Like most Bowling Green residents, Kirit Patel heard reports of tornado damage to homes and businesses along U.S. 31-W By-Pass during the early morning hours Dec. 11.
Those reports, though, held special import for Patel. One of his businesses, Red Barn Liquors, is at 1731 U.S. 31-W By-Pass, practically in the bull’s-eye of the ferocious storm that reduced many bypass businesses to rubble.
Fearful that his store would be another victim of a tornado system that Gov. Andy Beshear called the worst in state history, Patel wound his way along side streets, dodging downed trees and other debris in a maddeningly long trip to see how his building had fared.
Expecting the worst, Patel found instead an example of the capricious nature of storms like this one.
“I was so nervous about what had happened to our store,” Patel said. “My wife and I got to the store at around 7 a.m. and saw that the roof was still there and the building was intact.
“We breathed a sigh of relief. It was like God was looking out for us. It’s a miracle that it missed us by inches.”
Not that Red Barn was totally spared. A front window was broken, some siding was damaged and the store was without electricity for nearly two weeks.
But such inconveniences are a far cry from what Patel knows could have happened to his business. He only needs to look across the street to see the roofless Signature Signs headquarters or walk along the bypass to view neighboring buildings either gutted or leveled.
“It hurt seeing the other buildings destroyed,” Patel said. “We were dumbfounded that it (the tornado) got everything around us but skipped us.”
Patel owns three other stores under the Chuck’s Wine and Spirits brand in Bowling Green, and all were spared by the storm.
He has owned Red Barn Liquors, which dates to 1974, since 2001. Upgrades he made recently to the building could have made any storm damage even more devastating.
“We renovated it about a year and a half ago,” Patel said. “We enlarged it and put on a new roof and siding. We spent more than $100,000 on the renovation.”
Realizing how fortunate he is that those renovations weren’t trashed by the tornado, Patel has taken steps to help business owners and others affected by the storm.
Now back open as an oasis among a desert of downed buildings, Red Barn Liquors is giving back to the community that has supported it for decades.
Patel said the business will donate to local disaster relief efforts $1 from each bottle of wine sold through the end of March.
“I want to help in any way I can,” Patel said. “I love this community.”
Patel said he has been impressed with the response of the community after the tornado, and he’s confident many of his neighbors along the bypass will recover.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said. “The bypass looked like a war zone, but now a lot of the damage has already been cleaned up.
“I think Bowling Green has set a really good example for other communities on how to come together after this terrible event.”
Patel believes the comeback will continue beyond the cleanup stage.
“I hope the damaged businesses do come back,” he said. “I have talked to some, and they definitely want to build back.
“I hope the bypass is bigger and better than before.”
– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.
Dec. 11, 2021, will go down as the deadliest single day in Warren County history. A torrent of wind that weekend tore across several states, reaching Warren County early that morning.
It was eventually determined that three tornadoes roared through the county. In a matter of minutes, 14 people were killed, including seven members of one family and five members of another. Two people later died at hospitals from injuries and a man suffered a heart attack while cleaning up debris and became the 17th and final victim.
Along with the human toll, thousands of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Large sections of U.S. 31-W By-Pass, one of the city’s main business corridors, were decimated.
As 2021 came to a close, cleanup efforts were still drawing resources and volunteers from across the country, and the full, long-term impact of the tornadoes was yet to be determined.
But even more deadly in 2021 was the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
The official number of local deaths from the pandemic from 2021 was unavailable from the Barren River District Health Department, but the last report from that agency in 2020 had 233 deaths at the end of that year, and 846 listed dead from COVID in the eight-county region as of Dec. 29 – an increase of 613 deaths in 2021.
As 2021 progressed, COVID cases decreased and many in-person events returned, but cases again spiked in the fall amid the spread of the omicron variant.
While vaccines were rolled out in phases in 2021, the majority of southcentral Kentucky residents remained unvaccinated by the end of the year, despite many public campaigns to push vaccinations as a way to return to normalcy. As of Dec. 17, only 40% of Warren County residents were vaccinated. None of the eight counties in the Barren River area had vaccination rates of higher than 53%.
Most local school districts started the 2021 school year without mask mandates, then amid a surge in cases, reinstated them. But as 2021 came to a close, both Warren and Bowling Green schools have lifted mask mandates.
Among the other top stories of 2021:
“I’m just at the point in my life when it’s time for me to focus on the things that are most important to my family,” Buchanon, 69, told the Daily News.
Buchanon succeeded Basil Griffin as judge-executive in 1994 and was reelected seven times. His tenure has been marked by dramatic population and economic growth in Warren County. He was also instrumental in bringing the Kentucky Transpark to fruition and supporting the downtown Tax Increment Financing District, which has seen more than $300 million in investment in downtown Bowling Green. TIF projects include the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center and Bowling Green Ballpark.
His term will expire in January 2023.
• The aforementioned Transpark continues to expand at a rapid pace.
In January, Ball Corp. announced it was building a 450,000-square-foot facility there. The $300 million project is expected to employ 200 people making tops for aluminum cans.
Tyson Foods announced in October that it would build a 400,000-square-foot plant at the Transpark, a $355 million investment expected to bring 450 jobs.
• Through a deal with Warren County government, the Warren County Public Library took control of the iconic Capitol Arts Center, which marked its 100th anniversary as a theater in 2021.
The building that dates to the 1890s was originally a vaudeville venue.
• In January, Angela R. Carey, 30, and her parents, Charles W. McGranahan, 79, and Lupe V. McGranahan, 63, all of Morgantown, were found shot to death at their home on Lonnie Snodgrass Road just off Ky. 79.
Joseph Carey, 32, of Bowling Green, the estranged husband of Angela Carey, was charged with three counts of murder and three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment and awaits trial.
• Western Kentucky University President Timothy Caboni in July said he would not recommend to the university’s board of regents the removal of campus building and college names whose namesakes were historically linked to slavery.
That decision was contrary to the recommendations from a Naming and Symbols Task Force that Caboni convened to examine the issue. The task force recommended that WKU remove the names for Van Meter Hall, the Potter College of Arts and Letters and the Ogden College of Science and Engineering and in each case “provide context for the change.”
But doing so would be too “divisive,” Caboni said.
• In September, state Rep. Steve Sheldon, a Bowling Green Republican who has held the 17th District seat in the state House of Representatives since 2019, announced he won’t be running again for that seat after moving out of the district.
• In October, Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. of Bowling Green said he would not run for reelection in 2022, ending his tenure on the Kentucky Supreme Court.