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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

Thirty new businesses have joined Downtown Racine this year, with more prospects on the way

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Brit's BouChic grand opening

Customers peruse the merchandise at Brit's BouChic, 323 Main St., one of many new businesses opening this year in Downtown Racine in this file photo from April.

RACINE — After seeing only 10 businesses open their doors in Downtown Racine in 2020, the area has bounced back this year with a record-breaking 30 new storefronts, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kelly Kruse, Downtown Racine Corp. executive director, headshot

Kruse

And with more than a month to go, Downtown Racine Corp. Executive Director Kelly Kruse is still fielding calls, writing grants and taking other steps to recruit more potential newcomers. “It’s pretty, pretty incredible,” she said.

The DRC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources and hosting events for businesses in the Downtown district. Most recently, it hosted events like the holiday parade and tree lighting, the Beer and Bacon Walk inviting attendees to try craft brews and bacon-infused bites, and the Candy Crawl trick-or-treat event for Halloween.

Most new businesses opening this year are service-based, like beauty parlors and some office spaces, with a few restaurants and retailers.

With her supporters

Arielle Byrd, from left, Tyree Brumby and Omunique Monroe stand in front of Monroe's beauty salon, The Unique Experience, 212 6th St., in this file photo from June.

The spike in new businesses is record-breaking for the organization. In 2019, before the pandemic, the DRC welcomed 24 new businesses, so the drop down to 10 was unexpected in the year COVID-19 hit.

“Everybody just sort of froze, like a deer in headlights,” Kruse said of the initial stages of the pandemic.

“Coming out of COVID, Downtown Racine remained resilient, even in 2020,” she said.

Kruse said the increase in new businesses may also be the result of people realizing they would like to work for themselves, possibly after being laid off from a longtime job.

Monument Square through the years, from 1856 to 2021

“People are taking work into their own hands by starting that small business they always dreamed of,” she said.

Grant opportunities provided in the state this year — such as the Main Street Bounceback Grants announced in August — have also allowed businesses to spring forward.

Joan Roehre

Joan Roehre sits at a table inside her micro-venue, Social on Sixth, 324 6th St., in this file photo from March. On Jan. 17, Roehre is hosting a Betty White celebration at the venue in Downtown Racine.

The Main Street Bounceback program offers $10,000 grants to new and existing businesses, as well as nonprofits, that are considering moving into vacant commercial spaces in Wisconsin.

“They can cover rent with that, merchandise, whatever to get their feet on the ground (with) how fragile the first year of a small business can be. And then in addition, it’s filling up our Downtown,” Kruse said.

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