More small Lexington businesses are ‘doing well by doing good’

February 4, 2013

West Sixth Brewery partners, left to right, Ben Self, Joe Kuosman, Robin Sither and Brady Barlow made community improvement part of their business plan. Photos by Tom Eblen


As so many businesses become consolidated and conglomerated, the only things that seem to matter are profit, shareholder value and excessive executive compensation. Communities, like employees, become expendable.

But the trend with small, locally owned businesses seems different, at least in Lexington. You don’t have to look far to see it.

Since its creation in 2008, Local First Lexington, a non-profit alliance of locally owned and independently operated businesses, has made community enrichment a priority. And many business people do things on their own, such as insurance agent Debra Hensley, who spends a lot of time on public service and community-building.

These business people are doing great things for Lexington. But they are quick to tell you that their efforts also are good for their businesses. There’s a term for it: “Doing well by doing good.”

Stella’s Kentucky Deli does regular “dining for a cause” nights, donating 15 percent of sales to a local charity. Thai Orchid, Nick Ryan’s Saloon and many other restaurants do similar fund-raising nights and events.

Lexington retailers often donate merchandise or gift certificates for charity auctions, or they sponsor events and non-profit organizations. Some examples: Joseph-Beth Booksellers has book fairs for organizations, giving them as much as 20 percent of sales. The Morris Book Shop sponsors several local non-profits, makes donations and opens its store for events.

“I think you’re seeing a lot more of it,” said Ben Self, one of four partners who opened West Sixth Brewery in April. “I think people are starting to understand that it’s not a one-way street. It’s beneficial all the way around.

“That’s the future of building communities: businesses and non-profits working together for common goals.”

West Sixth Brewery has some of Lexington’s most ambitious community outreach efforts, beginning with the 90,000-square-foot former bread factory the partners bought for their brewery and tasting room.

They rent space in the rambling building to artists, writers and a variety of community-minded businesses and non-profit organizations. Those include Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, Magic Beans Coffee Roasters, Roller Girls of Central Kentucky, and FoodChain, a sustainable urban agriculture non-profit started by Self’s wife, Rebecca.

“It’s nice to see the synergies and cooperation among the different groups,” said partner Joe Kuosman, noting the Roller Girls have after-hours events at the brewery, where its resident artists’ work is displayed.

“We committed from the very beginning to giving 6 percent of our profits to local charitable organizations,” Self said of the brewery, “and we far exceeded that the first year.”

In addition, the brewery sponsors an event for a different local non-profit each month, donating 6 percent of sales that night. The next one, on Wednesday, benefits the Community Farm Alliance.

The events often bring in people who have never been to West Sixth, but then come back again and again, partner Brady Barlow said.

West Sixth’s partners also set sustainability goals for their business, from rehabilitating an old building with reclaimed wood fixtures to recycling waste, and canning rather than bottling their beer since it’s easier to recycle.

Bourbon n’ Toulouse restaurant owners Will Pieratt, left, and Kevin Heathcoat.

Bourbon n’ Toulouse, a Chevy Chase restaurant that serves good, cheap Cajun food, has made community outreach the core of its marketing strategy since it opened in 2004. Partners Will Pieratt and Kevin Heathcoat give away a lot of gift certificates for charity and frequently sponsor events where as much as 25 percent of that day’s sales go to a non-profit.

The restaurant’s two biggest annual events are Empty Bowls, a partnership with Kentucky Mudworks pottery studio that benefits Moveable Feast, which provides meals to local people living with HIV/AIDS; and one for the Race for the Cure, which benefits research into breast cancer, which killed Heathcoat’s mother.

Other events have focused on disaster relief, such as Bow to the Brow day last March that honored University of Kentucky basketball player Anthony Davis and raised money for Eastern Kentucky tornado recovery.

“Some of our very best customers came here for the first time for a charity event,” Heathcoat said. “We just can’t believe more businesses don’t do this.”

Beyond growing their business, though, Pieratt and Heathcoat think community support is simply the right thing to do.

“We opened on seven credit cards and $10,000 I borrowed from my brother,” Heathcoat said. “If it wasn’t for this neighborhood, we wouldn’t have made it. Our philosophy from day one has been that the community supported us so we have a responsibility to give back.”

Wyn Morris, owner of The Morris Book Shop, feels that sense even more acutely. His father, lawyer Leslie Morris, was among the 49 people killed when Comair Flight 5191 crashed on takeoff from Blue Grass Airport on Aug. 27, 2006.

“Lexington truly came through for all of us,” said Morris, who opened his bookstore two years later and decided to put community engagement at the core of his business plan. “I just realized I hadn’t done much of anything for the community. It was a kind of a wake-up call.”

Helping rural Kentuckians help their communities

December 12, 2011

Danny Maggard was 6 or 7 years old when his father took him up a mountain ridge to help him dig a dozen dogwood seedlings. They replanted those small sticks along the driveway to their home near Hazard.

“It’s something I didn’t think much about then,” said Maggard, 57, an executive with Kentucky River Properties. “Now, in the springtime, I admire those huge dogwoods every time I drive up that driveway. They’re gorgeous trees.”

Maggard uses that memory to explain the potential he sees in the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County, on whose board he sits. The foundation was created in 2009 to raise local money for community-improvement projects related to health care, education, housing, the environment and the arts.

The foundation and three other organizations are now taking that model to 11 other counties in the region through the new Appalachian Rural Development Philanthropy Initiative.

Last month, the federal Appalachian Regional Commission awarded a $1 million grant to the foundation, the Brush Fork Institute, the Foundation for the Tri-State in Ashland and the Center for Rural Development in Somerset. They will use the money to start community foundations in Bell, Clay, Elliott, Knott, Knox, Lawrence, Letcher, Lewis, Magoffin, Martin and Whitley counties.

The goal is to tap into local resources and focus them in meaningful ways. Last year, the General Assembly approved legislation giving tax credits to people who made permanent gifts to community foundations.

“It’s something that has always been in urban areas, but it hasn’t been in rural areas as much,” said Mack Baker, a Hazard insurance agent who also serves on the community foundation’s board.

There are now about 700 community foundations across the country. Many are in big cities, but others have seen big success in states such as Iowa and Montana, which are dominated by small towns and rural areas.

Since 1967, the seven-county Blue Grass Community Foundation has been a vehicle for creating 250 charitable funds that have awarded $17 million in grants to support community-improvement projects in Central Kentucky.

The new Appalachian Rural Development Philanthropy Initiative faces a special challenge. Those 11 counties are some of the poorest in America. Where will the money come from?

The non-profit Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative published a study last year that estimated Kentuckians’ wealth at $311 billion. The study estimated the amount of that wealth that will transfer from one generation to the next at $72 billion over the next 10 years and $173 billion over the next 20 years. If just 5 percent of that transferring wealth were donated to community foundations, the impact could be huge: $8.7 billion over 20 years.

Even in some rural counties, the numbers can be significant, according to the study. Perry County’s wealth transfer over the next decade is estimated at $410 million. If just 5 percent of that went to the community foundation, it could create endowments generating more than $1 million a year in income forever that could be used for local improvement projects.

“It’s a pretty common thing for people who were raised in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky to have a warm place in their heart for the area,” Baker said. “It’s just a matter of educating people to tell them what we’re all about.”

In just three years of fund-raising and grant-making, the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County has had an impact, Baker said. Grants so far have focused on health care and the arts. Among the foundation’s fund-raising and awareness events was a 5K run/walk in October called Run for the Hills.

Maggard thinks the early success of Hazard’s community foundation can be replicated to some degree throughout the region. “I think it’s got unlimited potential,” he said. “When you think of philanthropists, you think of Rockefellers. But philanthropy can be for everyone.”

The result, he said, could be addressing some of rural Kentucky’s longstanding problems with local direction and money, rather than always looking for help from the government or outsiders.

“I want things to be better in the future, and this is one way of getting there,” Maggard said. “It’s not about doing this for us, but for our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids.”

KY Capitol celebrates centennial with new murals

June 2, 2010

We might not like a lot of what goes on inside the Kentucky Capitol, but the building itself is pretty special.

And it just got a lot more special.

Beautiful new murals were installed two weeks ago in the four pendentive corners between the Capitol’s rotunda and the dome.

The murals will be dedicated this weekend during a two-day celebration of the Capitol’s centennial. There is a gala Friday night and free family activities all day Saturday, with tours of the Capitol and the executive mansion, food, balloon rides and entertainment.

“This is a unique opportunity to celebrate the Capitol,” said first lady Jane Beshear, who helped to organize the celebration.

The Capitol was dedicated June 2, 1910, nearly six years after construction began on what was then farmland across the Kentucky River from downtown Frankfort. Murals had always been planned for those spaces above the rotunda. But you know how Kentuckians are — always short of money. We just never got around to it.

Jeffrey Greene noticed the blank corners in 1992, when his New York-based company was doing restoration work in the Capitol’s elegant State Reception Room. The Cincinnati native is perhaps the closest thing this country has to a capitol handyman. Since he started Evergreene Architectural Arts in 1978, it has created murals for the U.S. Capitol and has done restoration work in 31 of 50 state capitols.

Greene left some sketches of what murals in those corners might look like, but nothing came of it until 2005, after David Buchta became curator and director of the Kentucky Division of Historic Properties.

“He found the sketches, called me and said, ‘What is this?'” Greene said last month as he supervised installation and finishing touches on the murals.

Still, the murals wouldn’t have been done without Marion Forcht of Corbin, a member of the Historic Properties Advisory Commission, which looks after Kentucky’s old and new capitols and governors’ mansions. She and her husband, banker Terry Forcht, decided that such a unique piece of public art would be a great legacy to leave their state. They donated nearly $300,000 to create and install the murals.

“I’m extremely pleased with them,” Marion Forcht said as she sat on marble steps leading to the Capitol’s Senate Chamber and watched artists on tall scaffolding install the murals. “They certainly fulfilled our expectations. The skill of the people who do that work is amazing.”

Greene said the murals were designed and painted in the relatively short span of six months by a group of 10 artists and craftsmen.

“It was a fun project,” he said. “With restoration, you’re just putting back what was once there. This is more of a challenge, because you’re creating new murals, but in a historical style so that they look as if they have always been there.”

Evergreene created murals that celebrate Kentucky’s history and culture using allegorical figures and images of places and things for which the state is famous.

For example, one mural, called Nature: The Bounty of the Land, shows the mythical figure Ceres, symbol of agriculture and bounty. The figure is flanked by a jockey and farmer and symbols of Kentucky’s agrarian heritage, from cattle, tobacco and horses to the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.

The other three murals are similarly designed. They are called: Industry: The Strength of Commerce; Culture: The Fruits of Knowledge; and Civitas: The Light of Progress. At the base of each mural is a faux-bas relief depicting Kentucky’s Native American heritage.

Each mural — which is about 30 feet at its widest point and 25 feet tall — is crammed with Kentucky symbolism.

“As one looks at it, you can find more and more going on,” said Greene, a trained portrait painter who oversaw the painting of each human figure’s face. “We tried to have these richly layered so people can enjoy them on a number of levels.”

If you go

What: Gala Event in the Capitol rotunda, with unveiling of murals, music, hors d’oeuvres and Kentucky wine and bourbon bar.

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Cost: $75 a person. Call (502) 564-5500 for tickets

What: Family activities on Capitol grounds, tours of the Capitol and executive mansion. Activities include balloon and carriage rides, music, crafts and an antique car show.

When: Beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday

Cost: Free

For more information:

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