The increased number of restaurants and bars on State Street has Mayor Paul Soglin concerned it could turn into a street of “megasaloons,” with the new establishments crowding out small retail shops.The last time I was there, much of the sidewalk was taken up with the outdoor cafes, which might be contributing to the sense that it's an outdoor mall, or Madison's answer to the San Antonio River Walk, or Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
The original intent of State Street was not to compete with shopping centers, but to create a space for local businesses to sell original merchandise, Soglin said at a news conference Tuesday.
“We want to keep it a street where thousands and thousands of people every week can walk and enjoy their principally locally-owned businesses, where you don’t get the feel that you’re in an outdoor mall,” Soglin said.
Nearly 30 percent of the 350 downtown businesses downtown are retail, 40 percent food and drink and the remaining are service businesses such as salons, spas and fitness centers, Mary Carbine, executive director of Madison’s Central Business Improvement District, said.
Read on, though, and you see that incentives matter.
State Street’s success over the years has driven up the property costs in the area; this makes it challenging for local businesses to pay the high rents when competing against liquor sellers, Soglin said.How does that policy initiative square with the marketing strategies of the University of Wisconsin, which, while not quite a business model party school, is revenue-driven all the same, and the revenue is from upscale Coasties whose parents will spend freely on football, basketball, and comestibles? Let the Wisconsin residents go to Milwaukee. Evidently, there are not enough patrons left for the head shops or Third World crafts or radical books.
In order to maintain the “flavor” of State Street and stop the shrinkage of retail, Soglin said he hopes to start a city-wide conversation about the curtailment of places that sell food, alcohol and coffee.
Instead of the addition of new restaurants and bars to State Street, Soglin said he hopes to see the retention and implementation of more local independent bookstores, art galleries and retail stores.
Soglin said he believes retail stores downtown are too few and far between.