WAVE 3 Investigates: The future of locally owned businesses

By Eric Flack

(LOUISVILLE) -- Is Louisville losing it's local flavor? That's the worry of some business owners, with the news another famous local restaurant is closing it's doors. WAVE 3 Investigator Eric Flack has more.

At Kunz's restaurant and bar on the corner of 4th and Market downtown, the lights are out for good. The owners closed it because business was so bad they couldn't even pay the electric bill. But just a couple blocks away, Fourth Street Live shines on, and that worries people like John Timmons.

"If there were a Heine Brothers Coffee instead of some national chain, or if there were a Lynn's Paradise Café instead of whatever box restaurant you go to down there, that would say more about Louisville," he said.

Timmons is President of "Keep Louisville Weird," which is aimed at protecting the interests of locally owned businesses. What started as a slogan has now mushroomed into to a full blown organization as  more and more national chains pop up around town.

"I think a lot of us tend to see a lot of that local flavor is going away or being diluted by all the national chains," Timmons said.

Daniel Kelleher, President of the Louisville Downtown Management District disagrees.

"If we took away the national chains we would have a lot of empty storefronts," Kelleher said.

In fact, the numbers show filling those store fronts with names like Hard Rock Café and TGI Friday's actually helps create more locally owned business. In the past year, 26 new businesses have opened in the area around Fourth Street Live, and all but two of them are local.

"This location was chosen because this is the epicenter of where things are going on," said Evan Clark, Executive Chef of Raw Sushi Lounge, which just opened a block away from Fourth Street Live.

"Fourth Street Live helps us, absolutely."

Who it does not help are the business owners on Frankfort Avenue and Bardstown Road, now loosing foot traffic to downtown.

"As the competition heats up with all the national chains coming to town," Timmons said, "it's something independent businesses really have to address."

Protecting their turf they say, to protect Louisville.

Kelleher said locally owned businesses are extremely important to Louisville's long term success and he wants to find ways to encourage more of them to become part of this downtown district. But he says the key is having a healthy mix of both. Where the two sides differ is where that healthy mix is.

Online Reporter:  Eric Flack

Online Producer: Charles Gazaway