WEDC officials will visit locally owned businesses and vibrant downtowns

MADISON, WI., NOV. 22, 2023– Wisconsin’s unique small businesses help make our communities more vibrant and our state more prosperous. This holiday season, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is encouraging everyone to visit and shop at locally owned businesses.

Governor Tony Evers has declared Nov. 25 through Dec. 31 as a time to “Shop Small Wisconsin.”

“Small businesses contribute to our communities’ success by providing jobs, spending money locally and helping draw residents and visitors to our downtowns to gather, work and celebrate,” said WEDC Deputy Secretary Sam Rikkers, who will be visiting businesses in communities across the state. “The holiday season is an especially important time for us all to support local businesses as it’s the time of year when many businesses make the bulk of their revenue.”

Rikkers is kicking off Shop Small Wisconsin events Wednesday by visiting downtown Waunakee and touring the city’s historic train depot, where a Vibrant Spaces grant from WEDC helped improve the outdoor space around the depot. The Vibrant Spaces grant program was designed to help communities revitalize underused spaces to help make their business districts more attractive. The Depot, which houses the Waunakee Chamber of Commerce, has become a centerpiece of Waunakee’s downtown.

Afterward, Rikkers will be in Portage to visit their new downtown park, funded in part by the WEDC Vibrant Spaces grant, as well as furniture restoration store Beautifully Blemished, family-owned jeweler Forever Yours Jewelry, and several other small businesses in Portage’s historic downtown.

On Saturday, Rikkers will be shopping in downtown Ashland.

Supporting small businesses is one of the best things you can do this holiday season, said Mary Larson, executive director of Downtown Mainstreet La Crosse. Larson, a small business owner herself, is excited to welcome holiday shoppers to the downtown this year.

“Downtowns are the vibrant and diverse hub of Wisconsin communities, everyone is welcome here,” Larson said. “Local businesses give back to the community in a myriad of ways, more dollars stay in the community when you shop local.”

Across the state, businesses new and old are decorating their storefronts and eagerly preparing for holiday shoppers.

In Two Rivers, Theresa Kronforst, owner of the Schroeder’s Department store, is excited for visitors to see the beauty of Two Rivers and find everything they need at one of Wisconsin’s oldest, family-run department stores.

“It’s really important for us to bring people to Two Rivers, and have a good first impression,” Kronforst said. “Come visit! [Our community] is beautiful, there are so many local businesses and so much to do. ”

Schroeder’s has been in the family for four generations and is continuing to grow and thrive in Two Rivers expanding downtown. Their historic building is home to several other retailers dedicated to supporting each other and the downtown community.

Rikkers will be visiting Two Rivers on Monday, Nov. 27.

Family-owned businesses are a cornerstone of many Wisconsin downtowns. Wausau’s Janke Book Store opened in 1876 and is one of the oldest continuously run bookstores in the country. Janke Book Store has something for everyone, especially those interested in local history, said co-owner Jane Janke Johnson.

“We have strong roots here, and supporting the community is very important to us,” Johnson said.

This holiday season, the bookseller will be hosting a variety of community events, including hosting acclaimed children’s book author and illustrator Jan Brett. This event is one of many communities across Wisconsin are hosting this season. In Ashland, Santa Claus and his elves will be visiting local businesses on Saturday for a day of fun and cheer.

In historic downtown Portage, Aaron Ayers, owner of the Portage Furniture store, is thankful for the Portage community this holiday season.

“This is cheesy, but we’re just excited to see all the people that come to the downtown this holiday season,” Ayers said.

Oftentimes, Ayers recounts, customers were taken to the store by their parents or grandparents as children, and now come back to visit as adults. The historic building has been refurbished into a downtown landmark, a place for visitors new and old to shop this holiday season.

“We cherish our community,” Ayers said. “We want to make the downtown a place you want to be.”