songwriter from Little Rock who was on season nine of American Idol, to give “shout-outs” with photos of her wearing clothing from Steamroller Blues. Allison said with just one post, their following on Instagram can jump by more than 100 in just a couple hours.

Steamroller Blues is located at 2612 E. Nettleton Ave. in Jonesboro. For more information, call 935-9465. In Central Arkansas, visit the Little Rock store at 5915 Kavanaugh Blvd., or call 501-661-4067. To follow Steamroller Blues on social media, go to facebook.com/steamrollerblues.jonesboro or find the store on
Instagram at @shopsteamroller.

What new trends will we see this winter? Some of the new trends include joggers, plaids, and chunky sweaters and knits paired with leather skater skirts and pants.

What popular trends are on their way out? We really aren’t seeing colored denim or Aztec prints like we used to.

If you could only buy one or two new pieces for this winter, what would you suggest? I recommend that everyone look for a great pair of boots to get them through the winter and faux or real fur is a must! Whether it is a fur vest or jacket, everyone needs fur in their closet this winter. Fur can be worn casual or dressy and is a great addition to any wardrobe.

What should you look for in a good pair of jeans? Something that is the correct size. Most people tend to buy jeans that are too big for them. Denim stretches after you wear it and a jean that doesn’t fit correctly isn’t as flattering as a jean with the right fit.

What are the three most popular lines you carry in the Jonesboro store and in the Little Rock store? Customers at both locations seem to have the same favorites: Show Me Your Mumu and Chaser. In Jonesboro, Free People is also popular and in Little Rock, Rails is a popular brand.