BOSCOBEL - Rex Smith already had big dreams for his business expansion on Boscobel’s Wisconsin Avenue. So when he heard about the state’s Main Street Bounceback Grant Program, which focuses on expansions, it seemed like an obvious fit for his master plan.
Rex had purchased the building next to Fin ‘N Feather bar with the idea to remodel the upstairs apartment and outfit a commercial kitchen on the first floor. Two months later, the bar, which shares a wall with Smith’s property, burned down.
“Everything got put on hold. I wasn’t sure what I would be dealing with or how it would work out,” said Smith, who is the Dining Services Manager at SW-Tech.
Ultimately, Smith purchased the now-vacant lot next door with dreams of building an outdoor kitchen. He also approached Boscobel’s City Council about buying a sliver of land to complete the property, which is adjacent to the Depot and farmers’ market.
Along the way, he learned that his business could get a dose of support from a state program designed to help small businesses expand.
The Main Street Bounceback Grant Program is one of several economic revitalization programs to emerge during the Covid-19 pandemic. Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, Bounceback has a simple mission: to help small business of all types to expand their operations or open a new location.
The program grants up to $10,000 to any new or existing business that is moving or expanding into vacant real estate 400 square feet or better.
The program originates with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Governor Tony Evers’ office, which has earmarked a total of $100 million for the grants. Regional organizations administer the dollars across the state. The Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SWWRPC) handles local grant requests for Grant, Richland, Iowa, Lafayette, and Green counties. Crawford County is grouped with the next region to the north.
So far, 6,600 grants have been awarded statewide, including 228 in the southwest region. The deadline for applications was recently extended to the end of this year.
Smith, one of two local businesses to receive the grant, said he was surprised at the simplicity of the grant application.
“Some of the grants out there are real specific and difficult to write for,” he said. “This program was easy. The people at the state were great, and they walked me through every step. I felt that the state wanted me to get this money, and they wanted me to be successful.”
Heather Kramer, of Trillium Midwifery, agrees. Trillium, co-owned with her partner Alison Peralta, was the other local business to receive funding through the program. Kramer said they used the funds to update and outfit their Boscobel-based birthing center, which opened last year. The midwives expanded from a location in Prairie du Chien.
“We found out about it from another midwife in the state who had got one in their town,” Kramer recalled. “It was a pretty easy process.”
Open to (almost) all
The program is supposed to be simple—to meet its simple mission, according to Troy Maggied, Executive Director of SWWRPC. “The goal is to fill vacant buildings,” he said.
The few requirements limit grants to businesses expanding into at least 400 square feet, restrict real estate speculators from using the grant to flip properties, and excludes franchises (except those independently owned and operated). The expansion does not have to be on a main street.
The application is just three pages long, and the required documentation is a proof of business, a lease or deed on the property, a letter of support from SWWRPC, and a W-9 form for the business. All local grants are initiated through SWWRPC, so the first step is to reach out to that organization.
Of the 228 approved applications in the southwest corner of the state, 49 went to accommodation and food services businesses, 43 to retailers, and the rest spread over a wide variety of business types, ranging from fishing and hunting to arts and entertainment to healthcare.
While Maggied said the statewide funding skewed toward urban areas like Madison and Milwaukee, local concerns were easily funded. “We’ve had more than enough money to cover the requests we’ve received so far,” he said, “and we could go back for more if we needed it.”
Local businesses interested in expansion are urged to reach out to Maggied at firstname.lastname@example.org
Results this spring
Back on Boscobel’s Wisconsin Avenue, Rex Smith is enthusiastic about the results of his spending. In addition to the outdoor kitchen and pop-up vendor area, Smith said the funding will help create a more period-correct façade for the former harness shop.“The materials are in the shop. It’s just been too busy to get to it this fall,” Smith said. “We’ll get that north wall finished and then get the front to be more period correct. Permits are received. I basically have everything lined up for the spring to be up and running by Memorial Day weekend. That whole corner is going to see a lot of activity.”