by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Downtown Madison didn’t need more bad news. State Street, the heart and soul of the capital city — typically bustling with university students and tourists in the stores, bars, and restaurants up and down its pedestrian mall — now struck down by economic hardship, offers just a glimpse of the countless businesses around the country struggling to stay afloat in 2020.
As if the endless suffering of this tumultuous year — COVID-19, lockdowns, shutdowns, riots, and scared customers — weren’t enough, downtown Madison businesses on Tuesday learned the Big 10 is canceling its fall sports season. Now the bars, restaurants, retailers, and service providers so dependent on University of Wisconsin-Madison football fans won’t have the Badgers to bank on.
“Game days are our bread and butter. Without those, I think you’re going to see a lot of people struggling even more, with a lot of people closing,” said Jess Dye, owner of State Street’s Irish Pub. …
… It was a punch in the gut for business owners like Curtis Diller of Kilwins, a popular State Street sweets shop, who said his store’s sales are down 81 percent this month. They were off as much as 95 percent in March when Gov. Tony Evers’s administration issued the first stay-at-home order. By the time stores were allowed to open and operate in May, albeit at a reduced capacity, the riots and looting knocked downtown Madison business out again. It’s basically been rinse and repeat all summer, usually big months for business districts such as State Street.
Now a significant source of sales — Badger football Saturdays and other university sporting events — is gone. Diller said his store has become increasingly dependent on event traffic. With the loss of entertainment events at Madison’s Overture Center, the entrepreneur said things are looking worse than ever.