There’s this thing that happens when we leave Lee’s Summit and check out a downtown area. And whether that downtown spot is a few hours away, somewhere in our home state or a long drive, it’s something I feel about every time I go to visit another downtown business district.
It’s a feeling of empathy, cognizance, understanding. That what you have heard from the businesses in your hometown are going to be relatable to these businesses as well.
After a weekend visit to downtown Washington, Missouri, I could clearly see so much of our suburban downtown in that historic downtown that rides the Missouri River.
The challenges and opportunities ahead for The Washington Coffee Shop are likely similar to that of our downtown Lee’s Summit Whistle Stop Coffee & Mercantile. Discussions about craft brews, hours of operation and production probably are not too far apart at Augusta Brewing Company as they are at Grains & Taps, Smoke Brewing or Fringe Beerworks. And in the ever-challenging world of bookstores, the adorable Neighborhood Reads in Downtown Washington isn’t that unlike our own KD’s Books in how they are reinventing and rethinking their model and future.
Of course, COVID-19 has forced many businesses to evolve and turn on a dime as they find creative ways to keep their doors open.
What has been impressive in Lee’s Summit — and was equally impressive during this trip to Washington, Missouri — has been the amount of business development that has taken place in the last year, even as COVID-19 began its steady crawl into the country.
We ate at a new restaurant in Downtown Washington that had just opened within the last six weeks (514 Chop House), enjoyed drinks at a draft house that opened in May (1869 Draft Room), grabbed cupcakes from a candy store that opened late in 2019, hit a wonderful bookstore (Neighborhood Reads) that just celebrated three years in businesses and enjoyed some Fairytale Cookies and craft cocktails from Olivino, both unique and fun shops that are surviving the pandemic and in fact are proof that this downtown is thriving even in difficult times.
Similarly, downtown Lee’s Summit has welcomed the new ReeceNichols, Kabob Boyz and Main Street Bar & Grill in the last few months, as well as several businesses celebrating their first year in business.
What I love — be it in Lee’s Summit, Washington or any downtown — is to talk to the business owners. Find out how long they’ve been open, how their businesses have changed over the years, why they picked the downtown area and what it is they love about what they’re doing. And, equally, business owners are eager to talk about those very things.
Whether their passion is cookies or antiques or food or craft beer or photography, they’ve chosen to be in business in their downtown sector for a reason.
Downtowns that have a strong economic and housing base (some of the newly built $300-$400k condos in Washington are proof of this) can survive the tough times. Of course, just like in downtown Lee’s Summit, the question is: how long will the tough times last? We don’t remotely have that answer right now.
What we do know is that with 276 new apartments coming to downtown Lee’s Summit, along with (we hope) a new plan for an expanded performance space and farmers market, that our business district — in fact the heart of our city — should be strong for some years to come.
The populations may be vastly different (15,000 vs. 95,000) from Washington to Lee’s Summit, but when the train roars through, the live music is piping from the deck of a bar and the crowds are picking out sweet corn and onions from the Saturday farmers market, I quickly realize just how much we have in common.