Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
December 2005
Main Street Helping Main Street: The Wisconsin Story

Communities Pitch In to Help Out Others

Even after a decade of being involved in Main Street, I am continually amazed at the capacity of local Main Street Directors, staff and volunteers as they work tirelessly to shape the future of their districts and communities. Everyone is a "giver" in this field, and with all the time and energy downtown revitalization demands, it's a wonder there is room to take on more.

However, in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Main Street organizations across the nation have reached outside their own districts to help Gulf Coast communities in need. It is no surprise then that several Wisconsin Main Street communities have mobilized to help in a variety of ways. Some focused on the immediate human needs, while others targeted specific Main Street communities to help in the rebuilding effort.

Positive Pewaukee, a Wisconsin Main Street program since 1996, is known across the state for its successful and creative fundraising efforts. Director Elaine Kroening and her staff came up with a "Main Street Helping Main Street" campaign to help fellow Main Street communities affected by the hurricanes. In addition, they challenged other Wisconsin Main Street communities to do the same. Some took the challenge and others had already begun their own relief efforts. I am proud to share these Wisconsin stories with you as I feel they reflect the compassion and dedication of all Main Street communities to come together to accomplish the extraordinary.

As part of their local campaign, Positively Pewaukee organized a fundraising concert on the evening of September 14, 2005. A large thunderstorm the previous night left the city without power on Wednesday except for one building…the beach house where the concert was being held. Despite the power outage, the event raised nearly $8,000, and just as importantly, helped those in the community get a small taste of what communities in the Gulf coast were going through.

Downtown Beloit Association, a Wisconsin Main Street program since 1988, took the idea of offering assistance to Main Street communities to heart and spent a good deal of time researching cities to target one with similarities to Beloit. They chose Main Street Biloxi. They kicked off a Beloit to Biloxi Fund Drive on September 30, 2005, with a concert in the park and lunch which raised $1,500 for Biloxi. The weekend continued with gallery openings, live music, etc., with business owners, artists, and Farmers Market vendors donating money or a portion of their sales to the cause raising over $4,000 to date. Additionally, other downtown businesses and organizations are finding unique ways to help support Biloxi.

Prairie du Chien Downtown Revitalization, Inc., a brand new Main Street program, also followed suit. They held a benefit concert on October 15 which raised over $500 to support the rebuilding efforts of Columbia, Mississippi. The event, called "Cajun on the Corner", featured Cajun music as well as Cajun-style food donated by local restaurants.

As yet more proof that Main Street communities work together, Main Street Stevens Point, Main Street Marshfield, and the Association of Downtown Businesses in Stevens Point, banded together to help Minden, Louisiana. Roehl Transport of Marshfield donated a semi- tractor, trailer, and driver to transport the truckload of non-perishable items to this northern Louisiana community whose residents are hosting over 3,000 evacuees from the hurricane. The donated items were delivered to Minden before Thanksgiving.

In Eagle River, a Wisconsin Main Street community since 1999, the Downtown Business Association took the lead in conducting a fundraising auction to benefit the American Red Cross/Katrina relief effort. Over 100 businesses donated to the event in the form of newspaper, television and radio promotions, food, beverages, banners, etc. In the end, an amazing $32,765 was raised through the auction, and $250 was raised in cash donations.

In Viroqua, a Wisconsin Main Street community since 1989, a fundraiser was held on September 9. The local radio station did live remotes all day giving updates on the funds raised. By 6:30 p.m., Viroqua businesses and residents donated over $30,000 for the Red Cross/Katrina relief effort. On top of that, the Viroqua area was hit by a series of tornados in late August, just before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

On September 22, they raised over $11,000 for victims of that tragedy, plus a Chevy Suburban full of groceries was delivered to a local food pantry. And if that wasn't enough, they raised $5,700 for tornado victims during their annual Wild West Days events in the days after the local tornado.

Among numerous other efforts in the community, the Board of Directors of Rice Lake Main Street contributed in a unique way. The Board received a $250 finder's fee for helping a local entrepreneur go live on the Wisconsin Common Market web site. The Board voted unanimously to donate the entire fee to the Katrina relief effort. In the words of director Kathy Wellsandt, it was a "win-win-win" scenario.

Richland Center Main Street, a Wisconsin Main Street community since 1992, had a great idea to help the children affected by Katrina. As part of their annual Center Color Fiesta, several local businesses contributed toward the cost of renting a "bounce house". All proceeds collected that day went to the Salvation Army and will be used for Christmas gifts for a family that was the victim of Hurricane Katrina.

And finally, not all Main Street communities were able to organize specific fund raising events, but that did not stop them from helping in some way. One example is Main Street Wausau, a Wisconsin Main Street program since 2002. They made personal requests of their Board of Directors, business owners, volunteers and staff to make contributions toward the Gulf Coast relief efforts. This tragedy has touched the hearts of many business owners in Wausau who feel they can make a real impact on the rebuilding of small businesses in the South.

Main Street organizations make a difference every day, and these are just some of the many examples of how our communities across this wonderful country can work together when the need arises. For more information on these fundraising efforts, contact Joe Lawniczak at jlawniczak@commerce.state.wi.us. He can put you in contact with these local Main Street programs.

-- Joe Lawniczak, Design Coordinator, Wisconsin Main Street

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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