The State of Downtown Madison

By Shayna Mace | Image courtesy of Tiffany Kenney

Many of us have favorite shops, restaurants and services in downtown Madison. But right now, downtown’s businesses (besides non-essential ones), like all businesses, are temporarily closed due to Governor Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order which was extended to May 26 last week. Madison’s Central Business Improvement District (BID) is comprised of 380 businesses on State Street and around the Capitol Square, and is a lifeblood for the city’s residents as well as tourists. We talked to Tiffany Kenney, the executive director of the Madison Central BID, for a real-time update of what she’s seeing for the future of downtown.

Q: What has your role been during the COVID-19 crisis with all of the businesses you work with? I imagine there’s a lot of education and support going on.

A: It’s a privilege to get to work for these property owners and the small businesses. I get to see how tenacious our small businesses owners are, how creative they are and how resilient they are. We have a board of directors and an executive committee, and what they have asked me to focus on is two areas: to be a source of information and provide optimism [for businesses and residents] for the recovery time period.

Q: Obviously, this is a tough time for everyone—even more so if you own a small business. How do you think downtown Madison’s businesses will fare after all of this?

A: [Realistically] we’re going to lose some businesses and I’m sad about that. We’re sad, but also hopeful. We’ve already seen some places close—like Flyght Cycle. Quizno’s on the Square has closed. We’re worried about someone like the Isthmus who’s been a really great partner and promoter of downtown. I think [downtown] will change, and some of our small businesses won’t survive. The optimism part is that we’ll see some businesses get creative and innovative and have new ways to operate. So, I’m hopeful for them.

Q: Can you give some examples of some of the BID’s businesses that have done some creative things to survive during this time?

A: One good example is Little Luxuries. Owner Amy Moore has a puzzle parade. She has all of her puzzles lined up and people can text her and she delivers them with gloves and a mask on … she doesn’t have a website, so she’s using Instagram and Facebook to post pictures of those puzzles and she’s trying to sell that way. Cento has a relationship set up with Green Cab that’s really innovative—[their food] can be delivered anywhere in Dane County via Green Cab for a flat $7 rate. The Soap Opera was probably a bit more ready for this situation. She has two things going for her: everybody wants soap—to wash their hands! Owner Stacey Scannell [also] has a good website, so she’s an example of a forward-thinking leader.

Q: When people actually can come downtown again and frequent the businesses, what events and attractions are you working on?

I was on a call [last week] to talk about art for downtown … it’s important that [we still] think about art and beauty, and we bring people things to encourage them to come downtown. We’re working with event organizers so we can see what they’re planning on—[for example] we want to stay on top of what happens with the Dane County Farmers’ Market because when people come downtown for our events, they visit our businesses and they spend money at our shops.

Our June Night Market is high on our list of things to look forward to … another is Maxwell Street Days in July. We’re not sure about the Cars on State event in early June, so we’re really looking through July at this point—we do have Night Markets planned for August, September and October.

We want to make sure that we’re ready when the world has healed a little bit more and we’re ready to come back out—that we can all come downtown. So I’m spending a lot of time right now prepping for the future and providing the two words we’re operating under right now: information and optimism.

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