Almost normal: Local workers say Election Day business as usual

Myles Racino, BCTC student and barista, poses for a portrait behind the counter of Third Street Stuff and Coffee on Nov. 3, 2020, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

The University of Kentucky declared Election Day an academic holiday, giving students and faculty the day off, though staff like dining hall employees continued to work. At eight locations around town, Lexington residents signed up to work at the polls, either for the county clerk’s office as a poll worker or as one of many volunteers handing out waters and offering moral support to people in line. Voters showed up, some coming from their morning shift, and many who had already voted stayed home and watched the news. But workers at small-owned service businesses in Lexington said their day was almost normal, even amidst one of the most anticipated and tumultuous elections in recent history.

Myles Racino, Third Street Stuff & Coffee

Behind the plexiglas barrier on the counter of Third Street Stuff and Coffee, Myles Racino is cheerful. Racino, a student at Bluegrass Community & Technical College, has worked as a full-time barista at the local shop, known for its colorful interior, for about a year.

For him, work on one of the most eventful days of the year has been nearly normal.

“Most years I’ve worked through Election Day and it’s been a stressful thing because I’m trying to get out and vote. But this year it’s been a little bit different where I was able to vote a couple days ago,” Racino said.

Customers were still coming into the coffee shop, and Racino said they brought the outside world in with them.

“We see a lot of “I voted” stickers and a lot of people will talk to us about the election and everything,” Racino said. “We’re definitely like a politically charged restaurant. We have a lot of thing going on in here, so there have been some people that I’ve seen get angry at us.”

However, Racino said he likes being at work so he is not plugged into the news all day.

“I can kind of tap out for a second and then when I get home catch up,” Racino said, which he planned to do that evening when he got off work.

Gayle Stockdale, Imperial Flowers

At first, Gayle Stockdale is hard to find. Stockdale, the owner of Imperial Flowers, sits at the back of the store, which is filled from the entry with floral arrangements. 

Stockdale said she had been inside all day so she hasn’t seen much of what happened on Election Day in Lexington. She voted early and was happy to see her fellow Lexingtonians do the same, voting in high turnout for what she called “the most important election in her lifetime.”

Imperial Flowers on Election Day was normal, Stockdale said, if a bit busier perhaps. Her dog, Chloe, gave no indication that the day was special in any way – chasing a tennis ball across the floor, flopping down in a sunny patch by the door.

Stockdale was most worried about what would happen in the aftermath. Not necessarily afraid of violence and chaos – “we’re still a country, right?”, she said – but about policy changes.

“If we don’t change things, we’re not going to have an earth left anyways,” she said of the U.S.’s current trajectory.

Stockdale said seeing more young people get civically involved gave her hope, but she still worries over the deep divides in the U.S.

“Another four years of this and I’ll be so exhausted I won’t be able to get out of bed,” Stockdale said.

Michael DeLucia, Pedal Power

Pedal Power, a bike shop on S. Upper Street, is bright, clean and airy. Employee Michael DeLucia, who was at the store all day, said business was normal for a Tuesday.

“People are still coming in with their bikes needing them fixed up,” DeLucia said, with little to no indication Election Day was happening.

While at work, DeLucia was not plugged into the news, but he said he didn’t think he would be glued to his screen at home either.

“I’m pretty versed and pay attention a lot so paying attention to the step by step process during election day isn’t super important to me,” DeLucia, who had already voted, said. 

And at Pedal Power, bikes were still the focus of the day.

“I think this Election Day is a little bit strange for a lot of people because a lot of people have already voted so the stress of requiring people to get down to the booths and get their votes in is a little bit different this year,” DeLucia said. “Honestly, it’s felt more like a normal day than it hasn’t.”

J. Michael Courtney, Black Swan Books

Black Swan Books is quiet. J. Michael Courtney, owner and operator since 1984, said this isn’t unusual for the store – but that the day had even more of a quiet feel to it.

Tucked into East Maxwell Street, the bookstore is deeper than it looks from the outside, with a chain of rooms – each filled floor to ceiling with books – extending into what used to be living quarters, back when the building was a family-owned plumbing business.

Courtney said in-store business was strong for the first few hours of Election Day before slacking off, but he can’t complain. In a year where small businesses folded under the pressure of COVID-19 closures, bookstores have one advantage.

“COVID has boosted reading, or at least seemingly so,” Courtney said. “We’ve been back open, I guess three months, our sales have not lagged at all over past years. If anything they’re probably up over past years.”

Within the quiet isolation of Black Swan Books, little news of the election had made its way inside.

Courtney said the only person who had mentioned it was the mailwoman.

“I asked her if she voted and she said no she had not, because the line this morning was too long,” Courtney said. He voted early and did not keep up with the news during Election Day. For one thing, he hasn’t owned a television in 25 years. And for another, he said the nature of a bookstore makes it less likely for news to come inside.

“It takes a certain person to want to go to a bookstore, so most of the people that come here are looking for certain subjects or are curious about something,” Courtney said. “It’s a different kind of business.”

Before COVID-19, the outside world was more likely to make its way into the bookstore with football games and visiting fans. Courtney said a woman from the University of South Carolina would bring the fighting rooster to see him and that he’s had his picture taken with it several times.

In this election season, Courtney has received a couple visits from out of staters.

“Both were here working on a campaign here in town, but now that the election is winding down they were both getting ready to return out of state so they wanted to buy some Kentucky books to take back to family,” Courtney said. This was no problem for Courtney – he has a whole section dedicated to Kentucky writers, including prints of Wendell Barry’s work, so he was able to find both customers the souvenir they wanted. Business as usual.

Samantha Murphy, The Domestic

Vintage store The Domestic has furniture, clothes, art – and a cat, Admiral.

The store operates through vendors, who find goods and bring them to The Domestic as a central selling place. Samantha Murphy, an employee and vendor, said their Election Day business was steady.

“We’ve had a decent amount of people but our Instagram business was really busy today too, so that was a little elevated,” Murphy said. “I think people are at home or at work on their phones a lot.”

Murphy is actively trying to avoid being sucked into her phone and the news, and being at work was helping her achieve that goal.

“Today is obviously very anxiety-inducing no matter what happens so to be able to stay busy and help customers and be surrounded by beautiful things helps keep your mind off the craziness,” Murphy said.

She said she might wait to catch up on the news because she doesn’t expect there to be a final decision soon because of all the mail-in ballots. Murphy already voted and has been encouraging others to vote, saying she likes seeing all the early involvement.

Her customers mentioned the election as they came into the store on Election Day.

“Seen a few stickers and a couple people have mentioned that they voted or have been getting out to keep their minds off things,” Murphy said.

Murphy is not too worried about post-election chaos; The Domestic is far enough off the beaten path that she thinks they wouldn’t be affected if chaos erupted.

“Honestly it’s just been a stressful year and then adding an election on top of all of it, we’re all just doing our best to get through it and enjoy it as we can,” Murphy said.

Rodney Washington and Jacob Washington, Fades Barbershop

In a normal week, Jacob Washington stops by his father’s barbershop at least once. Usually, one or more of his brothers end up stopping by at the same time, and it’s a chance for the family to see each other outside of the house – and for the boys to get their hair cut.

On Election Day, Jacob brought his father, Rodney Washington, lunch and was sitting in the chair ready to get his cut.

Rodney’s store, Fades, has been in the same location for 17 years. He has over 400 clients and said COVID-19 has affected his business in one notable way.

“When everybody came back they had a lot of hair,” Washington said.

Tuesday is usually a mediocre day for cuts, Washington said, and Election Day was no different.

Jacob said he was treating it like a normal day because no matter how the election went, results would not be available that night.

“No matter the outcome you can’t change it. No one of us can singlehandedly change what’s going to happen in the next couple days so you roll with the punches that you get,” Jacob said.

Jacob, a student at Transylvania University, said he voted early and had an easy time. He said voting has been high visibility this year.

“You walk down the street, you see more and more people talking about ‘I just voted’. That’s the only thing I’ve heard this week, that’s the only thing you see pop up any type of social media, any web browser, it’s ‘vote vote vote’,” Jacob said.

Washington brings that kind of civic engagement into the barbershop.

“I bring up the topic with them, I been doing that for some time,” Washington said. By the early afternoon, Washington had had 12 clients on Election day – 11 of whom had already voted.

While larger businesses like UK gave many employees the day of, Jacob said it was important for the barbershop to be open on Election Day, especially after missing business due to shutdowns.

“The thing about it is this is a small business versus those larger corporations are bigger, bigger institutions closing down cause they have the ability and manpower to do that,” Jacob said.

After 30 years in the business and having already weathered the COVID-19 shutdowns, Washington said he was not too concerned about ups and downs from the election.

“I roll right with it.”