Introduction

Mom’s Loudon Lunch; courtesy: KY Digital Archive

Publicly accessible businesses are one of the backbones of the economic success of a neighborhood, and are one of the most important public or private “third spaces” that communities can have. Throughout the history of the North End, one can see the presence of small-scale, neighborhood-focused businesses, from long-time fixtures like Spaulding’s Bakery or the Loudon Square Buffet to newly opened Push Push Press and Wild Fig Books + Coffee, both of which opened less than 5 years ago.

Wild Fig Books + Coffee; courtesy: Kris Nonn

Newer businesses have quickly set the defining tone for the economic development trajectory in the neighborhood - one that seems to be based around entrepreneurship and “artisanal” goods. While these new businesses are bringing economic vitality to the neighborhood, these businesses can feel foreign to long-time residents.

Vacant Storefront; courtesy: Kris Nonn

In addition, many of these businesses tend to offer non-essential services and goods instead of everyday necessities for neighborhood residents. While new businesses are by no means required to serve the immediate neighborhood, this issue contributes to the cultural changes in the North End. This stems from the perception that these new businesses are not culturally, racially, or socio-economically diverse and are not universally affordable or accessible. it is difficult to control what types of business enter the North End on a granular level, but there are opportunities to help make the businesses and entrepreneurial activities that occur within the North End better reflect its diversity and provide access and options for all.

In an ideal world, the very fabric and architectural framework of the North End would bring increased opportunities for more diverse entrepreneurs to start businesses, as compared to what typically occurs in traditional development contexts. A 2014 study from the National Trust for Historic Preservation found that “neighborhoods with a smaller-scaled mix of old and new buildings host a significantly higher proportion of new businesses, as well as more women and minority-owned businesses than areas with predominantly larger, newer buildings.” 

While this smaller scale development could potentially be a positive sign for the success of diverse businesses within the North End, there are significant economic disparities that supersede that. A study from the Minority Business Development Agency at the United States Department of Commerce states that Minority Firms are less likely to receive loans, more likely to pay higher interest rates, and receive lower loan amounts than Non-Minority Firms, and that “limited financial, human, and social capital as well as racial discrimination are primarily responsible for the disparities in minority business performance.” These disparities exist in the North End, stemming from the same racially-motivated policies and actions described in previous sections of this document. 

To help make neighborhood businesses better reflect the population of the North End, these disparities in access to capital need to be addressed.  

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There is a rich range of businesses within the North End. From long-time businesses such as the Loudon Square Buffet to brand new ones like Broomwagon Bikes + Coffee, the wide range of businesses within the neighborhood have many different sets of challenges, opportunities, and needs. In order to assess the needs of existing businesses, the North Limestone CDC and University of Kentucky Community Innovation Lab took a two-step approach. 

The first step was a series of community dinners for North End residents and business ownersco-hosted by North Limestone CDC and University of Kentucky Community Innovation Lab. At these dinners, residents and business owners were asked questions about businesses and business growth in the North End. This was followed up by interviews with individual business owners. 

Support for Existing Businesses

The largest opportunities for growth detailed by residents and business owners involved the expansion of restaurants and eateries within the neighborhood. This was largely based on precedent - in the past year, Maria’s Kitchen, North Lime Coffee & Donuts and Minton’s at 760 have all expanded, albeit in different ways.

Former Maria’s Kitchen Location; courtesy: ILoveLexington.com

In early 2016, Maria’s Kitchen relocated to a significantly larger indoor space (formerly occupied by Willie’s Locally Known) just a couple doors down from its previous outdoor-only location on North Broadway. In mid-2015, North Lime Coffee and Donuts expanded by opening an additional location on the south side of Lexington. Also in mid-2015, Minton’s at 760 expanded with the “Little Brother,” a food truck operation. Originally debuted at the North Limestone CDC-run Night Market, the “Little Brother” has allowed Minton’s to increase their catering operation and event service. 

New Maria’s Kitchen Location; courtesy:Richard Young

The main strategies brought up by community leaders for achieving this growth were centered around creating better connection points between existing resources and business owners. The needed resources included business planning support, affordable “turnkey” space and affordable suppliers, as well as broader marketing of neighborhood businesses. Many indicated that these needs could be met by extended and new services of the North Limestone CDC.

Some businesses in the North End have issues maintaining the current size of their business, and are not worried about growth or expansion at the moment. For many businesses that fall into this category, it is important to build better connections with the community. However, some of these businesses are already are well-connected with the community, but offer community services that do not necessarily add to their bottom line. For these, a potential leg-up could exist in subscription-based services that are already being used to support non-profits and artists nation-wide by “crowdfunding” an additional regular income or subscription service.

Connections Between Existing Businesses and Residents

Despite the growing number of successful businesses within the North End, there are disconnects between some long-time neighborhood residents and new businesses. In a series of street-level conversations, North Limestone CDC staff asked pedestrians in the neighborhood about their perceptions of new business startups in the area.

Of those interviewed, roughly one-third of the interviewed pedestrians reported that they patronized newer businesses in the North End and more than half of this group suggested that the price point of the new businesses within the North End was too high, or that they did not feel like the businesses were “for them.”

While this is not a scientific sample, it is clear that there is a cultural divide between some long-time residents of the North End and the new businesses that are opening in the area. While this is not necessarily the fault of either party, there are potential steps that new businesses could take to make long-time residents of the North End feel more welcomed in their business. These strategies could include discounts for neighborhood residents or “neighborhood days”, alternative marketing strategies, or even simply new business owners getting into better relationship with existing neighborhood residents.

North End Business Needs & Obstacles

Overall, there was significant consensus among community members that retail/service and food were two of the largest business needs within the community - and the two most likely to succeed. Retail/service needs focused mostly on general neighborhood uses: laundry services, a hardware store, and a book store (the survey was conducted before the addition ofWild Fig Books to the neighborhood). There was a significant emphasis placed on the need for these businesses to be locally-owned, and preferably owned by neighborhood residents; however, there was also demand for chain and franchise stores, as well as fast food restaurants.

In the food category, the heaviest emphasis was on produce availability - specifically mentioned were farmers’ markets and food markets, and the need for more restaurants with affordable, quality, and healthy foods. Respondents felt as though there were many food options, but that options that are healthy and quality were usually too expensive.  

Other trends that rose to the top across all of the categories and needs mentioned were the need for locations for teenagers and families to spend time together. Residents noted that affordable, family-friendly restaurants did not exist within the neighborhood (although this gap can start to be filled by the new Maria’s Kitchen location, as well as La Cabaña, on Bryan Ave.). Another strong need was “third-spaces” for young people.

 

“What kind of new businesses are likely to succeed in the North Limestone Neighborhood?”

 

“What are the obstacles for a new business in the North Limestone Neighborhood?”

The largest reported obstacle for residents starting businesses in the North End was financial limitations. This aspect will be discussed in the next section, on Neighborhood Entrepreneurship. Other responses are displayed below.

Education Issues

  • No business training systems
  • No central business organization
  • Language barriers
  • Lack of knowledge about market

Community Issues

  • Perception of neighborhood as dangerous
  • Crime issues / safety concerns
  • No mingling between neighborhood cultures

Infrastructure Issues

  • Lack of Parking
  • Poor Public Transportation
  • Bad Sidewalks
  • Zoning Restrictions
  • No affordable, fixed-up real estate or rental space

Neighborhood Entrepneurship

The economics of the neighborhood immediately makes it difficult for neighborhood residents to take on any entrepreneurial endeavors. Neighborhood residents expressed difficulty in finding accessible employment opportunities in order to provide the financial stability to start a business within the neighborhood. Although many residents indicated there was an abundance of inexpensive property that was in disrepair, access to low-cost space for retail and restaurant businesses was difficult to find, as was financing to renovate those properties in disrepair.

Also mentioned was the need for educational resources, including small business startup training, job training for entry-level employment, and financial literacy education. Lack of education on entrepreneurship, coupled with the lack of financial resources indicated above, makes it nearly impossible for residents of the North End to start-up their own businesses. Potential solutions to this issue might lie in the second-most referenced answer in the question regarding entrepreneurship: networking.

 

“What do we need to do to encourage more entrepreneurs in the North Limestone neighborhood?”

Many of the resources that residents indicated a need for already exist in Lexington, and many of them are located in the North End itself. The non-profit organization Community Ventures offers entrepreneurial training as well as access to capital for first-time business owners. Jubilee Jobs, another non-profit in the North End, provides entry-level employment connections - and specifically focuses on recently-incarcerated. Many of the residents indicated that better methods of distributing this information would make it easier to consider entrepreneurship; and in particular, many referenced that much of the materials and programs that provide educational and financial assistance are only in the English language, leaving out many Spanish-speakers and other Non-English speakers.

 

Reccomendations

 

1

Provide support for existing businesses through support grants, promotion, and any other means feasible

2

Encourage new and existing businesses to hire residents from the North End

3

Utilize granting resources and funds to create a venture capital and micro-granting fund for new businesses

4

Incentivize the creation of minority-owned businesses within the neighborhood through specific programs

5

Create subscription-based services to provide regular support to new businesses, as well as existing business that offer significant social and community benefits

6

Facilitate the reorganization of the North Limestone Business Association

7

Provide connections between North End residents wanting to start businesses and financial and educational resources

8

Profile, document, and share stories of successful businesses within the North End

9

Address infrastructure issues within the neighborhood to create a more pedestrian and mass-transit-friendly environment

10

Help develop business plans for the most requested business types within the North End

11

Work with new businesses to make programs and changes that allow all North End residents feel more welcome

12

Work with businesses on creating price structures to ensure that businesses can be accessible to all North End residents, regardless of socio-economic status