Downtown Winchester is made up of several shops that you can find in any small downtown area: Boutique shops, locally owned eateries and art studios. But the downtown Clark County community is undergoing several changes which many business owners say is helping the area improve.
One of those changes is an influx of young talent.
“We are recognizing that there’s a whole younger population that thinks differently than the old business model,” said Cindy Banks, executive director of the Winchester-Clark County Chamber of Commerce. “They are not factory workers.”
Banks also mentioned a downtown development master plan, which calls for new outdoor dining and use regulations, establishment of a Tax Increment Financing district and a marketing push.
Rachel Alexander, executive director of Main Street Winchester, said the plan was the result of an economic study by CityVisions Associates, a Louisville-based planning firm, and interviews with Winchester officials and business owners.
One business in downtown Winchester has noticed a recent change and is helping to push it forward.
Ron Conboy is the co-owner of Eklektic Alchemy, which opened its current location in March 2016. The store at 104 South Main Street sells many paintings mainly from the 1950s to the mid-1970s.
Eklektic Alchemy was previously located on North Highland Street, but changes in the downtown area enabled Conboy to move his business.
“There’s a huge difference in downtown Winchester within the last 2 1/2, three years that made me want to open my store here instead of Lexington,” he said.
Those changes included space being available, with many owners of the buildings downtown looking to sell their property.
Conboy said downtown Winchester also has other positives, such as a restaurant underneath the Winchester Opera House Ballroom and old businesses being revitalized, including the recently completed Leeds Center for the Arts and the Engine House Deli, a popular downtown restaurant that’s undergoing renovation.
Conboy said there is a group of downtown businesses that are working to make Winchester a go-to tourist destination. Those efforts include advertising on social media and hosting one event a month.
Mason on Main, an antique shop at 70 South Main Street, is operated by Mason Rhodus. The store has been open for about 18 months. Rhodus said he anticipates his store traffic to increase because of changes going on downtown.
“Our downtown, I think, is coming back to life,” he said.
Some, though, feel downtown Winchester needs a few tweaks.
John Hollifield is one of the owners of Wizards of Game, a videogame and trading card shop, located at 28 North Main Street.
Hollifield, from Montgomery County, didn’t want to start a business in Lexington because the market was flooded. So he picked Winchester, which was close to where he lives and had more infrastructure than Bourbon County.
Hollifield said his store helps bring people downtown. Other than a Walmart and a GameStop, there’s not really another place to buy cards or video games.
Hollifield said when it comes to layout, downtown Mount Sterling and Richmond are superior to downtown Winchester.
“We still have some rough edges here,” he said.
That isn’t Hollifield’s only concern. He said the businesses near the Clark County courthouse have an advantage over those that are farther away.
“Whether you like it or not, every year you have to go there,” he said. “Everybody in Winchester, Clark County goes to the courthouse at least once a year. So if you’re set up by the courthouse, there’s a greater chance that somebody sees you.”
Alexander said historically there has been a “North vs. South” Main Street divide, due in part to the courthouse. But Main Street has been trying to change that thinking. Alexander said a few businesses have opened up on North Main Street in the past six months and the Leeds Center for the Arts also serves as an attraction.
“They’re developing their own little flavor down there and are working together to get people to move beyond the courthouse square area and flow up and down Main Street more,” she said.
Hollifield also mentioned parking as a concern. He is looking to move his store, either somewhere else downtown or outside of the downtown entirely, simply because there aren’t enough parking spaces.
“When we get a couple dozen players to come in here and play, it’s kind of hard to park sometimes,” he said.
Alexander noted CityVisions said parking isn’t an issue, but downtown needs better signage to show where parking is.
While Hollifield is considering moving from his current location on Main Street, one business recently moved there after being in another location for about 30 years.
Howard’s Overhead Doors, which sells and installs garage doors, was previously on Jefferson Street. The store opened its new location on North Main Street June 10. Sherry Richardson and her husband Will run the business.
The move was an important one for the Richardsons. Their building — the former location of Playhouse Poolroom, across the street from Wizards of Game — sat empty for a number of years. They spent at least $150,000 renovating their new location, installing new electrical wiring, plumbing, and an HVAC system primarily for the purpose of being seen by more people.
“When the economy was good, you could be anywhere,” Sherry Richardson said. “You could be in a shoebox under a bridge. But now that the economy is so tight, we felt we needed to be in front of people.”
Alexander said more people are learning about the downtown developments and she thinks that will help the area flourish.
“I really think that the momentum is building.”