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Witt: The downtown renaissance continues

By Chuck Witt

Downtown Winchester is undergoing a renaissance of sorts.

Look around.

Despite the fact there are still vacant storefronts, there is also evidence many of the previously-vacant spots are being renovated, utilized and opening with new venues.

The old JC Penney building is being renovated into a fitness center. The former McGuire Drug Store at the corner of Cleveland and Main is now open as The Paint Bar. A new restaurant is in the offing on the high side of Main Street just a bit north of the courthouse.

Leeds Theater is adding vastly to the rebirth of Main Street, with numerous, varied and innovative offerings which constantly draw crowds to the area. Leeds is a gem downtown.

New businesses are constantly locating along Main Street and the peripherals, and, of course, businesses leave or relocate, sometimes just up or down the street.

This renaissance should not overlook the businesses which have been in downtown Winchester for many years. Perhaps one of the longest residents is The Winchester Sun.

Other long-standing businesses include accounting firms, banks, law firms, gift shops and, obviously, the seats of local government.

Churches, too, have a lasting impact on the vitality of downtown while providing examples of beautiful architecture.

The Bluegrass Heritage Museum has for 14 years been revealing local and regional history, drawing people from all over the U.S. and foreign countries and anchoring the south end of downtown with a constantly-expanding collection of artifacts, supported by a dedicated cadre of people who devote thousands of hours of volunteer time.

Part of the renaissance includes the loss of businesses and the loss of buildings.

BB&T has moved its banking operations to the Bypass, yet five other financial institutions remain vibrant downtown.

The razing of the Kentucky Bank building on Lexington Avenue is a characteristic of modern society, removing viable structures to make way for something new.

In the case of this building, Winchester also loses a significant architectural landmark.

The rebirth of downtown Winchester has, in large part, been stimulated by the work of Main Street Winchester (formerly Winchester First), which has been working to improve the downtown for more than 22 years, guided by a board consisting of all volunteers. The Beer Cheese Festival, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, was the brainchild of this organization. The festival has proven to be more successful each year, drawing larger crowds every year and bringing patrons to virtually all downtown businesses.

Parking downtown has been — and perhaps will always be — considered by many to be a problem, but the truth is there are more than 400 on-street parking spaces in the immediate downtown area and many more in private and public parking lots. Parking is not the problem, walking is.

Not only because of peoples’ perceptions, but because the high side of South Main Street presents some physical restraints because of the steps. The recent development plan for downtown will address many of these problems, and added ramp access to the high side will enhance accessibility.

The renaissance is continuous. It will occasionally hit snags and roadblocks and setbacks, but it will, inexorably, continue.

It always has.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.