‘Wednesday Punch’ events have become local marketplace of ideas

Published 9:22 am Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Guest columnist

In an age when some spend hours in isolation staring at a small screen or communicating with divisive, 120-character Tweets, an informal institution has sprung up in Danville. At 5:30 on occasional Wednesday afternoons, people gather in the market half of Jane Barleycorn’s Market & Bar on South Fourth Street for about an hour for casual, civilized conversation, or “Wednesday Punch.”

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A specialty punch for each session is available for $5, along with soft drinks and regular fare from the bar side, of course. Anyone and everyone is welcomed to drop in for part or all of any Punch session. Danvillians who might be particularly interested in a topic sometimes even get special email invites.     

Last Wednesday’s topic, “Punching up Random Ideas for a Better Future Danville,” attracted 25 or so folks who shared ideas — in three minutes or less — ranging from the small, local variety (“enhance warm-weather entertainment possibilities by building a miniature golf course nearby”) to the more visionary and global (“since our Meggitt brake plant has a surprisingly global reach, let’s imagine making Boyle County the Silicon Valley of the aircraft industry”).

For this session, special invitations went to the political leaders of the city and county, the two candidates who’ve announced they are running for county judge-executive, our representative in the Kentucky House, and some local artists and entrepreneurs. Most everyone invited attended.

A few themes emerged during the lively, eclectic session. Many ideas focused on ways to make downtown Danville more attractive and vibrant in the future. Some thought that in spite of the good work of Heart of Danville and other local organizations, there could be even more recruitment, advertisement, nurturing and support for small and medium-sized retail and restaurants in the historic downtown area — a place being challenged in Boyle County and across the country by the centripetal forces of Walmart and other bypass giants.

One person proposed a new group to encourage, assess and oversee public art. There seemed to be a consensus that downtown traffic somehow needs to be slowed down. One person even passed around a schematic plan to make downtown safer by creating a “downtown one-way roundabout” that would reduce Main Street traffic and block off Third Street between Main and Walnut for various pedestrian uses.

Several people mentioned ways to attract and then support creative entrepreneurs downtown — though in this informal, blue-sky setting, ideas didn’t need to be monetized.

Although soon-to-be-localized Brazilian Esprito Cachaça was the base for the specialty punch that afternoon, as the session wore on, questions became as effervescent as bubbles in champagne: Can we better promote Constitution Square? Galvanize opinion for making Perryville into a national park? Engage and support African-Americans beyond erecting a plaque on Second Street? Better capitalize on Danville as both a college town and a retirement destination? Use the internet to more effectively attract younger people to our events?

“Wednesday Punch” is not meant to replace the various governmental agencies, NGOs, outside experts or strategic plans that might make Danville a better place to live. But a democracy thrives only when ideas spring up from all sides, like mushrooms on a damp spring morning. Think of Wednesday Punch as one of these mushrooms: a friendly, creative incubator, a sort of Happy Hour for ideas and conviviality. Punchy future topics? “Kentucky poetry” and “Danville’s Usable Past.”