This summer, the Village of Lexington
introduced a new social district aiming to encourage engagement, entertainment, and exploration of the downtown area’s local businesses and shared spaces.
Per the Michigan Public Act 124 of 2020, social districts allow licensed establishments including bars, distilleries, breweries, and restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages in special to-go cups to be consumed in common areas. During the pandemic, they offered a safer avenue for outdoor socialization and also gave a boost to small businesses such as bars and eateries that were impacted by restrictions. Now, many cities, townships, and villages have their own social districts within their communities. Some are year-round while others operate seasonally or for special events.
Created and managed through the Lexington Downtown Development Authority
(DDA), the Lexington Village Social District
was launched in July 2023 and runs along Huron Avenue from Main Street to the harbor front, and along Main Street from Simons Street to Boynton Street. The common area includes part of Tierney Park.
Utilizing the Village of Lexington’s social district is simple: plastic to-go cups from participating businesses are identified with special social district stickers, and outdoor signage helps patrons identify where they’re allowed to take their drinks outside to enjoy. So far, there are four establishments participating: The Windjammer Bar and Grill
, the Village Pub
, Sweetwater Gourmet Deli & Bar
, and 3 North Lexington
Michael McGovern, chairperson for the Lexington Downtown Development Authority DDA.
Michael McGovern, chairperson for the DDA
, works to invest in the area, looking at ways to enhance the village with opportunities such as improving infrastructure, village beautification, music in the park events, and more.
According to McGovern, the village’s social district is open throughout the year and is very similar to the one established in Port Huron. He says approval was required by the Village Council and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, although there were a few initially opposed to the idea, expressing concerns that the social district might encourage unsafe drinking or require additional police.
“Our goal was to be cautious in the first year and make sure there were no problems,” McGovern says. “We wanted to see what the impact would be on our Department of Public Works, would there be a lot more trash, and also what the impact would be on our law enforcement too.”
Charlie Revelle and Jason Parker enjoy a beverage in the Village of Lexington's social district.
McGovern says the response so far has been excellent and that there hasn’t been an increase in garbage or additional incidents requiring more police.
“Our first year of feeling it out went really well and now is our chance to improve upon it,” he says. “Another thing we try to do is let our social district focus on the social, instead of focusing solely on the drinking. So we’re thinking of doing things like an ice cream social and things like that.”
As part of its more family-friendly programming, the social district set up a table passing out Halloween candy, and potentially host other events like street fairs planned throughout the year to encourage engagement, even for those under 21.
“We wanted to make our social district more social than just an open bar,” McGovern says. “We’re trying to keep Lexington more of a year-round place to visit, and if you live here, provide stuff to do all year. One of the goals of the social district is to help. Our mission is to add one more element of fun in the village.”
(From left) Dina Reckinger Wurmlinger, Mary Jo McGovern, and Kathy DeCoster pose for a photo during Lexington's Christmas Horse Parade.
Richard Laframboise is the manager of The Windjammer Bar and Grill
, located along Lexington State Harbor
’s waterfront on Huron Avenue. Laframboise and his wife bought the restaurant in early 2021 and fully renovated the establishment.
Although the district launched a bit more than halfway through the restaurant’s busy season, Laframboise says their customers have been enjoying the social district.
“Once it got to be known, there was a bit of an increase in business from it, but I think it’s going to have more of an impact this summer,” he says. “What it will help support are the events going on in the park down here by the waterfront and up the street to create more foot traffic. People like that they can enjoy a cocktail as they're going around.”
From a business owner’s standpoint, Laframboise says the social district offers other benefits such as the potential for additional sales. When customers are coming in to grab a social district drink, they might also order takeout menu items.
“I think it’s something that’s good for Lexington Village,” Laframboise says. “It’s going to take a little bit of time to mature and figure out the ins and outs of it, but I don’t see a downside to it. I think it’s a good thing.”
Collin Westbrook is the general manager of the Lexington Village Square, the complex that includes the Lexington Village Theatre, the Village Pub, Sweetwater Gourmet Deli & Bar, and the Village Square Suites on the second floor.
Collin Westbrook, general manager of the Lexington Village Square.Westbrook is a DDA board member as well as a part of the small business community, so he brings insight and perspective to how a social district can benefit businesses, but also the larger impact.
“We’re the first — and still the only — village, city, township that offers a social district in Sanilac County. I think that’s a big talking point that helps drive business to our lovely community,” he says. “It bolsters what we already offer and provides another reason for people to come here and experience everything else that we have to offer; the restaurants, the shops, the hotels, the beach and marina, and this cool, quaint little spot that people are becoming more and more familiar with.”
The Lexington Village Pub and Sweetwater Gourmet Deli and Bar are participating businesses, and both allow drinks to-go in 16-ounce plastic cups. Westbrook says many visitors were pleasantly surprised to hear about the new social district this summer and he saw an uptick in the sale of to-go drinks.
The Cotton Candy Martini and the Bomb Pop Drink! Both were two of the featured beverages in the Village of Lexington's social district for the 4th of July weekend.“We have allowed any beverage to be purchased,” Westbrook says. “On special occasions, we did provide certain drinks, whether they were festive or themed drinks like for the Fourth of July or Labor Day. We had themed drinks like hot cider, hot chocolate, and coffee and you could add Baileys or Kahlua for the Christmas tree lighting. With the sticker and specific cup, they could walk around town, enjoy the holiday festivities, and partake in the event.”
For the future of the social district, Westbrook says he hopes they can encourage even more events and create a cohesive gathering space that’s not dependent on alcohol.
“Lexington is very good at doing events already, there are always fun things to do, but this social district will allow us to do even more and bolster the ones we already have,” he says. “It also helps people enjoy nature, go down to the park we have which is undergoing a lot of great construction and improvements in the next year or two. There are going to be a lot of opportunities for fun social activities that can take place in the beautiful greenery and everything around Lake Huron and the parks.”
For more information about the Village of Lexington or the new social district, visit villageoflexington.com
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