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On Bardstown Road, Quiet Replaces Usual Bustle

During a regular lunch hour on Bardstown Road, the sidewalks might be bustling with people taking breaks or picking up food. Not so these days.

With government restrictions in place to limit public gathering during the pandemic, all but essential businesses are closed to foot traffic. Many of the stores lining the popular commercial corridor are small businesses and, at the moment, many of them are closed.

Councilman Brandon Coan (D-8), who represents the Highlands neighborhood, said the challenge these businesses are facing is similar to that affecting those across the country. While restaurants may be open for carryout and delivery, others like tattoo parlors and clothing stores near the intersection of Bardstown and Bonnycastle Ave. appeared to be shut on Tuesday afternoon.

"The whole country should be looking like this right now," Coan said, as he surveyed the street. Government and public health officials have limited business openings in hopes of slowing the spread of coronavirus, leading to soaring unemployment and economic instability.

Plenty of cars zipped down the road, but few stopped, and most street parking spaces were free. Pedestrian traffic was near zero, save a few joggers.

Coan has been concerned about the commercial health of Bardstown Road for some time now, because he’s worried e-commerce and big box stores have taken customers, while the road itself has become a thoroughfare for commuters. He said he was seeing signs of improvement. That was before the pandemic.

Now, city lawmakers are looking at the potential of another budget shortfall and few revenue options. Coan said that might delay some projects, like the second phase of a study of Bardstown Road to model its traffic patterns. He froze discretionary funding for his district two weeks ago.

"Is a $60,000 study something that might have to be sacrificed in the immediate term because that $60,000 is needed to feed and clothe and shelter people instead? Yes," he said.

While Metro Council and other officials figure out the city budget, small business owners and employees will be doing some tough math of their own.

Just off Bardstown Road, the Southern Barker dog boutique is open, but it’s quiet. Sales associate Emily Redding says she barely sees foot traffic anymore, even from people walking their dogs. She says many of their clients are elderly.

"If they are getting out to walk their dogs, they're afraid to come into a store because they're worried that they could be exposed to something," she said. "And I understand that. But I know for small businesses, it's just really hard right now."

Redding said the store is an essential business because it's like a grocery store for dogs (and sells items for cats, too). But many of her customers stocked up on high-end food before public life shut down.

She’s still getting her hours, but she said she feels for her boss, who’s paying someone to tend a mostly-empty store. For the Southern Barker and other local small businesses, things could stay this way until at least May 10, when Louisville’s state of emergency period is set to end.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.