As you drive north on Highway 51 through the town of Mercer, you may skip over the old building on your left across from the Krist Gas Station. At first glance, there’s not much to the worn brick and faded brown paint façade. But inside a transformation is underway. Kim Norkunas and her husband Chip are renting out the space and renovating it to fit their vision.

“You have a vision. You gut everything. You’re like, ‘I see it.’ But other people are looking like, ‘Are you sure?’” said Kim.

The space has been pizza place and an antique shop. It’s most famous for its rumors of being a bar once frequented by Al Capone. Now it will be home to Aurora Up North and Gunney SunShine’s PX. Their business is one of more than 3,400 in the state to receive a $10,000 Main Street Bounceback grant.

Governor Evers’ administration has used $50 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund small businesses through the Main Street Bounceback program. It helps small businesses move into vacant storefronts.

Aurora Up North in Mercer and The North Pole Bar in Hurley were the two most recent recipients of the Main Street Bounceback grants.

With these two, the grants have now gone to businesses in every Wisconsin county.

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation CEO Missy Hughes and Governor Tony Evers visited the Mercer Thursday to meet the business owners. Hughes says it’s not just a boost for the business that receives the grant.

“You can imagine being a small business owner. You’ve made it through the pandemic, but you’ve got an empty space on each side of you. We want to fill those spaces so that when folks are driving through town they stop, they’ve got a bunch of different stores to go to and to eat and shop at and just really support the local community,” said Hughes.

(Adapted from Filling in Vacant Storefronts: Main Street Bounceback program supports small businesses in every Wisconsin county Apr. 1, 2022, WXPR)