You could almost hear the sighs of relief and sadness when the news broke that a company linked to the owner of Lexington Green outbid the founder of Joseph-Beth in a bankruptcy auction of our homegrown bookstore chain.
Sadness that a bookstore that thrived when others failed, that became an institution in Lexington, that somehow helped us maintain our faith in reading, that was our own, would no longer be owned and operated by the man behind that improbable story.
But there was also relief that the bookstore would survive, and with it the unique retail ecosystem at Lexington Green.
Other bidders wanted to sell off not only the small chain's other properties but also to liquidate the Lexington institution.
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That would have been bad but it would not have been the end of the story. Imagining Joseph-Beth shuttered struck fear in the hearts of other retailers in Lexington Green.
"I don't even want to try to guess what that picture might be like," said Michael Stutland, owner of two Artique stores outside the entrance to Joseph-Beth.
"What Joseph-Beth brings to this community is a signature local business that is special and vital," he told Herald-Leader reporter Scott Sloan.
Most of the stores in the mall are either local or independent or offer something unique to Lexington shoppers. That's what makes Lexington Green a destination: Multiple stores with merchandise you won't find at a thousand highway exits.
That's also what makes it more vulnerable when a big piece — Joseph-Beth in this case — is threatened. Unlike Fayette Mall across the road, where one retailer is relatively easily replaced by another national chain that fits a slightly different demographic, shuttering a big player in Lexington Green threatens the whole.
Why all this contemplation about a bankruptcy sale? Well, we know small, local businesses provide most of the job growth in this country. We know they aren't as likely as others to pack up and leave when times get hard (as evidenced by the fact the two final bidders were the founder and the landlord in this case). We know they're a key element that makes our place different from another place.
And we suspect, if Lexington's downtown is ever to be a thriving retail center again, it will be built largely around locally owned businesses.
Economic development is always hard, and certainly more so now. Achieving it by encouraging and sustaining a host of local businesses is even harder.
But in the end, locally driven development will be more enduring, and more defining.
Bookstores are about knowledge, so let's remember at least that one lesson from the auction of Joseph-Beth.