Gov. Evers’s Wisconsin Tomorrow Main Street Bounceback Program, which first launched last year, provided small businesses and nonprofits in Wisconsin with grants and storefront space as part of the state’s initiative to drive local business growth in the wake of a pandemic-battered economy.
Drawing on $50 million provided by the American Rescue Plan Act and providing individual $10,000 grants, Evers announced earlier this year that an additional $25 million in grants is set to aid as many as 2,500 small businesses and nonprofits.
Now, recipients of the first round of aid, many of whom have opened brick-and-mortar stores thanks to the grant, are sharing their experiences.
“I wouldn’t have been able to rent and fill that space had I not received [the grant],” said Sheila Desjarlais, a Washburn resident and owner of a children’s toy boutique. “It allowed me to put money into building out the space, putting shelves in and making it like a super fun, creative space.”
Desjarlais is just one of the over 4,000 small businesses owners in the state to benefit from Evers’s program, which aims to provide $10,000 grants to entrepreneurs in the state who open up shop in a vacant commercial space.
“Having that money was a game changer,” said Desjarlais, who’s since been able to expand her operations, opening for six days a week while hiring teens and young adults during the summer.
It’s illustrative of how federal and state aid can create a positive domino effect through the use of grants, revitalizing storefronts in communities while offering employment for local residents.
Washburn, which has less than 2,000 residents, saw an increase of 17 new businesses since the last quarter of 2019, with many locations opening due to the Main Street Bounceback Program.
“The block that my business is on is full. Every building now has a business in it that’s either opening this summer or just opened in the last year or so,” noted Desjarlais about how the town is quickly running out of vacant storefronts, against all odds.
“We’re seeing a lot more people in town,” said Melissa Martinez, the director of the Washburn Chamber of Commerce. “A lot more of the community members are staying in town because they can get what they need here instead of having to go to Ashland or go to Duluth.”
“I am as purple as you can get. I am not red. I am not blue, I could care less what party you are, your actions speak louder than words,” said Martinez. “I think Wisconsin’s governor has done an amazing job fighting for small businesses.”
The Evers administration has focused on a larger number of grants, programs, and resources for both specific communities and on different industries such as hotel and lodging, and live performances.