Lexington, Virginia, is struggling to recover its image as a welcoming community after one of its restaurants famously refused to serve White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The whole town faced a backlash after The Red Hen, a restaurant in downtown Lexington, refused to serve Sanders and her family, forcing them to into the street last June.
Rockbridge Regional Tourism is spending an extra $15,000 on digital marketing after a slew of negative coverage this summer from the Sarah Huckabee Sanders incident. https://t.co/f6Y1ZKgymR
— Alison Graham (@alisonkgraham) September 2, 2018
Stephanie Wilkinson, the owner of The Red Hen, reportedly followed the Sanders party across the street and organized a protest, “yelling and screaming at them from outside the restaurant and creating this scene,” according to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, even though Sanders had left the party.
The ugly incident prompted President Trump to lash out at The Red Hen on Twitter, calling it “filthy” and “dirty.”
Over two months later tourism in the small town is still reportedly suffering.
The Roanoke Times reported on Sunday that the regional tourism board has been forced to use emergency funds to boost its digital marketing campaign. Officials said the funds were needed because “the region is in desperate need of positive coverage.”
Local businesses were reportedly appalled by Wilkinson’s “small-minded and intolerant” decision to boot Sanders from her restaurant and at the time, some called on her to step down from her position as executive director of the volunteer-based organization Main Street Lexington.
Wilkinson resigned from the position on June 26.
“Considering the events of the past weekend, Stephanie felt it best, that for the continued success of Main Street Lexington, she should step aside,” said Elizabeth Branner, president of the Main Street Lexington Board of Directors.
Wilkinson’s restaurant closed for two weeks following the political firestorm and reopened for business on July 6. Unfortunately, her petty actions in June did lasting damage to the town’s reputation. The incident prompted a barrage of angry phone calls and emails to the tourism office, and the negative feedback reportedly continues to come in. One recent letter from a Georgia family said that they would never return to Lexington because of what The Red Hen did to the president’s spokeswoman.