Neighbors help neighbors unboard State Street

“The community has to come together to reconstruct or construct something that one individual couldn’t do themselves,” a volunteer said.
Published: Feb. 27, 2021 at 5:51 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - For months, boarded-up storefronts have been a familiar sight, following a summer of unrest in Downtown Madison. But Saturday, the plywood came down for roughly a dozen shops along State Street, and a group of volunteers made it happen.

Downtown residents teamed up with local contractors with the help of Downtown Madison Inc. and Madison’s Central Business Improvement District (BID).

“I’m just happy I can do my part and help the City of Madison get back to its original look,” volunteer Evan Burlingame said.

Other volunteers said they helped board and unboard the street multiple times throughout a tumultuous year. “We hope now the boards will be able to stay down, and State Street stores will have their lights back,” said Schaeffer, a volunteer coordinator who also works with the contractor Friede & Associates.

Tiffany Kenney, the executive director of BID, pointed to anecdotal data about boarded shops losing customers. She said owners would often hear, “‘I don’t even know if you’re open.’”

The owner of Clary’s Gourmet Popcorn, Ken Clary, had been in that position. “It just looks like a bombed-out war zone down here,” he said, watching as “normalcy” returned to the unboarding restaurant across the street. “We don’t even know who’s open and who’s closed, who’s still sticking in or who’s going to leave. We don’t know. It’s just not inviting for people down here.”

For State Street residents like Vic Villacrez, the return of storefronts was a revival of the “full, rich, urban lifestyle” that he so loves.

Seeing the volunteers come together, Villacrez said, “It’s almost like an old-fashioned barn-raising phenomenon, where the community has to come together to reconstruct or construct something that one individual couldn’t do themselves. But all of us— we could get it done together.”

Some businesses chose to keep their unboarded plywood for indoor display according to the volunteers. Meanwhile, others like Ian’s Pizza and Mimosa Books & Gifts chose to donate their plywood art to the city.

Kenney said the pandemic is continuing to stall hopes of showcasing the art to the public.

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