Sunday, August 5, 2018

Main Street business occupancy is at seven-year high, but businesses face various challenges

Kenny Smith feeds his printer in Kennydid Gallery.
Story and photos by Sarah Ladd
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Main Street and its businesses have remained a representation for both visitors and locals of Midway throughout the years, and the occupancy rate is enjoying a long-time high.

Two years ago, the Messenger reported the occupancy rate of businesses on Main Street: four of the 28 buildings were vacant. This year, former Midway Business Association president Kenny Smith says only two buildings remain vacant, the highest occupancy has been in his almost seven years on Main.

“We’ve had quite a few changes since two years ago,” Smith said, pointing out the addition of Commotion, a riding apparel shop down the street from him; Wild Bill’s Western Lifestyle; and Midway Family Dental, run by Dr. Rachel Riley where a restaurant once was. “We’ve kind gone from lots of retail to now, you know, we have a dentist and a chiropractor.” He said over the last two years, there are at least new businesses operating on Main.

116 E. Main has seen a few improvements but is still blighted.
One of the vacant buildings is a coffee shop, which Smith said had to close because of the owner’s health problems. The other is one of Ness Almadari’s properties, the white building at 116 E. Main, which the Lexington investor bought in 2016. The building, which has been deteriorating for years, was once a Masonic lodge.

At the June 19 City Council meeting, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift informed the council members that Almadari had active plans to fix the building and get scaffolding up within the month. Almadari did not return the Messenger’s calls for comment, but Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher, who owns Sweet Tooth, said that during the past month, he has added locks to the doors and replaced the window frames on the second floor.

Smith, who owns Kendid Gallery at 137 E. Main, said one reason businesses have come and gone so frequently in the past is that new owners underestimate the seasonal nature of having a business in Midway. “We rely a lot on tourism,” he said. He said sometimes, a business comes to town and the owners have never run a business before. As a result, he said they do not prepare for “dry seasons.” He said, “We’re not like a mall where people are gonna come everyday regardless. For example, after Christmas, things just really die here. But you have to plan for it and expect it.” He said in the past, new businesses have come in and not prepared for those slow times, which has reduced occupancy.

Sweet Tooth has been open for a year now.
Gallagher, who a year ago opened Sweet Tooth at 130 E. Main with Cortney Neikirk, agreed with Smith. She said this year was especially slow for Main Street businesses due to the unusually rainy season during Keeneland.

She said businesses on Main face many challenges, but the main one is the rents, some over $3,000 a month. As a result, many of the businesses cannot afford employees, which restricts their hours. “We should be open seven days a week,” Gallagher  said, “but no one can afford it. . . . If you don’t own your building, then it’s hard.”

She and Smith agreed that the 28 buildings on Main are all owned by only four to six landlords.

Smith, who said when he was business-association president that stores needed to be open more often, said his goal is to stay open as much as possible and “be nice to [visitors]. Hopefully, they’ll come back.”

Smith said Main Street businesses need to be available for visitors and make connections, and their stability depends on getting more young owners. He also said occupancy can remain good if current owners are more active during city events like Fall Festival and Midsummer Nights in Midway. He said visitors for events like that are not in town to buy from the merchants, but they may see things they like and return to buy: “That happens.”

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