Lexington, Virginia isn’t just any small town. With the perfect location to provide access to bigger cities like Richmond and Washington, D.C., Lexington has all the advantages of small town charm, but the culture and history of a tourist destination. In fact, Smithsonian Magazine named Lexington as one of the “20 Best Small Towns to Visit.”
The culture and hospitality of Lexington is never more prevalent than on our thriving Main Street downtown. Visiting downtown is a favorite activity of many Kendal at Lexington residents — whether browsing through shops, grabbing dinner at a restaurant or visiting a salon for a pedicure. While many small town Main Streets around the country are struggling to stay prosperous, Lexington’s Main Street is thriving.
However, the vitality of downtown Lexington isn’t something that occurred by accident. Current resident Dianne Herrick is more than a little familiar with the history behind Lexington’s Main Street revitalization — she was the very first director of the Main Street Program when it began in the 1980s. While the program has undergone some changes in the years since (learn about the current initiative here), the goals have remained largely the same: enhance the economic prosperity and cultural vitality of the Lexington community.
“This is an area that cares about itself and does something about it,” Dianne says. “We are a community that cares about our downtown being attractive and economically thriving.”
As a long-time Lexington resident, Dianne has seen Main Street grow and change over the years. “Compared to when we moved here in 1980, the restaurant scene is hugely better. It’s incredible how much it’s grown,” she says.
And again, Dianne is quick to emphasize that this growth wasn’t by accident — and she thinks having a community invested in the success of the town bodes well for Lexington’s future as a small town hotspot. “Altogether, I think we’re doing a fabulous job here and I credit a lot of it to the Main Street program,” she says.
And speaking of the program, now called Main Street Lexington, executive director Rebecca Logan wants current and prospective Kendal residents to know that the downtown area has a lot to offer. “Lexington still has that small town charm, yet we have modern amenities to offer, both in our shops and our restaurants. It is absolutely worth coming downtown to experience,” she says.
In fact, even the Governor knows that downtown Lexington is the place to be. Governor Northam recently paid a visit to seven new downtown businesses: Lex Running Shop, Just Games Lexington, fLEX Fitness Studio, Red Newt Bikes, Heliotrope Brewery, Sugar Maple Trading Company and Make It Sew. These businesses are all part of the “Launch Lex” program. The program, coordinated by Main Street Lexington, is part of a statewide effort to help small businesses succeed with training and financial assistance.
So, just what is there to do in downtown Lexington? Here are a few of Main Street’s most attractive qualities:
- The walkability. Strolling around downtown on nice weather days is a great way to get out and about. “We’re making it really pedestrian friendly,” Rebecca says.
- The shops. Many of the shops on Main Street have unique offerings that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. Take Old Lex Mercantile, for example, which is a gourmet market often visited by Kendal residents. “We see Kendal residents shop here typically looking for prepared food — our chicken salad, corn and black bean salad, pimento cheese and soups are the most popular prepared food items,” owner Betsy Lee says. “They also seem to really appreciate that Old Lex Mercantile is a great place to buy gifts for the ‘person who has everything’ and that we offer free gift basket services.”
- The restaurants. As Dianne already mentioned, the restaurant scene in downtown Lexington has seen a surge of growth in the last two decades. In fact, Southern Living even declared that the best burger in the whole state of Virginia could be found at Bistro on Main. You can also find a range of cuisines — from Greek, to Thai, to sushi.
- The events. There are several events hosted on Main Street throughout the year — especially during the holiday season. A Lexington favorite is the Annual Candlelight Procession and Community Tree Lighting, which takes place the Friday after Thanksgiving and is in its 43rd year. “Everyone is given a candle and a songbook,” Rebecca says. “The procession starts at 5:30 and people walk down Main Street with candles singing carols. It officially kicks off our holiday season.” There’s also a beloved annual Christmas parade on the first Friday of December and a ball drop for New Year’s Eve.
- The people. One of Dianne’s favorite parts of going downtown is simply interacting with the people. “The people who are running our stores are friendly. It’s different than what you experience in the mall or the big city where you’re lucky to find someone who will ring up your sale,” she says.
Main Street Lexington is currently running a “Love Lexington Lotto” to encourage residents to experience everything the downtown area has to offer. Interested shoppers can pick up a lotto card that they’ll then take around to the shops to get stamped. While there’s no purchase necessary to receive a stamp, completed cards will be entered into a drawing to win $1,000 on December 24th. “It’s just a nice way to get people new to our area to walk in and look around, see what’s there and get familiar with all the unique shopping experiences we have,” Rebecca explains.
If you’re interested in learning more about what downtown Lexington has to offer, check out this guide on lovelexva.com. Or — even better — head downtown and take a look around.