Downtown provides a cost-effective and scalable location for businesses to start and grow. Not only were downtowns the first live/work communities (a cost- and time-saving advantage that many entrepreneurs still take advantage of), but historic buildings also offer passive income potential in the form of rental of upper floor spaces, as well as future expansion opportunities. Over a business’s lifespan, it might expand from a single storefront to full-floor use, and even to include upstairs offices and meeting, event or storage space. Additionally, there are several financial tools available to support the purchase and renovation of downtown buildings that are less commonly available for other types of commercial developments. For example, financing from the U.S. Small Business Administration is available to business owners who live above their businesses, as long as the business occupies 51 percent of the facility’s square footage. More specifically, federal and state historic tax credits, as well s the U.S. Department of Energy’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Program are tools that are available only to owners renovating older properties. Depending on the project structure, these tools can provide equity up front or tax offsets in later years, thus improving the project’s financials.

Today’s featured business-woman is Deb Lash, owner of The Wedding Tree in La Crosse, which exemplifies a business that has grown and evolved in a downtown setting. After starting out as a single storefront bridal shop, the business has grown into the entire four-story building. The most recent project, the opening of the award-winning fourth floor Court Above Main event space, utilized historic tax credits to restore the former YWCA space into a stunning event space, further catering to the business’s special-event-oriented customer base cultivated over two decades in downtown.Deb Lash

How long has your business been open? 2017 marks the 21st year in business. In this time, the business has expanded from a single storefront into the entire four-story building.

What was your inspiration for your business? I started my career in the computer industry with the goal of being partner in my firm. When it was clear that would not happen, I decided to quit, choosing to spend my career pursuing my own goals. The only business for sale that I could afford was a bridal shop.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a business owner? Two things come to mind – fostering a nurturing, ethical and loyal culture resulting in long-term employees and loyal customers. The second is having visions and acting on them, such as turning the long-vacant top floor in to an event venue and purchasing and growing the La Crosse Bridal Expo.

How has being and entrepreneur affected your personal life and outlook? I have had many things go right in business, and many things not go right personally. Having success in business has helped me to keep my confidence boosted and taught me that I have the ability to impact many people in a positive way.