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Grants add life to Wisconsin’s Main Streets

October 27, 2021
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When Monica Lara saw Governor Evers walking along Fond du Lac’s Main Street earlier this month,
she knew she had to meet him and thank him for the Main Street Bounceback Grant
that has helped her open her jewelry shop, Argentum et Aurum.

Main Street Bounceback helps entrepreneurs open businesses in vacant commercial properties

Monica Lara is pretty sure her newly opened Fond du Lac jewelry store is magical.

“It’s like a good luck charm,” Lara says of the $10,000 Wisconsin Tomorrow – Main Street Bounceback Grant her business received. “I’ve been selling jewelry. People are starting to get to know me. It’s like a dream to be on Main Street.”

Across the state, entrepreneurs are opening the doors to their new shops and restaurants with help from the Wisconsin Tomorrow – Main Street Bounceback Grants.

“It’s kind of a revitalization of the community,” says Melissa Martinez, director of the Washburn Chamber of Commerce.

The city of roughly 2,000 people has already received 10 Main Street Bounceback Grants. Martinez says the money is already making a difference in the small Bayfield County community.

“That all goes back to the community,” Martinez says. “It doesn’t just stay with those businesses.”

Governor Tony Evers announced the $50 million Main Street Bounceback Grant Program in April as a way to help small businesses build physical storefronts and help communities fill vacant commercial spaces. The program, which began in August, runs through June 2022 and offers $10,000 grants to businesses and nonprofits that locate in or expand into a vacant commercial space. The grants come from the state’s share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

For the business owners, the grant can give them financial space to focus on their new storefront. For Lara, the grant meant she could quit her job and work full-time with her jewelry store, Argentum et Aurum.

The store, whose name means silver and gold in Latin, sells Lara’s jewelry made with all recycled metal and some repurposed gemstones. Her style is somewhat rustic, with her pieces meant to look like artifacts or “pirate treasure,” she says.

“This is taking off and I love it,” Lara says. “I can use my imagination.”

The grants are also transforming communities.

In Prairie du Chien, seven businesses on Main Street are in-progress or received the grants, with eight other businesses receiving grants (or in progress) in other commercial corridors, says Carol Roth of Driftless Development.

“We’re trying to make Prairie du Chien more vibrant,” Roth says. “And this grant is a great step in helping make that happen.”

In Washburn, the city had about 15 vacant commercial spaces earlier this year, Martinez says; now there are about four.

“We’ve been considered the pass-through on the way to Bayfield,” Martinez says. “We’ve been underestimated.”

Most of the businesses moving in are being started by area residents and are designed to serve residents rather than rely on tourism, she says.

“It says a lot about our community that businesses are willing to open in such uncertain times,” Martinez says.

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