Archive for February, 2012

Winchester’s new chamber director gets off to fast start

Note: This is an article I wrote for Business Lexington last year. It was published on Dec. 22, 2011. To see the article on the newspaper’s home page, go to this page, or click on the link:


By Randy Patrick/contributing writer, Business Lexington 

Winchester’s new chamber of commerce president “hit the ground running” on the Tuesday after Labor Day — and it was a hectic start.

Cindy Banks is the director of the Winchester-Clark County Chamber of Commerce. Photo by The Winchester Sun.

“Today I’ve had an interview with the radio station, and we’re getting ready for our golf scramble Monday, so we’ll be meeting in about an hour about that,” said Cindy Banks. She had also met the executive editor of Winchester’s newspaper and talked with Shelbyville’s chamber leader about a marketing idea she wanted to copy.

This was after a busy holiday weekend, during which she worked the information booth and “walked the crowd” at the Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival Saturday and Sunday and was at the downtown street dance on Friday night.

Even before officially taking office on Sept. 1, Banks had gone through the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s training program for new directors, given speeches to local groups and attended some chamber committee meetings.

“I rested a little Monday,” she said.

It’s a welcome change of pace for Banks, 45. For the past eight years, she’s been a “stay-at-home mom” and organized house parties for her Premier Design jewelry business.

Banks grew up in Winchester, graduated from George Rogers Clark High School in 1985 and studied nursing for three years at Eastern Kentucky University before earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She also has a master’s degree in health administration from the University of Kentucky.

For much of her career, Banks worked in organ and tissue donation in Louisville and Bowling Green, Ky., and for the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C., as a hospital education specialist on tissue donation. She also was a manager for assisted living facilities in Lexington, Richmond and Frankfort.

She is married to Montgomery County High School principal Todd Wilson, who is also from Winchester, and they have two sons, Asher, 4, and Palmer, 10.

When she learned about the chamber job, she thought it would be an exciting challenge.

“It was a good fit for me,” she said. “I know a lot of people here.”

Although her title is president, the position is really more of an executive director.

“My main job is to recruit new members,” she said, “and we have to try to get all of our members working together to benefit each other.”

The city-county economic development director, Todd Denham, is mainly responsible for recruiting new businesses, she explained, but she works with Denham and Nancy Turner, the tourism director, in the same office on South Maple Street, behind the county courthouse and city hall.

After new businesses move to Winchester or start up there, her mission is to convince the business leaders that it’s in their interest to belong to the chamber.

The chamber offers networking opportunities for its members and serves as a voice for the business community and an advocate in the state legislature.

Having businesses cooperate with one another through the chamber saves each business time and money and improves their chances of success, she said.

Approximately 280 businesses and 30 individuals are members of the Winchester-Clark County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber belongs to the Kentucky Chamber and works with other chambers in the state, such as Commerce Lexington.

One of its programs is Leadership Winchester, which helps members learn more about their community, its people and resources, so that they can be better informed leaders. That’s coming up in October, and Banks is going to be going through the program herself.

“And I’ll be leading it,” she added.

In the days ahead, Banks’ workload isn’t expected to get any lighter.

“I’m doing a walking tour of the schools with Nancy (Turner), and Todd (Denham) is going to take me next week to meet some people at the (Winchester) Industrial Park,” she said.

And it was apparent that she was enthusiastic about all of it.

“I’m excited to be here,” she said. “It’s going to be fun.”



Education in touch with technology at Woodford High

By Randy Patrick

In the video, Woodford County High School student Daniel James stands in a hallway motioning with his hands like a rap singer as he explains how to remove apps (software applications) from an iPad 2 toolbar — and why it’s always a good idea to do so.

Seniors at Woodford County High School in Versailles use iPads every day in the classroom and at home. Photo by The State Journal, Frankfort, Ky..

“Not only does it make your battery last longer, but also it makes your iPad run faster,” he said.

Daniel, a member of the Student Technology Leadership Program, is the host of this week’s iPad tutorial, which students can watch on Woodford High’s “Channel 4” closed circuit telecast during school, or whenever they want on YouTube.

This episode was video-recorded, edited and produced by another student, Zachary Rankin, using his iPad. He put it together the day before Thanksgiving while working his shift at the iPad Help Desk.

It is one of several videos Zach has done, for which he has interviewed teachers and students.

“It’s very simple and easy to do. I shot all the videos and all the images and put them all on here,” he said, holding his ever-present white digital tablet while he talked about it.

The tutorials are important because the students now use the light, fast and versatile computers for almost everything, and must be familiar with how they work.

Woodford County High School is the first public school in the Bluegrass region to use iPads in a “one-to-one” digital learning program, meaning that every student and teacher has his or her own iPad. The devices belong to the school, but each student is assigned one to use during the school day, and by paying a one-time $35 fee, can take it home every night and weekend.

The students, Zach said, like the iPad 2 because they can do so many things with it: write and take notes, research subjects without going to the library, shoot and edit videos, and, of course, play games and send text messages to their friends.

Teachers also are finding that the devices open new opportunities for learning in a way that students can relate to in an increasingly digital age.

“The teachers are doing great,” said Becky Keith, the district’s technology integration specialist and a member of the faculty.

Teaching the teachers is a big part of her job.

“Yesterday, just walking through the hallway, I saw all kinds of stuff,” she said one day in November. English teachers were using the iPads for book discussions, science teachers were using them to show instructional videos.

“Even those that aren’t as comfortable with technology have found something they can do, and have really taken off with it,” she said.

And teachers and students are better able to communicate with each other after school and on weekends about homework assignments, test preparation and other things using the Internet.

“One girl was at home sick, but was able to collaborate with a student who was here at school to work on their project,” she said.

Another girl, Keith said, was in Florida for Thanksgiving before the holiday, but was able to listen to the teacher’s lecture and ask questions over the Internet using her iPad.

Greg French, the school district’s information technology director, said  the weekend before Thanksgiving, there was more activity involving students using their iPads than during a typical school day.

French said having a one-to-one technology program was one of his goals and Superintendent Scott Hawkins’s.

Digital technology is rapidly becoming the way people communicate and work, and that’s especially true of teenagers.

“We were in a situation where we had students with more technology at home and in their pockets than we were using in the classroom,” he said. “So we started looking at how to prepare our students to be 21st century learners and prepare them for the job market. … We’re not just competing against Scott County and Anderson County, we’re competing against kids from Shanghai.”

Woodford County wants its students to be college- and career-ready, and that means embracing the students’ technology, he said.

“This is how they do everything, so why wouldn’t we take our content to them?” he said.

Some of the advantages of every student and teacher having a digital device like the iPad, French said, include “equity of access” to technology, improved collaboration between students and teachers, individualized learning and making class work more engaging for students.

Eventually, students won’t have to carry around heavy backpacks filled with books because most of their texts will be available as electronic editions that they can read on their iPads.

Already, this year, the World Civilization and Algebra 2 textbooks have gone digital, and from this point forward, French said, the high school will only buy texts that are available in digital format.

“We almost have a paperless classroom,” he said.

Students now have access to handouts, quizzes, their own notes, instructional videos and texts, all at the touch of their fingertips.

“The kids have their atlas on it, their encyclopedia, their calculator. … You can pile up all the things on a table that the iPad can do and replace them with the iPad. It has so many apps: the dictionary, the thesaurus. It’s all there, and it’s all free,” French said.

Hawkins, the superintendent, saw the endless possibilities of having a one-to-one digital learning program when he worked in the Daviess County, Ky., school district. There, the program used laptops instead of tablets. But Hawkins and French saw advantages to the iPads. At $500 each, the iPad 2 is about half the cost of a Mac Air laptop. It’s also lighter and more compact, and its battery holds a charge for about 10 hours, compared to an hour or two for the typical laptop.

It was a big investment, Hawkins said. The school district had some one-time capital funding, and used $170,000 of that for a building upgrade, and $785,000 for computers and software.

They had to completely rewire the high school and put WiFi access points above every classroom to be able to handle that much traffic.

They were convinced, though, and so was the school board, that it was the right thing to do.

“Greg and I had been talking about the one-to-one for probably about two years, just trying to look down the road to what’s going to be best for our kids in helping to prepare them for what they’re going to face after high school,” Hawkins said. “I just believed the one-to-one was the way to go.”

The school administration and faculty then decided to do a pilot program with teachers and students in four classes to see if the iPad was the device they wanted.

After seeing how well it worked, they decided last June to go ahead with the purchase.

Woodford wasn’t the first in the state to do a one-on-one program; some districts western Kentucky have. But he and French think they were the first to do a school-wide program using the iPad.

“To be a leader in Kentucky and one of not many districts across the nation that has done something like this is pretty exciting,” he said.

Already, Hawkins said, other districts are studying Woodford County’s example.

He tells others who are considering it to do a pilot program first.

“You need to see how your network’s going to handle it and what changes you need to make to your network before you do it school-wide,” he said. “And it really builds a core set of teachers who then can teach others how they can be used in the classroom.”

It’s important to have some teachers with experience to know what works and what doesn’t rather than have everybody “on the same footing” at the start, he said.

As soon as the program started in October, and school administrators and teachers saw how well the devices were accepted and how creative students and teachers were in using them, Hawkins knew they had made the right move.

“The high school principal, the first day after everybody got them, said they were carrying them around ‘like the gold tickets to Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory,’” he said, laughing.

On that first day, one history teacher told Hawkins she had been talking with the students about President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, and within 30 seconds, she was hearing Nixon’s voice in the classroom. One kid had searched for the president’s secret tapes, found one online and was playing it.

“It brought what they were talking about alive,” Hawkins said.

He heard similar stories throughout the day.

Hawkins said he thinks that within a few years, one-to-one digital learning programs like Woodford High’s will be common in school districts. At the moment, though, he and his colleagues are enjoying being pioneers.

“This is going to be interesting,” he said.


Note: This article was published in February 2012 by the Georgetown News-Graphic in its Woodford Living section, and is republished here with permission. To read the magazine online, click on this link or go to:

In Versailles, women mean business

By Randy Patrick

Simply Elan on Main Street in Versailles is one of the town's many women-owned businesses.

At her boutique, catty corner from the courthouse in Versailles, Sharon Butts makes cheerful small talk while wrapping a purchase for a matronly customer who says she’s done with her Christmas shopping.

A younger woman wanders silently around the store amidst the sweet scent of candles and the vivid colors of pashmina scarves and ceramic soap dishes, carefully handling the merchandise.

On one wall of the shop are novelty wooden clocks and ceramic figurines. Opposite, surrounded by necklaces and other accessories, is a picture of  1960s starlet Audrey Hepburn with a quotation about how women can attain her look by “buying the large sunglasses and the little sleeveless dresses.”

In front of the counter are some of the most fascinating items: vintage straight-back wooden chairs with bottoms covered by a latticework of belts of various hues and textures.

The chairs are as unique as the store’s original proprietor (she recently acquired a business partner, Jackie Kidwell), who is dressed in what she calls her “Joseph coat,” an eye-catching garment of many colors made of cashmere, wool and silk.

“I think I’m a hippie at heart,” she explains with a smile.

Butts’s son came up with the name Simply Elan, which means “elegant” in French.

“Some people think my name is ‘Elan,’ but it’s not,” she laughed.

The store, which moved from Lexington Road in Woodford County to Main Street, is, like its founder, extraordinary. But so are most of the shops in downtown Versailles.

Next door to Simply Elan, occupying part of the same Victorian-era building that was once a hotel, is her friend Theresa Williams’s art gallery, Solaris. It opened in June after Williams decided her online business needed an actual storefront.

People want to see the actual paintings and photographs, not just pictures of the pictures, Williams said.

“Now I use online mostly to advertise.”

At Solaris, Williams, a painter, sells her own art and others’ — including that of renowned nature photographer John Snell and a little boy named Brandon, who dropped by for a visit one day recently and was thrilled to learn that his rendering of his family’s country home in oils had sold for $25.

Butts’s shop, which, she said, she thinks of as “a women’s accessories and gift shop,” sells many handcrafted items from around the country, but she deliberately doesn’t sell paintings because she doesn’t want to compete with Solaris, Five Seasons and other local businesses that do.

‘”I think we actually complement each other,” she said.

If there’s something she doesn’t carry, and she knows nearby who does, she’ll refer a customer to another Main Street business, and the other merchant will return the favor.

A “hippie” might think of it as karma.

Sharon isn’t afraid of competition because women who make downtown a shopping destination will often go from one store to another and the relationships among the businesswomen is more cooperative than competitive.

“I wish there were more retail shops downtown,” she admitted.

The collaborative atmosphere suits Williams fine.

“We all try to support and help each other so that we can all survive,” she said. “It takes a lot of creativity and a lot of work nowadays to get people to come downtown.”

The historical business district is a vibrant and eclectic mix of small shops, galleries, antique stores, restaurants and offices in 19th and 20th century brick buildings. The area has a sort of feminine feel, in large part because most of the businesses in downtown Versailles are owned by women, and women do things differently.

Tami Vater, executive director of the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, said she doesn’t know why most of the businesses downtown are owned and operated by women, but it’s been a definite trend for quite some time, and it works.

“Women seem to do well in our downtown,” she said, and many of their shops cater to women customers.

“We have a niche market,” Vater said.

Versailles has become a destination for those who come to shop for the kinds of things they won’t find at the big box retailers or the malls.

“The women that run these businesses communicate with each other, they work together, they plan together and they collaborate to do what’s best for their business and downtown as a whole,” the chamber executive said.

For example, they will coordinate their hours so that when there’s a downtown sales event, they’ll all benefit.

“Women talk, and if you have a good sales opportunity, you’re going to share it with someone else.

“Word-of-mouth” advertising, cooperation and good customer service are what work in such a setting, Vater said.

“I think it’s what’s creating their success,” she said. “There is growth.”

Some of the other women-owned businesses are Raintree Gallery, Pretty in Pink, The Flower Box, Cornerstone Pharmacy, Frugal and Fabulous, two real estate offices, a lawyer’s office, antique stores and three restaurants.

At 1 o’clock on the day before Thanksgiving, nearly every table in Melissa’s Cottage Cafe was filled. The lively crowd included young couples, businessmen and a group of lady friends who were celebrating a birthday.

On several occasions, while Melissa Nickerson, the owner, talked with a guest, employees came by on their way out to wish her a happy holiday and give her a hug.

She didn’t think of it as being unusual.

“I’m a mom, is what I am,” she said with a smile. “We’re like a family here.”

Nickerson, who has held an assortment of jobs, had long thought about opening a restaurant downtown and had her eye on her building for a long time, before she finally started her business five years ago, offering what she calls “southern comfort” food. Most of the recipes are her grandmother’s, she mentioned. And much of the decor is from her own home.

“People walk into my restaurant who knew me before and say, ‘I feel like I’m in your living room!’” she said.

Melissa’s is one of the oldest establishments in town.

“It wasn’t always as good as it is now,” she said, but while businesses still “come and go,” downtown is succeeding.

The fact that most of the business people are women may be one of the reasons.

“I think women are more sensitive to people’s needs,” she said.

Jo Ludwick’s Sage Antiques & Uniques is the newest business to open downtown. She relocated her shop from Winchester Road in Lexington to a tiny space on Green Street, below the Chamber of Commerce office, which fronts on Main. She arrived just in time for the downtown Christmas open house and had been open for only a week at Thanksgiving.

No sooner had she settled in than “the girl across the street” came by to offer a warm welcome.

Ludwick said she chose Versailles because the kinds of businesses that are there attract women who’ll come downtown and make a day of it.

She thought that kind of customer base would be good for an unusual antiques store.

Men, she said, often shop like they’re on a mission. They’re looking for one thing, and they’re less likely to buy something they weren’t looking for, but women are different in how they shop.

“Women can go into a place if they’re having a crummy day and buy something small, and it makes them feel better,” before adding: “And my husband, like, totally doesn’t understand that.”

Ludwick said that because of the sour economy and the competition from thrift stores and other antique dealers, she’s had to change her merchandise.

“I used to have traditional furniture, but it was more expensive. So as time went on, I kind of went toward the shabby chic thing because a lot of the college girls really like that,” she said.

“I look for interesting things,” she said. “I love purses and vintage scarves,” and many Asian items such as colorful Indian saris and Japanese kimonos, because she once lived in Alexandria, Va., which has a large international population.

“I appreciate different things from different cultures,” she said. “I like learning new things.”

Athough she hadn’t gotten many customers yet in her new location, Ludwick was confident that it’s the right setting, and that the chamber of commerce and other associations will help get the word out. She thinks the place “has a lot of potential.”

“I really like being in Versailles. It’s very quiet, and I just like the feel,” she said. “Now it’s just a matter of people finding out that I’m here.”

That could also be true of downtown Versailles as a whole. For those looking for merchandise that is out of the ordinary, shops that cater to women and customer service with a feminine touch, perhaps it’s time to give Versailles another look.

Note: This article was published in February 2012 by the Georgetown News-Graphic for its Woodford Life special section. To read the entire magazine online click on this link or visit:


February 2012
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