I’ve writ­ten much in the past about the impor­tance of spend­ing our hard-earned mon­ey local­ly. Dollars invest­ed in local busi­ness­es help sup­port our neigh­bors, our first respon­ders, our schools, and our phys­i­cal infrastructure. 

Small Business Saturday is com­ing up on November 27th. While shop­ping local­ly is always a good idea, the hol­i­day sea­son presents oppor­tu­ni­ties to mag­ni­fy the effect. If you’re going to be out shop­ping, buy­ing gifts for loved ones, and grab­bing a bite to eat, you might as well do it here in Winchester.

A local orga­ni­za­tion, Main Street Winchester, active­ly pro­motes our down­town busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty and reminds us to vis­it their Facebook page, as well as local mer­chants’ social media pages, for updates and infor­ma­tion about Small Business Saturday. 

I’m reprint­ing below an arti­cle I wrote last year that is per­ti­nent if a bit outdated. 

Main Street can be our ‘rising tide’

Many years ago, before I began my career in IT, I worked for sev­er­al years in restau­rant man­age­ment. I start­ed as an assis­tant man­ag­er at a brand-new fast food place — Hardee’s — in a tiny Eastern Kentucky town.

The only oth­er place in town was a Druther’s. If you’re too young to remem­ber, Druther’s was a pop­u­lar Kentucky chain restau­rant that began as Burger Queen and was lat­er absorbed into Dairy Queen. Winchester had one — it sat where Applebee’s is today.

When we opened Hardee’s across the street from Druther’s, many locals in that small town pre­dict­ed one or the oth­er would not sur­vive. A friend who worked at Druther’s told me he feared Hardee’s would be their death.

But a fun­ny thing hap­pened in that sleepy lit­tle town right off the Mountain Parkway. Both restau­rants pros­pered. The new Hardee’s quick­ly became the star unit of the Hardee’s fran­chisee who owned it, and I heard through the grapevine that Druthers’ sales had actu­al­ly increased.

In the ensu­ing years, a food court opened near­by with three more fast food out­lets. Soon after that came the big one — McDonald’s. Suddenly, in this lit­tle town that many thought could only sup­port one fast-food chain, there were a half-dozen of them.

What hap­pened? Retail experts know the effect well. People dri­ving past a town with one restau­rant vis­i­ble from the high­way might stop to eat, or they may keep going.

Add anoth­er choice, and sud­den­ly more peo­ple stop. Add a third and a fourth, and now you have much more traf­fic stop­ping to eat, buy gas or even do a lit­tle shopping.

As they say in the retail indus­try, a ris­ing tide lifts all boats.

This col­umn is not about that lit­tle town or fast food joints. It’s about a Winchester orga­ni­za­tion that knows about ris­ing tides and the need to lift all boats.

Recently, The Sun report­ed that Main Street Winchester had intro­duced a new logo and oth­er mate­ri­als to pro­mote Winchester’s down­town. This is a good sign for the future of our down­town shop­ping, arts and enter­tain­ment district.

About half a mil­lion peo­ple live in the Lexington metro area, of which we are a part. That’s a vast pool of poten­tial cus­tomers for Winchester mer­chants. Imagine draw­ing just a tiny frac­tion of those peo­ple to our down­town monthly.

I’m sure many of them already vis­it us reg­u­lar­ly, but I believe many more would if they knew what Winchester has to offer.

I don’t know the rela­tion­ship between MSW, the local cham­ber of com­merce, and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions that pro­mote down­town busi­ness­es. But I hope this new ini­tia­tive is a sig­nal that more effort will be put into help­ing local mer­chants work togeth­er to improve their mutu­al prospects for sur­viv­ing and thriving.

I have some oth­er ideas. Perhaps some or all of these have been tried or are being active­ly pursued.

In a pre­vi­ous col­umn, I men­tioned an idea for a New Year’s Eve event that would fea­ture some­thing akin to the famous Times Square ball drop — but with a Winchester flair. Wouldn’t it be great to see some­one start plan­ning some­thing like this for New Year’s Eve 2021?

I often give gift cards as presents. Rather than add to the cof­fers of Amazon, Apple, and chain retail­ers and restau­rants, I would love to help out local estab­lish­ments. Many local mer­chants offer gift cards, but some­times it’s hard to know a person’s taste.

What if MSW could work with local mer­chants to devel­op a net­work of down­town busi­ness­es that would issue and hon­or a com­bined “Main Street Winchester” gift card? Think of it — what bet­ter way to intro­duce friends and fam­i­ly who may not be famil­iar with the shops and eater­ies we have?

Here are some oth­er things that might be feasible:

— Run some com­mer­cials on Lexington TV and radio outlets.

— Place wayfind­ing signs around downtown.

— Extend hours for retail­ers when events are going on at Leeds, for example.

— Explore estab­lish­ing a din­ner train from Lexington.

— Decorate win­dows of vacant storefronts.

— Establish store win­dow dec­o­rat­ing con­tests for exist­ing merchants.

No doubt, smarter and more cre­ative peo­ple than I have thought of these and oth­er ideas. My point is to spark dis­cus­sion and per­haps moti­vate more peo­ple to get involved.

Our down­town core is an under­uti­lized jew­el that could be an eco­nom­ic cat­a­lyst for oth­er parts of our local econ­o­my. It can start that ris­ing tide that will lift all our boats.

This arti­cle appeared in The Winchester Sun on October 22, 2020. 

  • Pete Koutoulas

    Pete is an IT pro­fes­sion­al work­ing in Lexington. Formerly of Campton, he and his wife have lived in Winchester since 2015. Pete is a for­mer week­ly news­pa­per pub­lish­er and for­mer colum­nist for the Winchester Sun. These days, when not work­ing he can often be found on his back porch read­ing or writ­ing, in the back­yard tend­ing to his toma­to plants, or put­ter­ing around in his garage or work­shop. Reach Pete at pete@wincitynews.org.