• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Midway is changing, but downtown keeps character

LESLIE PENN, who co-owns the Historic Midway Museum Store with husband Bill, provided assistance to Karen Heady, who lives in northeast Kansas. Heady said she came to the downtown Midway shop last Friday afternoon after eating lunch at Darlin’ Jean’s Apple Cobbler Café. She traveled to Kentucky to visit family. Her sister lives in Lexington and suggested they go to Midway. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

It’s difficult to put a number on how many motorists are driving into downtown Midway after stopping for gas or a meal at the new I-64 interchange north of town. If nothing else, this stretch of interstate highway where a McDonald’s, Subway and Shell are now located does capture occupational and net profits tax revenue for the City of Midway, which Mayor Grayson Vandegrift says would’ve otherwise gone elsewhere. “People traveling I-64 that would’ve stopped at the next exit in Lexington or the next exit in Frankfort are stopping in Midway,” said Vandegrift during an interview in downtown Midway last Friday afternoon, March 18. Vandegrift described the Midway interchange as a prime location for restaurants and a gas station because those businesses don’t exist anywhere else along that stretch of I-64. While some local merchants say they have not experienced an increase in foot traffic since those interchange businesses opened, others are seeing a difference. “We constantly have a flow of people who haven’t been here before,” said Leslie Penn, co-owner of the Historic Midway Museum Store at 124 East Railroad Street. Karen Heady, who lives in northeast Kansas, said she came into Penn’s shop last Friday afternoon after eating lunch at Darlin’ Jean’s Apple Cobbler Café. Heady traveled to Kentucky to visit family. Her sister lives in Lexington and suggested they go to Midway. Heady said she enjoyed her visit to the historic railroad town. “I like the fact that we have a wide variety of shops – they’re not all alike,” said Peggy Angel, owner of Steppin’ Out Boutique in downtown Midway. “There are great places to eat, there are great places to shop,” she added. Jeff Traylor has seen many changes in downtown Midway over the years as owner of Railroad Street Framing & Gallery. He said the new McDonald’s and Shell have “brought people into town.” Retail businesses – like the restaurants and gas station at the I-64 interchange – do not bring in the better-paying jobs of industry, but Vandegrift said, “Every job in Midway counts.” Any additional employment opportunities provide income to people living in a small town, he added. The former Midway restaurant owner does not view a McDonald’s as being a competitor to restaurants in the downtown area, which offer a different dining experience. A McDonald’s or Subway offers convenience to families who don’t have time to eat a meal at home, he said. “I don’t believe that more options are bad for a city like Midway,” explained Vandegrift. “I believe in critical mass … The more options you have, the more people will come” to Midway. Four restaurants – each offering unique dining experiences – are located along Main (more commonly known as Railroad) Street in downtown Midway. “As long as we don’t grow too fast this (our downtown) will never be affected by it,” said Vandegrift. “Look at it. There’s nothing quite like it.” Kaci Leatherwood and Connie Snyder recently opened Cherokee & Company Boutique in downtown Midway, which Leatherwood described as “a quiet, quaint town.” People drive to Midway because they want to eat at its one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops. “There’s stuff here that you won’t find in other places,” said Leatherwood. “…It kind of takes you back to the way America used to be.” And sales at their shop have been better than anticipated. “People, they want to have a reason to come here because they just fall in love with (Midway),” said Penn. “It’s like going back to the ’50s … they love the atmosphere.” In the past, a few local merchants swapped storefronts – playing musical chairs. “For the most part right now, you’re seeing more stability than we’ve seen in a long time – especially since the recession,” said Vandegrift. Kenny Smith, president of the Midway Merchants Association, hasn’t noticed any additional foot traffic generated by the new I-64 interchange at his Kennydid Gallery of Gifts and Fine Arts, but said, “It’s good for the town, and hopefully there are some people who get off (I-64) that come on down here.” If nothing else, Midway residents can drive to the local McDonald’s for breakfast, Smith said . “My husband (Bill) now has a place to get biscuits and eggs in the morning,” said Penn. Vandegrift likes to joke with people who did not want a McDonald’s that there’s “a big M that stands for Midway when you get into town.”

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