Berea Artisan Village reopens

Contributed photo 

Business owners in Berea's Artisan Village will be flying the American flag to celebrate Independence Day, but it will also mark the reopening of the village after a shutdown of over 100 days.

It’s been over 100 days since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shutdown of most businesses in Berea’s Artisan Village, also known as Old Town. But Artisan Village will be back in business this July 4th weekend while artists and merchants take precautions to protect the health of visitors.

“We’re just being cautious, following the guidelines,” said Gina McGraw, owner of the Copperas Mountain Candle Company on North Broadway Street. McGraw said it’s a relief to reopen after the shutdown in March. “We’re a small business. We need sales.”

Like other business owners, McGraw wears a face mask when greeting the public, and she makes sure things are clean once visitors leave the store. Though the pandemic presents new challenges for business owners, McGraw said it’s worth it to help bring customers back. “Social distancing and cleaning things is easy,” McGraw said. “I feel we can follow the guidelines and keep everybody healthy.”

Across the street, painter Robert Berger, 82, owner of the Painter’s Palette Gallery, has a humorous sign posted on his front door that notes he has “three strikes” against him; his age, his weight, and the fact that he has COPD. With that in mind, Berger requests that shoppers wear a face mask when visiting his gallery.

Once customers leave his gallery, Berger said he cleans whatever they have touched to protect the next set of visitors. He says that and wearing masks is inconvenient, but necessary.

“It’s difficult,” Berger said. “But I say that lovingly, because there’s no other way [businesses can open].”

Berea Tourism Director Kerri Hensley said while the 4th of July weekend marks the reopening of several Artisan Village businesses, it will also see the expansion of hours at the Berea Welcome Center. Visiting hours had been reduced with the uncertainty of the pandemic, but recently two part-time employees were brought back from furlough so the center can now be open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Music will be provided in Artisan Village during the holiday weekend by 106.7 FM the Pinnacle, and the weekend promises to be a celebration of art, music and shopping, according to Hensley.

Jeannette Rowlett, owner of Jeannette’s Jewelry and executive director of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, expressed her hope that local residents would turn out this weekend to support artisans, who have been especially hard hit because their businesses were shut down.

“Were just so happy to get back,” Rowlett said. “Art lovers come out and give us some support!”

The guild’s art gallery on North Broadway is also exercising precautions to protect shoppers, including installing protective Plexiglas at checkout counters, as well as making sure the store remains clean after visitors leave. Rowlett said if residents decide to venture out and support local businesses like those in Artisan Village, Berea is a pretty good place to do it. “Berea has been pretty safe [during the pandemic] and we’re trying to stay that way,” Rowlett said.

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