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As tourists come back for horse races, neighbors are excited for the return of a cash cow

Walter Cowherd, a resident near Churchill Downs, holds up a sign advertising parking spaces to race-goers.
Justin Hicks
Walter Cowherd, a resident near Churchill Downs, holds up a sign advertising parking spaces to race-goers.

Just outside the gates of Churchill Downs, Nick and Jared Taylor are waving their arms trying to lure drivers into their yard on Wizard Avenue. They idly chat about which horses they’re going to bet on, only pausing their speculations to shout “Place to park!” as cars pass. 

Nick said their family has been selling these spots in the yard of a rental property since the early ‘70s, when they went for just 50 cents. Now, they’re quite a bit more expensive. 

“We go off what we’ve done in the past couple of years,” Nick Taylor said of his pricing. “Normally on a Tuesday or Wednesday we’ll park for $10 or $20, but if there’s a lot of people and we can get $50 there’s no reason for us to not.”

For the neighborhoods surrounding Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby is more than just a horse race – it’s an opportunity to make money. Many locals sell parking spots or food and drink out of their yards. This year, with the track opening to full capacity for the first time since the pandemic began, neighbors hope to see the return of tourists with money to spend. 

Stephanie McDaniel-Finch on Rodman Street said she hopes to sell roughly 100 parking spots across two lots each day. She’s looking forward to the return of the crowds – and the cars they’ll bring with them. 

“It’s been kind of dead and quiet for the last couple of years, and I’m just ready to get back to seeing my normal people who come in from out of town and stop by and see me and sit and chat and catch up on life a little bit,” McDaniel-Finch said.

She said, all told, she might make a couple thousand dollars. But unfortunately most of it’s already spoken for. 

“Because we have to pay taxes around here on this property,” she explained. “It’s a nice chunk [of change] if you could keep it all, but considering that you have bills, car insurance, taxes, and all of that going on, you might end up with roughly a thousand for yourself.”

Several people on her street said the extra cash helps them fend off property tax liens. They claim these penalties – which could result in foreclosure if unpaid – are a “sneaky” way for the government and Churchill Downs to take their property at a bargain. 

Neighbors of the racetrack aren’t just selling parking. William Weaver spent most of Wednesday morning gathering supplies for a hotdog stand he’ll operate out of a gas station parking lot. He’s named it “Little Diggities No Doubt.”

“I have hot dogs, I have smoked sausages, I have hot links, sautéed onions, special sauces, bacon, fresh vegetables, everything – [it’s] great Derby finger food,” Weaver said.

He said 2019 was his first year selling food at the station. Even with a few self-described rookie mistakes, he made thousands of dollars. So this year, with a little more experience – and hopefully a little luck with the weather – he’s hoping for an even better haul. 

“It’s definitely gonna be a lot of people this year just on the strength that everybody wants to come back outside,” Weaver said. “We had to sit in the house for two years. So this is the first year everybody gets to come back out and I’m coming back outside with them, too.”

Justin is LPM's Data Reporter. Email Justin at jhicks@lpm.org.

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