It’s no secret that the continuing loss of manufacturing and agricultural jobs has brought economic hardship to many areas of rural Wisconsin. While small town main streets have been heavily impacted, many communities have reversed these negative economic trends by strengthening locally owned businesses and commercial corridors.
The pandemic has threatened a lot of this progress, which is why the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has partnered with regional economic development organizations across the state to offer the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program. The program provides $10,000 grants to new or existing businesses to get them off on a strong start and providing an incentive to move into vacant properties in Wisconsin’s downtowns and commercial corridors.
Tin Cat Studios, which opened in May of 2021 on Keller Avenue in downtown Amery, is one of the first businesses to receive grant funds.
Keller Avenue is lined with historic storefronts like the A. Feit building, constructed in 1928. The building has had several owners and been home to several different businesses—from clothing stores to cafes—over its almost 100-year history. But it has also spent a fair amount of time vacant.
For owners Lisa and Randy Lee, the Main Street Bounceback Grant Program has been key to helping them survive their first few months. And that’s not just due to the pandemic. A few months before they opened the studio, the city began a months-long reconstruction of Keller Avenue. Being “a brand-new shop on a main street with no main street” has been a challenge.
“This grant has given us a great sense of relief to know we will be able to pay our rent through the challenge of the winter slow down, a continuing pandemic, building of our reputation and awaiting the end of construction.”
In addition to selling their artwork, Lisa and Randy do custom framing and offer low-cost, hands-on art classes for the community in everything from fused glass to watercolors.
The shop is filled with handmade gifts, art and décor from over 20 other local artisans, providing a great example of how the grants impact more than just the businesses receiving them. Plus, the building’s owner and main occupant, Bowman Leathers, has the added stability that comes from renting out the rest of the space.
Businesses like Tin Cat Studios and streets like Keller Avenue all across Wisconsin. By spreading the word about the Main Street Bounceback Grants Program to your clients, customers and business networks, you can help Wisconsin bounce back from the pandemic even stronger. For more information, along with marketing assets like social media graphics for you to use, visit wedc.org/msbb-toolkit/.