Winchester is far from perfect, but it’s perfect for me

This article appeared in The Winchester Sun on Thursday, March 19, 2020.

Recently a social media correspondent sent me a series of messages bemoaning perceived corruption in Winchester and Clark County government. Her concerns were no doubt real, but I still had to chuckle a bit inside.

I have lived in at least six different communities in Kentucky. I can tell you every single one of them operates with some level of corruption, dirty politics, buried secrets and other forms of graft.

On that score, Winchester is pretty much the same as any other small town in the commonwealth.

But this incident led me to think about how I feel about this community compared to others in which I’ve resided.

Sometimes I’m not sure how to think of Winchester. Are we a small town? A suburb of Lexington? A quiet corner of a fast-growing metropolitan area? All of the above?

I think we’re a mixture of all of the above. Being just minutes from Lexington has its advantages. I know many people, like my wife and I, who live here and work in “the city.” How nice to enjoy the amenities of Lexington, while coming home to the quiet comfort of our less-congested streets.

Photo of the courthouse spire, downtown Winchester, Kentucky.
Courthouse spire, downtown Winchester

But despite working 20 miles down Interstate 64, I don’t really feel like I live in a “bedroom community.”

Winchester is a vibrant town with a unique personality of its own. Far from just a part of the Lexington metro area, we have our own distinct identity — one we take pride in.

Everyone knows we’re the home of Kentucky’s unique soft drink, Ale‑8–1. Most everyone knows this is the birthplace of beer cheese and a leader in the development of hemp products.

But we’re so much more than that.

We have a thriving manufacturing sector, including one of the newest additions, Danimer Scientific. This Georgia-based biotech company is now manufacturing bio-degradable straws right here in Winchester.

We have a top-100 rural hospital, and a thriving health care services sector providing excellent services for a small town.

The park system in Winchester and Clark County is also solid. We boast one of the most innovative parks in Kentucky in the new Legacy Grove park on Lexington Avenue.

We have some great dining establishments in Winchester, not to mention several nice shops offering varied assortments of unique items.

Our downtown features one of the best examples in Kentucky of several blocks of intact Victorian-era storefronts. Granted, some are in a state of neglect, but our Main Street has the potential to be a shining jewel.

Once planned streetscape improvements are made and assuming some of the vacant and neglected buildings are brought up to snuff, I expect Main Street to see a resurgence unseen since its heyday.

Most anyone around these parts would say the historic Leeds Theater is the crown jewel of Main Street — and a shining example of what’s possible when we decide to save and preserve our historical past.

Today the iconic marquee in front of the Leeds is lit throughout the year, brightly announcing the many concerts, films and live performances it hosts.

The programming continues to grow, and the nonprofit that operates the Leeds recently announced major expansion plans in the near future.

If the Leeds is the anchor for North Main, surely the southern anchor is another historic gem, the Bluegrass History Museum.

Our community has much more to offer. We have an excellent public school system, including a modern high school with one of the newest and nicest athletic complexes in the state.

For me, the best part about Winchester is the people who call it home. I have met so many wonderful people since moving here.

There are good people everywhere you go, but I have never felt as welcome anywhere else in Kentucky as this town has made me feel.

All this is not to say Winchester is not without challenges.

Population growth has been stagnant for some time, held back by a shortage of affordable housing.

There are challenges relating to emergency services in the city and county that need to be resolved quickly.

Despite much progress, Winchester’s Main Street still suffers from too many vacant storefronts and too many substandard buildings.

We desperately need to work on alternative transportation infrastructure — things like sidewalks, multi-use paths and bicycle lanes.

The good news is every one of these challenges is being addressed. Progress may seem slow at times, but there are hard-working folks busily planning and working on these problems.

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