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Small businesses help communities thrive

February 25, 2022
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WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes visited the new Sweet Tooth candy shop in Prairie du Chien on its opening day in late November. The shop features some interactive elements, such as giant resin gummy bears that can be used to measure height.

More than 3,000 Main Street Bounceback Grants awarded

Across the state, more than 3,000 locally owned businesses and nonprofits are opening new brick-and-mortar locations with help from the Wisconsin Tomorrow Main Street Bounceback Grant Program. In turn, those businesses are energizing their communities.

“Wisconsin small businesses are the hearts of our communities, but they also have been some of the hardest hit during this pandemic and deserve all the support we can give them,” says Governor Tony Evers. “We’re going to keep working to ensure our state’s economic recovery, and supporting our small businesses is an important part of making sure our Main Streets, communities and state bounce back from this pandemic even better and stronger than before.”

The Main Street Bounceback Grant Program, which runs through June 2022, offers $10,000 grants to businesses and nonprofits that move into or expand into a currently vacant Wisconsin commercial property. WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes and other members of Governor Evers’s cabinet traveled the state to visit these new businesses and meet the entrepreneurs behind them.

“Time and again, we’ve seen how the health of our communities is intertwined with the success of Wisconsin’s small businesses,” says Hughes. “These businesses not only employ our neighbors and provide us with necessities. These are the places where communities gather.”

Already, business owners say their communities feel livelier and more hopeful.

“The grant has been incredible,” says artist John Hopkins, who with his wife and fellow artist Susan Lince received a grant to open a Washburn art gallery that celebrates the work of artists living near the Wisconsin Lake Superior National Scenic Byway. “That is an engine of growth in a community that was essentially a drive-through community. We have something wonderful here. Washburn is more than anyone ever thought of us.”

In Prairie du Chien, Crystal and Brian Priebe spent the weeks leading up to holiday shopping getting their new candy store ready. Crystal Priebe took some time off from making her signature chocolates and instead focused on making giant gummy bears out of resin for the new, larger Sweet Tooth candy store. The gummy bears will allow visitors to measure their height.

It’s just one of a number of interactive elements in the new store, which includes a magnetic puzzle and candy quiz. But for Priebe, the best feature of her new space is the kitchen. Before she moved to the larger store, the Sweet Tooth’s homemade confections had to be made at a commercial kitchen off site. Now Priebe and her husband, Brian, will be making homemade chocolates from Priebe’s mom’s recipe, English toffee and more on site. And the store will still carry some non-traditional treats, including beer-flavored cotton candy and some uniquely flavored sodas like bacon and dill pickle.

“Ranch dressing is one of our more popular ones,” says Priebe. “That surprised us. We’ve tried them all. Most of them taste better than I was expecting.”

In Waupaca, Andrew Colden makes dozens of attempts to perfect scents for his candles, bath and home products. He started Wanderlust Scents – designed to capture destinations in scent form — in 2015 but this is the first time he’s had a physical store.

“The community is just amazing,” Colden said. “It’s just non-stop traffic.”

He’s already noticing some differences. Online, his bestselling scent is Old Havana. But at the shop where customers can smell each destination, the most popular are Baileys Harbor and Rocky Mountains. But his newest destination scent is also proving popular: Lambeau.

“It’s not going to smell like Aaron Rodgers’s sweat,” Colden said. “I think of Lambeau and I just play off that—grass, the leather of a football, autumn spicy fall pumpkin scents.”

In Galesville, Kelly Gardner was excited to welcome customers in for her first holiday season at Create Happy, a jewelry shop that specializes in turning used materials into jewelry. Gardner has turned everything from old purses to footballs into keepsake jewelry.

“We take something broken and make it whole and beautiful again,” she says. “The business has always been called Create Happy, and that is always my goal: to create happy for myself and for other people.”

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