Friday, Feb. 15th, 2019
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Wednesday, Feb. 13th, 2019
Friday, Feb. 8th, 2019
Thursday, Feb. 7th, 2019
Monday, Feb. 4th, 2019

State Theatre Building Sold and Its Future May Include the Performing Arts

State Theatre, downtown Eau Claire
State Theatre, downtown Eau Claire

Downtown Eau Claire’s landmark State Theatre – which has sat unused since the opening of the Pablo Center at the Confluence last fall – has a new owner, and could soon become a home for youth programming, artistic performances, and more. Last week the 92-year-old theater complex, 316 Eau Claire St., was purchased by Elk Mound-based Azara Properties.

“The sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do there.” – Joe Luginbill

While Azara will own the building, it will be operated and programmed by the Luginbill Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit group founded by Joe Luginbill, a self-described “social entrepreneur” and president of the Eau Claire Area School Board.

Luginbill said in an interview that details of the foundation’s plans for the State Theatre won’t be announced for a few weeks. However, Luginbill said he was excited to play a role in reviving a community staple, which began its life as a movie palace and then spent 30 years as home of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council.

“The sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do there,” Luginbill said, noting that advisory committees on youth programming and fine arts were already being formed. He noted that, contrary to previous reports, the building’s deed includes no restrictions on using it as a performing arts venue. (Originally, such restrictions were cited as a way to keep the State from becoming a direct competitor to the Pablo Center.)

“We’ll have a little bit of something for everybody,” Luginbill said. The facility will still be called the State, and Luginbill hopes to breath new life into the building while also preserving its historic nature.

“There will be some aspects of what we are doing that will be maintaining what was there in the past, but there will be some exciting new ventures of things that haven’t been done in the area,” Luginbill said.

The Luginbill Children’s Foundation was founded in December 2016. Joe Luginbill serves as the nonprofit group’s president, and his parents and siblings are board members. According to its website, the foundation has launched several youth-centered programs, from cooking classes to music scholarship funds.

Azara Properties is registered to Mohammad Hashlamoun of Elk Mound, who owns several properties and businesses in the Eau Claire area, including Azara, a hookah and vape shop on Water Street. Hashlamoun also owns the former My Place Bar, 406-408 Galloway St., which he plans to reopen as My Office Lounge, a coffee shop and bar.

Pam Rasmussen, president of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, which owned the State, said the sale closed Thursday, Jan. 31. “I’m glad it’s someone who’s going to work to restore it and do something that works with the arts community,” Rasmussen said of the buyers.

Neither she nor Luginbill disclosed the building’s sale price, but the Leader-Telegram, citing Eau Claire County property records, reported that it was $195,000. (The previous asking price for the 40,000-square-foot facility was $450,000.) The State closed held its last events in August, right before its successor, the Pablo Center at the Confluence, opened just down the street. Many of the old theater’s contents – including furniture, computers, and pianos – were sold at an auction in December. Now, the sale of the building itself will allow ECRAC to close its own books for good.

Like many Eau Claire residents, Luginbill has strong memories associated with the State Theatre. From an early age he took part in Eau Claire Children’s Theatre productions on the stage, and he was part of the audience for other shows.

“We’re still in pretty early stages,” Luginbill said, “but in the coming weeks and months we’ll be sharing more information when we have it, and ways that the community can get more involved. If people have ideas or energy that they can bring to the table, we welcome that.”

Learn more about the Luginbill Children’s Foundation at luginbillchildrensfoundation.org or contact them at (715) 255-0819.

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Friday, Feb. 1st, 2019

Olson’s Ice Cream to Open Haymarket Landing Location in Downtown Eau Claire

Olson's Ice Cream, Chippewa Falls
Olson's Ice Cream, Chippewa Falls

At the end of a historically frigid week, another scoop of frozen news has arrived, one that will undoubtedly be more welcome in the Chippewa Valley than the polar vortex: For the first time in 75 years, Olson’s Ice Cream will be serving up its signature product somewhere other than its quaint shop on Bridge Street in Chippewa Falls. On Friday, Feb. 1, Olson’s revealed that it is expanding into Eau Claire with a 2,300-square-foot store inside Haymarket Landing, a mixed-use building at the corner of South Barstow and Eau Claire streets. The new store is expected to open this spring.

“Olson’s has had plans to come to Eau Claire since the ’80s, and we are excited to finally make it happen,” said Jeremy Hunt, Olson’s co-owner and general manager.

“Olson’s has had plans to come to Eau Claire since the ’80s, and we are excited to finally make it happen.” – Jeremy Hunt, co-owner and general manager, Olson’s Ice Cream 

Back in January, the legendary local purveyor of frozen treats, announced it would be expanding into Eau Claire, but kept the spot a secret until Friday morning. Olson’s held a contest on its Facebook page, soliciting guesses about the location of the new store and promising free ice cream for a year to three customers who guessed the new site correctly. Nearly 1,200 people submitted guesses, many of them pointing to the former Smiling Moose, 329 Riverfront Terrace, or the former Lynn’s Chatterbox Cafe, 1410 S Hastings Way, as potential locations.

“We were very humbled and amazed by all the feedback,” said Hunt, whose parents, Dan and Linda, bought Olson’s from its founding family in 2007. (Forty to 50 Olson’s fans correctly identified the Haymarket Landing area as the shop’s future site.)

At a press conference, the Hunts said they are aiming to open the new location at 80 S. Barstow St. by Memorial Day. The shop will have 50 to 70 seats – including, most likely, some on the sidewalk along Barstow Street – and will create as many as 25 new jobs, the Hunts said. The expansion will entail some new offerings beyond its signature ice cream flavors such as Butter Pecan and Chocolate Monster. “With two locations, we will be able to bring even more treats to our customers, and we’re developing some new products for the spring opening,” Jeremy Hunt said.

While Olson’s has considered staking a claim in Eau Claire for years, Jeremy Hunt’s decision to join the family business last year helped push the idea into reality, Dan Hunt said. The family considered numerous sites around the city – including near Oakwood Mall, on Clairemont Avenue, and elsewhere – before settling on the Haymarket Landing storefront, which has been empty since the mixed-used building opened in 2016.

“It’s a beautiful location, a beautiful building, and we can’t wait to open in Eau Claire,” said Dan Hunt, adding that the site’s proximity to the Pablo Center at the Confluence, Phoenix Park, and other downtown amenities made it ideal. The Hunts are working with contractor Market & Johnson and River Valley Architects to design and build the shop.

Haymarket Landing features a floor of commercial space below five floors of UW-Eau Claire student housing – meaning 400 potential customers will literally be living in the same building.

The Haymarket Landing building in Downtown Eau Claire
The Haymarket Landing building in Downtown Eau Claire

Ice Cream Flowing Downtown ... 

The new Olson’s will be the second ice cream shop to open in downtown Eau Claire in recent years. In 2017, Blayne and Kayla Midthun opened Ramone’s Ice Cream Parlor at 503 Galloway St. – just a few blocks from Haymarket Landing. Blayne Midthun said the downtown location – which is right off the bike trail and next to two busy streets, Farwell and Galloway – has been a big factor in Ramone’s success.

“Of course it would be nice if we could continue to be the only ice cream parlor in downtown Eau Claire, but we know that we can’t control what’s going on outside of our doors,” Midthun said.

“Today, people have many options for where they will eat, drink coffee, (and) be entertained, and now they will have another option for ice cream,” he added. Ramone’s sells Madison-made Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, as well as sundaes, malts, pies, and craft sodas.

Olson’s founder Albert J. Olson began making “homaid” ice cream with a partner at Knapp Dairy in 1923. In 1944, he relocated to Chippewa Falls to open Olson’s Creamland Dairy, where he processed milk and made ice cream. Today, the business is still in the same building at 611 N. Bridge St. In 2007, the Olson family sold the business to the Hunt family, who continue to operate it. While Olson’s Ice Cream has been previously been served up at other locations – including numerous restaurants, Festival Foods, and the 9 Degrees ice cream cart – this will be the first time Olson’s itself has opened a new location since the Second World War.

A landmark at the “original” Olson’s is a larger-than-life ice cream cone that tempts passersby from the sidewalk. Dan Hunt said he plans on getting a similar giant cone for the Eau Claire shop, either to place on the sidewalk or on the awning above the front door as a visual cue to the delicious treats being scooped inside.

Learn more at olsonsicecream.com or by finding Olson’s Ice Cream on Facebook.

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Monday, Jan. 28th, 2019

Grab a Beverage and a High Score at New Artisan Forge Coffee Shop/Pinball Arcade

Artisan Forge Studios (1106 Mondovi Rd.)
Artisan Forge Studios (1106 Mondovi Rd.)

We’ve got some news for coffee lovers, pinball pros, and art explorers alike: Pablo properties announced Monday morning they will open a new coffee and pinball lounge in Artisan Forge Studios (1106 Mondovi Rd.) during the last week of February.  The venue, appropriately named Skill Shot, will offer coffee drinks, tea, craft beer, wine, and food to enjoy while plunking away on a selection of pinball machines. Quieter areas will be available in the modern site for meetings, quiet study sessions, or chill time. Skill Shot and Artisan Forge will work together to build an even more vibrant community of visitors to the area, according to Artisan Forge founder Greg Johnson.  “I am most excited to see a café full of people who have made Artisan Forge Studios a destination as a result of Skill Shot and the amazingly talented individuals of the Artisan Forge community,” he said. After the opening in February, Skill Shot’s hours will be Monday-Friday 7am-7pm and Saturday 8am-2pm.

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