'Summer Shop Hop' celebrates growing downtown retail scene

14 shops partner up to offer chance to win $1,000 shopping spree

Lauren Fisher, photos by Andrea Paulseth

DOWN ON MAIN STREET. 200 Main is one of the growing number of small shops in downtown Eau Claire.
DOWN ON MAIN STREET. 200 Main is one of the growing number of small shops in downtown Eau Claire.

Visit the Downtown Summer Shop Hop website to learn more, and flip thru hi-quality photos of each shop.

Just last year, 25 new businesses opened their doors in downtown Eau Claire, providing even more opportunity for locals and visitors to dine, recreate, and shop.  This summer, 14 downtown stores are partnering to bring on the Downtown Summer Shop Hop, a celebration of sunshine and the exploding downtown retail scene that starts today and lasts until August 31.  Explore South Barstow and Water streets and shop at 10 participating venues (grabbing a passport stamp at each spot) to be eligible to win a $1,000 city center shopping spree. No purchase is necessary to win – just a jaunt along the river to check out old favorites such as B-Framed Galleries and Azara and new venues such as Raggedy Man, The Hatch, and Blue Boxer Arts.

“When I look back even 10 years ago, it was such a ghost town,” Jo Burke, co-owner of 200 Main Gallery, recalled. Now when she walks downtown she sees people of all ages enjoying the music, viewing the sculpture tour, and visiting the shops.

“What I think makes people thrive or makes businesses thrive is when they work together with others.” – Jo Burke, co-owner of 200 Main Gallery

“The big factor was bringing more people downtown,” Mike Schatz, Community Development Administrator said. The City Council, Eau Claire Downtown Inc., and private investors have partnered over recent years to improve housing opportunities downtown and in the surrounding areas. These groups invested in mixed-use buildings with retail on the ground floor and living space upstairs. Efforts were also made to beautify the streets and build parks, just as big employers like Jamf and Royal Credit Union came on the scene, bringing with them workers who wanted to live close to where they work and play.

Schatz praised the balance between old hands and new faces, and noted the significance of those businesses who’ve stuck it out through the lean times to be a part of our current renaissance. “When you see Silver Feather [on Barstow] or some of the other places on Water Street that have been around for a long time, you see this is a place where you can be financially viable,” he said.

“There were times where everybody was leaving downtown, and the hotel was closed, but now I’m so glad I stuck it out,” Jane Wolf, who owns The Silver Feather, said. She and Schatz both observed that interest in big-box stores has fallen in favor of small, unique shops that people can’t find anywhere else. Wolf has always seen that visitors to her shop were looking for something they couldn’t find in their hometowns, but now, they say, locals have renewed investment in supporting small, one-of-a-kind stores.

“You’re seeing a lot of big boxes close, you’re seeing a lot of those smaller retailers playing into the experience of shopping,” Schatz said. Small business owners host events, organize clean-ups, and offer live music and performances, all to appeal to the search for “experience.”

There are many experiences to build upon along Barstow and Water streets and in the surrounding area. With rivers, farmers markets, festivals, art, and more, it’s easy to get swept up in the moment in downtown Eau Claire.

“What I think makes people thrive or makes businesses thrive is when they work together with others,” Burke said. Shop owners collaborate with one another to clean up the streets, fundraise, host pop-up events, and even help other businesses get started. Burke points out that “a rising tide lifts all ships,” and collaboration abounds in downtown.

Kia Dassow of Azara on Water Street agrees. “I’d like to think everyone’s trying to improve everything,” she said. She praised the family-oriented environment in downtown’s retail scene, noting that it permeates from customers through to the retailers and employees themselves.

Wolf believes that each shop in downtown fills a niche and acts as a “destination” for shoppers. “No one shop can be everything to everybody,” she said. But with so many options within walking distance, each shop balances the others. A visit to The Silver Feather might lead people down the way to B-Framed or in the opposite direction to Northbound Supply Co.

“I don’t think they’re here because it’s low-rent anymore,” Schatz said of the resurgence of retail. “I think they’re here because of the vibe and the culture of the downtown. … And I think there is more of a movement to support local, and to support something that’s different from what they can get in another community.”

Burke, Wolf, and Dassow confirm that the new passion for spending money locally has had a notable impact on downtown. “Our store, and a lot of other stores have a lot of products made by other people in the area,” Dassow said. “Take a little and give a little back!”

With the opening of the Pablo Center at the Confluence, the resurfacing of the Grand Avenue Bridge, the construction of the Phoenix Park-Haymarket bridge, and the Haymarket Plaza scheduled to open throughout the summer and fall, momentum is still growing in downtown. This leads to new challenges as city organizers balance rising property costs with maintaining the special character of downtown. But the gears are turning, and continued community support suggests a bright future.

For more information about the Downtown Summer Shop Hop, visit VolumeOne.org/downtownshops. Grab your passport at any of the participating locations and venture downtown.

SHOP HOP LOCATIONS

Red’s Mercantile – 224 N. Dewey St.
Northbound Supply Co – 215 N. Barstow St.
The Local Store – 205 N. Dewey St.
Tangled Up In Hue – 505 S. Barstow St.
Blue Boxer Arts – 416 S. Barstow St.
200 Main Gallery – 200 Main St.
SHIFT Cyclery and Coffee Bar – 615 Graham Ave.
Blue Ox Running – 417 S. Barstow St.
The Hatch – 418 S. Barstow St.
Raggedy Man – 401 S. Barstow St.
Silver Feather – 126 S. Barstow St.
Azara – 624 Water St.
Children’s Museum – 220 S. Barstow St.
B-Framed Galleries – 313 S. Barstow St.

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