Baraboo business boosters are working to address three concerns common to local merchants: parking, signage and succession planning.
Those issues were identified during a 2017 “business walk” during which volunteers polled 200 merchants. Business groups have responded by following up.
“We’re trying to make sure the businesses know they’ve been heard and we’re trying to mitigate those issues,” said Andy Bingle, chairman of the Baraboo Economic Development Commission’s business walk subcommittee.
BEDC joined forces with the Baraboo Area Chamber of Commerce, other business groups and municipal leaders to address merchants’ concerns. They’ve begun a dialogue with Sauk County to address the number of downtown parking spaces its employees use.
A 24-hour lot north of the Baraboo Public Library has been paved, as the city offered to maintain the lot in exchange for the Al. Ringling Mansion opening it to public use. Merchants hope downtown wayfinding signs will help shoppers locate the sometimes underutilized Baraboo Civic Center lot off Oak Street.
The Chamber of Commerce plans to place wayfinding signs as part of its Discover Real Baraboo branding initiative. These would direct pedestrians and motorists to points of interest in the community. Business owners said cohesive signage would make attracting customers easier.
“All in all, it’s great to see the work we have been doing in writing and to know that we are all in the business of working together to improve together,” said Bobbie Boettcher, the chamber’s outgoing executive director.
Responding to merchants’ uncertainty over what might become of their businesses once they retire, the chamber focused part of its Professional Development on the Go series on business retention and succession planning.
“We’ve made some progress,” Bingle said. “It’s going to be an ongoing project.”
Downtown Baraboo Inc. President Deirdre Marshall said her organization addressed the business walk’s findings as well.
“DBI welcomes the feedback provided in the report, and has already been working on signage, marketing, extended downtown business hours and more events — all areas that were seen as needing improvement,” she said. “Even struggling businesses reported that they wanted to stay and continue to do business here, and we are committed to helping them do that.”
“To see all of the partners who facilitated the walk be involved in responding is heartening,” Boettcher said.
Ninety-one percent of merchants polled reported that business is somewhere between fair and great. They listed friendly customers, Baraboo’s location and support from local business groups as the best things about doing business here.
They suggested Baraboo would benefit from better marketing in the Wisconsin Dells and Madison markets, a more diverse base of businesses, a new hotel and affordable housing.
Bingle said the key to improving conditions will be vigilant follow-up. He’d like to see a business walk take place every three years. “Hopefully this is going to keep on evolving,” he said.