Urban grocers good for everyone

Shorty's, The Urban Market is at 163 West Short Street.
Shorty's, The Urban Market is at 163 West Short Street.

Two grocery stores have opened in downtown Lexington this month, drawing a round of applause from people who live and work there.

Lexington has long benefited from the many older, settled neighborhoods so close to downtown. However it's only in the last few years that people have begun to move into the core to live.

Many of them work downtown, so they enjoy walking to work, to the farmers market, restaurants, the Kentucky Theatre and others arts and sports events.

Downtown living, though, came with a drawback: it meant driving to get even the most basic groceries.

Efforts to attract a national or even regional chain have been rebuffed. In markets like Lexington, those chains rely on locations with lots of space and abundant parking.

Downtown has its unique challenges and opportunities, and it's not surprising that each of the new stores is independently owned.

These independent stores should make life easier for downtown residents, as well as for workers who can pick up something at lunch and avoid a stop in rush-hour traffic on the way home. They should help developers who have invested in downtown real estate, removing one of the inconveniences of urban living in Lexington.

A little less obvious is that these groceries — if they succeed and make downtown more habitable — can help the entire county, even region.

Fayette County has been a leader in preserving farmland since it created the Urban Services Boundary in 1958. Every five years, the planning commission reviews and updates the comprehensive land-use plan.

Five years ago, amid great controversy, the commission decided not to expand the boundary. Mayor Jim Gray has already brokered an agreement to avoid an expansion in the upcoming review.

That's great because it will help preserve our world-class Bluegrass landscape.

But a landscape in a void won't help anyone. The challenge is to assure that limits on development don't strangle economic growth. Lexington needs places to live that are closer in and offer the amenities of suburban life, like easy access to food stores. That's where the two new downtown groceries come in.

If they thrive, as we fervently hope they do, they will provide a return not only for their investors but also for the community.