By CASSANDRA COLSON
Jackson County Chronicle
BLACK RIVER FALLS — An economic development initiative is under way to boost downtown Black River Falls business for the holiday season.
The Black River Area Chamber of Commerce and BRF Downtown Association are working together on a Main Street Pop-Up Program, which will offer low-rate, short-term leases on downtown property from November through December.
Officials hope the effort will develop into a small business incubator in the long term that will help jump-start the downtown.
“It’s vitally important,” said Chris Hardie, the chamber’s executive director. “If we’re going to revitalize downtown, you need to have the activity and you need to have people who are walking around and shopping to create a little buzz.”
The project hopes to attract local or regional businesses and start-ups that feature gifts, home goods, décor, specialty and other items to increase downtown foot traffic from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31.
The downtown association will pay rent and provide some money for utilities, and businesses will sign a lease that outlines costs they will incur.
The effort can give businesses that may not have their own storefront an idea of the feasibility of opening on Main Street in a low-risk way, Hardie said.
“I think it’s an excellent idea. We’ve talked about similar things for some time,” said Keith Brown, president of the BRF Downtown Association. “I think it goes right along the lines of wanting to … get an incubator building going so that smaller businesses that want to just start out and don’t want to gamble that heavily have a place to start out and show their wares.
“I think that’s probably one of the big things we have concerns of is trying to make the downtown look more vibrant. By getting these businesses filled up … we’re trying to make whatever we can do to make the downtown strong — that’s what we’re about.”
Hardie said he has already discussed the possibility of use the open storefront that formerly housed Torgerson’s Furniture — a large building that likely could accommodate several businesses. Other buildings will be considered depending on how many business owners apply for the program.
“We’re really looking at a retail environment to give people a chance to stop in and shop,” Hardie said. “What I hope comes out of this is someone who is on the cusp of, ‘Do I want to open a business or do I not?’ — if they go through this experience they may come out of this thinking, you know, I really like this, I’m ready to go for this full time.
“It’s a chance to get them interested and give them a taste.”
“We’ll have to see who applies (for the pop-up program). I’m hoping we get lots of applicants,” Hardie said. “We have to try some things to get some things going. I view it as just another step in the entire economic development effort.”