National Avenue corridor has become 'perfect example' of infill redevelopment

Owner Joann Prosser, left, and Meg Toole at Squeeze, a juice and raw foods bar inside Centered, at 309 North Ashland Avenue. They sell raw juices and treats that are vegan, organic and gluten free.
Owner Joann Prosser, left, and Meg Toole at Squeeze, a juice and raw foods bar inside Centered, at 309 North Ashland Avenue. They sell raw juices and treats that are vegan, organic and gluten free. Herald-Leader

Lauren Higdon looks over what was once a far less sophisticated property now neatly draped and divided, with an aromatherapy mix wafting through, a yoga class stretching out and a corner cafe where chef JoAnn Prosser makes a creamy sugar-free tart that is to die for.

Nearby, Jane Buckner's Rag Peddler, a store full of the crisp smells of fabric, does a brisk business.

Higdon's Centered and Buckner's fabric store are thriving in the North Ashland/National/Walton avenue cluster, an area that is an example of how urban infill can be inviting, walkable and shoppable.

"All the businesses feed off each other," Buckner said. "All the spaces are so beautiful. I think we have our own district now."

Centered and the Rag Peddler are part of the rejuvenation of an area that was once rundown and sprinkled with less upscale businesses adjacent to downtown and a stone's throw from most of the area's residents.

Now, the area is buzzing with exercise and wellness studios and food vendors such as National Boulangerie and Mary Lou's Barbecue. You can get your hair done, choose from any discipline from yoga to ballet and then get a dry haircut at Dry Art, next to Centered — without getting back in your car to drive.

"It is one of the best, most successful infill projects to me," said Diane Lawless, the council member who represents the area. "It's just been incredible to watch it bloom and blossom and really be such a great development for the neighborhood and so successful. ... It's neighborhood-friendly — a perfect example of great urban infill development."

Ron Mitchell, who lives nearby and is a fan of the new French bakery, said, "It's much more walkable," adding that with the proliferation of fitness venues, "They're bringing a lot of young people into our neighborhood."

The area is becoming like something in Atlanta, Buckner said, full of small, thriving local businesses clustered within a walkable neighborhood close in to the city.

She had previously done business on South Broadway, but she said that her business has been better than ever in the Walton Avenue location.

"My business is way up," Buckner said. "I had the best year I've had for 20 years."

At Dry Art, owner Sharla Hill has been open for 12 weeks. She previously owned a salon in Mississippi before moving to Lexington with her husband, a law student at UK.

"With all the fitness boutiques and what's going on, this seemed like a community atmosphere," Hill said. "I got a lot of support from the surrounding businesses. ... It's really going well. To be so new, we had an awesome holiday season."

National Boulangerie, a bakery that opened in December at the corner of National and Walton, is due to expand. Owners Andrea Sims and Krim Boughalem plan to add a brasserie restaurant, wine shop, beer garden, grocery and oyster bar to their complex.

Centered, which opened in June, is Higdon's corner of business heaven, the culmination of a long-term plan. Best of all, it's in a new suite of offices on North Ashland Avenue — close to Chevy Chase and downtown and within striking distance of the Winchester Road corridor, she said.

"We intend to keep growing," Higdon said, leading the way through her studio complex, where the walls are adorned with local art, and there's a lending library and art space for visiting children.

Higdon and those with stores and offices nearby hope to have what she calls "industry days" in the spring to showcase their wares to the neighborhood and visitors.

"It's our model to be cooperative, not competitive," Higdon said. "We are constantly promoting each other."

Tenants of many of the shops credit their landlord, Greg Walker, for his vision in developing the area.

"Our ultimate goal for the area is for it to become known in Lexington as a creative shopping experience complete with locally owned businesses such as art studios, wellness studios, creative retail, personal service establishments, eateries and entertainment," Walker wrote in an email.

"The interesting thing about this infill redevelopment is the high percentage of either new startups, or very young businesses, that have selected National Avenue as their home. It is imperative that these types of businesses are offered the same type of luxury of producing a design-build space with their landlord just like many of the nationally owned franchises have been offered in larger, more prominent developments."

Walker said that he's pleased with not only offering infill development, but also a service for Lexington-based businesses — such as those that have, in the last three years, asked him to design their space "with no rules."

"Those projects tend to yield more than just a commercial space to do business," Walker wrote. "Clients like Dry Art, Dapple (Advertising), Crossfit Maximus, Fitness Plus, Susan G. Komen, Shaun Ring Photography, Centered and Designs Unlimited are all examples of projects that have allowed me the creative freedom to design their spaces coupled with build-to-suit solutions."

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