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'No end in sight': Downtown business owners hurt by remote working

Sam's Hot Dog Stand
Posted at 3:32 PM, Sep 02, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Remember when parking in downtown Lexington was a challenge? Those were the good old days.

"Streets are wide open, the parking lots are empty, and it's just so difficult because there's no end in sight," said Jim Sawyer.

Sawyer owns Sawyer's Downtown Burgers, which has been in business for more than 30 years. He says that he'd welcome roughly 150-200 customers during the lunch hour on a typical day, pre-pandemic.

"Yesterday, I saw 38," he said. "Solely, because I've lost that lunch crowd."

He's not alone. Across the street from the Fayette County Courthouses, Sam's Hotdog Stand is wildly popular among the attorneys. But these days, no one is around to argue how good the dogs are.

"We're down around 50 percent since this all started," said Sam's owner Jenny Tobin, who has compensated by employing fewer people.

The impact is being felt by the city as well. Gary Means, who heads the Parking Authority for Lexington, said business across the board -- meters, outdoor lots, and garages -- is down.

"Probably (down) by about 70 percent," Means said of the overall parking revenue.

Means said many have retained their monthly garage parking passes, but for how much longer will they do that, he wondered, if they continue to work remotely, or even just come to the office two or three times per week.

Means was more concerned about what all of those empty parking stalls represent for others in the downtown area.

"If someone is not parking at a meter, they're not downtown doing something else," he said. Means also noted that event parking has taken the biggest hit, as there are no events.

It's a vicious cycle, which Sawyer said could really hammer downtown establishments beginning next month.

"We do a huge business from Midnight (Big Blue) Madness, all the way through the Sweet 16. If fans can't come to those, during that busy season, I don't know how all of these businesses are going to survive," he said.