West Louisville Kroger closed-Derby weekend-barriers.jpeg

The Kroger near 26th and Broadway in west Louisville closed early on Friday, April 30, and concrete barriers were put up at the entrances to the parking lot, angering residents who rely on the store to purchase groceries. (WDRB photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Ben Jones' record store in West Louisville is his passion, his livelihood and his life's work.

"This place is definitely my whole life," he said Tuesday before sorting through rows of albums.

After a long pandemic, Kentucky Derby weekend should have been a good one for Better Days Records, but it left a lot to be desired.

Business was OK but not great, and Jones said a decision by the Louisville Metro Police Department was largely the reason why.

Last Friday, LMPD put up barricades around a strip mall that includes Jones' business near the intersection of South 26th Street and West Broadway. That decision caused a chain reaction.

Confined by the concrete barriers, the Kroger in the same plaza had to close early. Jones said customers were generally angered and confused. Stores like Better Days lost business.

"It definitely hurts the business," Jones said. "For sure, for sure it hurts the business."

LMPD spokesperson Alicia Smiley said in a statement Friday evening that the department put the barriers in the parking lots to "ensure the safety and security of citizens and businesses in that area." The barriers, Smiley added, were put in place "solely for the purpose of traffic control" and would "not impede pedestrians in that area."

"Businesses were consulted and agreed with the need to take steps to limit vehicular traffic on the lot after businesses closed for both traffic and security purposes," LMPD said Wednesday night in a follow-up statement.

When asked for clarification on what prompted the closure and blocking of the parking lot, Smiley said the area of 26th to 28th streets and Broadway "has been significantly impacted" during past Derby weekends. 

"Similar to what we see around many major events, including Central Ave during Derby, the sheer volume of vehicular traffic in an area can cause several issues and may require steps be taken ahead of time to mitigate such issues," LMPD said in Wednesday's follow-up statement. "Extremely congested traffic creates issues for first responders who are responding to emergencies in the areas by preventing access or affecting response times. In the past we received complaints from both businesses and residents about the negative impact of traffic on the ability of residents and patrons to access the area."

Jones said that is true; the traffic during Derby week can be crippling. 

"In the past, we have had Derbies where we've done little to zero business," he said.

However, Jones said LMPD's well-intentioned decision had the opposite effect and was also crippling. Part of the problem: LMPD said it began conversations about the barricades "at least two to three weeks prior," but Jones said shoppers and neighbors were not informed of the traffic plan.

Councilwoman Paula McCraney on Tuesday morning took to Facebook to demanded answers from LMPD.

"Oh, but wait...it's my understanding that no one wants to claim responsibility for making the decision. Bologna!" McCraney, D-7, wrote in the impassioned post. "I need answers. I need an explanation. I need heads to roll!"

On Tuesday evening, WDRB News learned from McCraney and two other council members that they will ask LMPD Chief Erika Shields to testify in a meeting next week to explain the barricade decision.

"I live in the City of St. Matthews, and I thought to myself, that would never happen in this area, so I wanted to know why they would do that to — especially the people who are the most disenfranchised," McCraney told WDRB News on Tuesday evening. 

Jones, meanwhile, hopes council's spotlight will produce answers and a better traffic plan for the area around his business before the next Kentucky Derby.

"Help us with direction of the flow," he said, "but don't block us in." 

According to LMPD's statement Wednesday night, all of the barricades were removed at 6 a.m. on May 1, and "no barricades were in place for the entirety of Derby Day." Kroger, however, said in a statement that its grocery store would close early (7 p.m.) "to allow our associates time to properly close the store and exit the parking lot prior to LMPD barriers being placed at entrances."

LMPD said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer's office and "some" council members were of the decision to barricade the area.

Concrete barricades have been used "at least" twice in the past, according to LMPD's statement. 

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