Friday, Oct. 4th, 2019

Children’s Museum Plan Picked for Downtown Site ... What Comes Next?

The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire has taken the first step toward building a newer, bigger home for juvenile joy on North Barstow Street in Eau Claire. On Thursday, the city’s Redevelopment Authority voted to pursue a memorandum of understanding with the Children’s Museum and its partner, Monarch Ventures, to build on the so-called “liner site,” a now-empty city-owned parcel between North Barstow and the new(ish) downtown parking ramp.

The museum, its partner, and the RDA will begin negotiations to finalize the deal, which could take up to 90 days, said Aaron White, the city’s economic development manager. Once the memorandum of understanding is completed, a developer agreement will be reached, and construction will follow. While there’s no definite timeline yet, White said construction wouldn’t begin until spring 2020 at the earlier.

The “liner site,” where the downtown post office stood until a few years ago, covers about six-tenths of an acre and is bordered by the parking ramp, North Barstow Street, Galloway Street, and Riverfront Terrace. The RDA chose the plan from the Children’s Museum and Monarch over one from Merge Urban Development Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The Children’s Museum proposal includes a two-story, 23,500-square-foot museum next to a 27,000-square-foot building that would house a first-floor restaurant and two stories of commercial space. The 9,000-square-foot eatery, which would be owned by Hudson restaurateur Andrew Kron, would include covered and outdoor patios for diners. (Officials are mum about the details of the restaurant.)

The "liner site" is the grassy area between North Barstow and the new(ish) downtown parking ramp.

The new children’s museum would be larger than the current 15,400-square-foot facility at 220 S. Barstow St. and would include larger exhibit space, a food and beverage option, and 5,000 square feet of green space as well as facilities for the Family Resource Center of Eau Claire and a 4-year-old kindergarten in partnership with the Eau Claire school district.

“We will be able to have parking for visitors, we will be able to have the front entrance set back a little from the street, and we will be able to make the facility more accessible and safe,” museum executive director Mike McHorney told WEAU 13 News.

Last year, a new Children’s Museum was part of a proposal to redevelop the adjacent Block 7. The RDA selected that plan – which came from Eau Claire-based Pablo Properties – after a request for proposals from developers. However, Pablo Properties decided earlier this year that the project – which also included an office building, a public plaza, and a “container park” on the liner site – wasn’t financially viable. This sent the RDA, and the Children’s Museum, back to square one.

Now that the RDA has selected a partner for redeveloping the liner site, it will soon chose one for Block 7 as well. It will pick between proposals from Eau Claire’s Commonweal Development and Madison-based Movin’ Out Inc., both of which call for apartment complexes with the possibility of commercial space as well. The RDA’s decision on Block 7 could come as early as Wednesday, Oct. 16.

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Monday, Sep. 30th, 2019

[UPDATED] Brace Yourself: Winter Eaux Claires is Coming?

[UDATED 10-8] Eaux Claires released the video today, more news to come ...


It’s starting to look like we might get a slice of Eaux Claires in 2019 after all. Maybe? On Sunday, a short teaser video popped up on YouTube called “Eaux Claires Hiver” with the dates Nov. 21-24 in the description. It featured some wintry wooded visuals and, of course, a spoken word message from the festival’s official narrator Michael Perry. However, the video has since been hidden. Could it be some cryptic marketing technique? A logistical hiccup? Well, the locally grown music festival is prone to both, so here’s what we know right now.

• Bon Iver + TU Dance are bringing their stage show “Come Thru" to the Pablo Center for three of those four days anyway (Nov. 22-24), so one could assume that will be part of this whole thing.

• We’d previously received reports of a festival across multiple spaces in the Pablo Center, with various collaborative performances from Eaux Claires familiars in the style of the PEOPLE festival, which started in Berlin in 2016. For that festival, all the artists meet one week prior to rehearse and write new ideas and perform them for the first time with the audience. Whether or not each musician is a part of a band, the festival’s lineup is made up of the given names of all the musicians involved rather than their affiliations. But it remains to be seen whether or not that will be the case here. 

• Last December, when organizers announced Eaux Claires wouldn’t happen in 2019, they said: "We want to celebrate EVEN MORE about this REAL TOWN we call home by extolling and imagining things we haven't seen or experienced to date,” and teased doing something this year. “We will have a couple of public events in the coming months hosted at Pablo Center at the Confluence. These events will incorporate performance and dialogue about the direction we plan on taking the festival throughout the coming decade.  Looking forward to seeing you there.”

• Hiver is, of course, French for “winter.”

That’s about it for now. Keep your eyes and ears open for more details as they emerge.

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Tuesday, Sep. 24th, 2019

New Wilson Park Fountain? Eau Claire Wants Your Input

Above: The fountain in question.
Above: The fountain in question.

The fountain in Eau Claire’s Wilson Park – a downtown fixture for more than a century – hasn’t worked for nearly a year and needs to be replaced, and the city is seeking input from community members on what a new fountain could look like. 

The city will hold the first of four planned Wilson Park Fountain Public Design Workshops from 6-8:30pm on Thursday, Oct. 3, in the North Conference Room at Eau Claire City Hall, 203 S. Farwell St. Madison-based Design Studio Etc. will lead the workshop, and city staff will be on hand to take questions and discuss the process. 

“The Oct. 3 event is the first of four planned public meetings where a shared vision will be created,” the city said in a press release. “Participants will have an active and direct role in crafting designs that residents will then have an opportunity to vote on. Additional public workshops and online surveys will be used to narrow down the design alternatives to a final preferred design.” The remaining three public meetings haven’t yet been scheduled, but one will likely be held during the first half of November with two more during December.

The current fountain, which was installed in the 1960s, suffered a “catastrophic” pipe failure last fall, and the city determined the fountain would have to be partially or fully removed to fix problem. Because this was not seen as cost-effective, the city instead set aside $147,000 in its 2020 capital budget to replace the fountain. 

To learn more about the project, including upcoming workshop dates when they are scheduled, visit the city's website or contact Josh Solinger at

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Monday, Sep. 23rd, 2019

Apartments, Restaurants, and a New Museum: Downtown Eau Claire Lots See New Proposals

The "Liner Site" is shown to the left, in front of the parking garage. "Block 7" is currently a parking lot, shown to the right. Both parcels are on N. Barstow Street in downtown Eau Claire.

Apartments, restaurants, and maybe a new home for the children’s museum: These are among developers’ proposed uses for two prime parcels in downtown Eau Claire. Based upon these recently submitted plans, the Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority will soon decide which developers will be allowed to build on the two city-owned properties along North Barstow Street.

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the RDA heard brief presentations about four proposals, two of them for Block 7 (which is now a parking lot at the corner of North Barstow and Wisconsin streets) and two of them for the so-called liner site (between North Barstow and the parking ramp). The seven-member commission is expected to meet in closed session sometime in October to discuss the proposals and choose which developers the city wishes to work with.

The process is a bit of déjà vu for the RDA: Last fall, the RDA selected bids from Eau Claire-based Pablo Properties for both sites, and began final negotiations with the developer. Pablo Properties – whose other projects include the Jamf office building and the remodeled Lismore hotel – wanted to build a office building and new children’s museum on Block 7 and an innovative “container park” on the liner site. However, Pablo pulled out of the deal in June, saying the project was no longer financially viable. That decision sent the RDA back to the drawing board, and the city soon put out another request for proposals from prospective developers, which were due in August. The four proposals are outlined below.

Block 7

Block 7 – sometimes dubbed the Livery lot because of its location across the street from the Livery Restaurant & Saloon, 316 Wisconsin St. – is a 1.6-acre parcel bordered by North Barstow, Galloway, and Wisconsin streets. Over the summer, the city asked developers for plans that were “commercial, residential, mixed use, or a combination thereof.” Two were received:

Commonweal Development

Twice before, this Eau Claire based developer (which, among other things, built the Haymarket Landing mixed-use building across from the Pablo Center) has submitted plans for one (or both) of the sites. Its current plan, prepared with River Valley Architects, calls for four four-story apartment buildings clustered around a central plaza and built atop underground parking. The complex would include 182 studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartments, and perhaps ground-floor commercial space. Stuart Schaefer of Commonweal told the RDA that while filling some commercial space is downtown Eau Claire has been a challenge, there is still strong demand for downtown housing.

Movin’ Out Inc.

Madison-based development firm Movin’ Out also proposed a mostly residential approach to Block 7, with two three-story buildings, both of them containing one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. The 40 to 50 units would be aimed at mixed-income tenants, and the project would be funded with the help of tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.  Most units would be set aside for renters making between 30% and 60% of the county’s median income, while other units would be available at market rates. “We feel the location, right in the middle of downtown Eau Claire, can best address a key need of providing affordable housing close to employers,” Movin’ Out said in its proposal. The developer added that it was open to partnering “with other respondents or interested parties such as a market-rate developer or the Eau Claire Children’s Museum.”

Liner Site

This site, where the downtown post office stood until a few years ago, covers about six-tenths of an acre and is bordered by the parking ramp, North Barstow Street, Galloway Street, and Riverfront Terrace. The RDA received two proposals to develop this property:

Children’s Museum of Eau Claire

The children’s museum – which had been part of Pablo Properties’ previous plans for Block 7, which didn’t reach fruition – is now partnering with Monarch Ventures to build a two-story, 23,500-square-foot museum next to a 27,000-square-foot building that would house a first-floor restaurant and two stories of commercial space. The 9,000-square-foot eatery, which would be owned by Hudson restaurateur Andrew Kron, would include covered and outdoor patios for diners. The new children’s museum would be larger than the current facility at 220 S. Barstow St. and would include larger exhibit space, a food and beverage option, and 5,000 square feet of green space as well as facilities for the Family Resource Center of Eau Claire and a 4-year-old kindergarten.

Merge Urban Development Group

Merge, which has offices in Madison and Cedar Falls, Iowa, proposes a mixed-use development that would go hand-in-hand with the company’s plans for the Railroad Lot across North Barstow Street. A seven-story building fronting North Barstow would feature space for a restaurant and four micro-sized retailers on the first floor with 71 apartments above, ranging in size from efficiencies to two-bedroom units. A smaller building, facing Riverfront Terrace on the parking ramp’s south side, would include 20 additional apartments, including four walk-ups. Merge says 60% of the apartments would be priced for people making 80% of the county median income. The use of sustainable “mass timber” – a strong construction material made of layers of wood – is a unique component of this proposal.

Aaron White, the city’s economic development manager, told RDA members on Sept. 18 that he was still working with city staff members to get detailed financial analyses of the proposals. City Manager Dale Peters told RDA members that the city wanted to act on the proposals quickly, and that a special meeting would likely be scheduled before the committee’s next regular meeting, which is slated for Wednesday, Oct. 16.

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Friday, Sep. 6th, 2019

Elton John Gushes, the Times Facetimes: Bon Iver Press Rolls In

Now that this new Bon Iver record i,i is out there in the world in every shape and form, it’s leading to some pretty great press for the band, especially this week. 

First up, a li’l ol’ paper called the New York Times did a deep dive on the song “iMi” for its video series called Diary Of A Song. It’s a cool 8-minute video which finds journalist Joe Coscarelli video chatting with many of dudes involved in the song’s creation including Justin Vernon (of course), Brad Cook, Chris Messina, Mike Noyce, Trever Hagen, Velvet Negroni and a bunch more. It traces the history of “iMi,” a sonically dense and gorgeous tune which supposedly dates back half-a-decade to early experimental recording sessions between Vernon and Hagen. Over the years, they’ve added stuff, shaped it, messed around, and the song in its final version has come to involve 28 people in its creation. Vernon tweeted his praise of the article Thursday: “This thing... wow... rarely does doing a piece of press actually turn out to be art.” I’m sure that’s a direct reference to the myriad of Bon Iver articles published in Volume One over the years, many of which I’ve written myself, and none of which should probably be called “art.” Oh well. Try, try, again I suppose. FYI, there’s a paywall on the NYT website (‘cause art ain’t free) but you can still tiptoe around it to watch the video here: (or, you know, below) ...

Then in another spicy bit of press, Vernon recently appeared on Elton John’s Beats 1 radio show, Elton John’s Rocket Hour, and the iconic, legendary recording artist … was very humble responding to Elton John’s waterfall of praise. Seriously, John (who I guess knows a little something about good music?) is clearly a huge Bon Iver fan saying stuff like "I've been a fan of yours for so long” and "it's such an honor for me to talk to you” and "Oh my God, your new music is so fantastic” and “I love you." It’s very entertaining, and by the end of the chat, the two make plans to collab on something maybe. So that’s cool. Listen to that on Apple Music.

And in a final bit of Bon news, Vernon and his on-and-off collaborator Kanye West reunited as features on a new Francis and the Lights song called “Take Me To The Light” — and it’s pretty good! You can pretty much stream that anywhere, but also, you know below:

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Friday, Aug. 16th, 2019

COMMUNICATION WIN: Working Payphone Still Exists in Downtown Eau Claire

Above: Phone.
Above: Phone.

First, a short history. The first payphone was installed on a street corner in downtown Hartford, Connecticut in 1889 by William Gray, the son of Scottish immigrants. As the story goes, Gray’s wife had fallen very ill, and he needed to use an agent-operated telephone pay station to call the doctor. These telephone pay stations were usually few and far between, so odds are Gray had to run all over Hartford looking for a station and beg to budge in line for it. He got increasingly frustrated with the inconvenient design of these stations, and thus, to alleviate this frustration, the idea for the first payphone was born.

Eventually the payphone rose to prominence, but (as you surely know) has slowly fallen into near-obscurity thanks to landlines and cell phones. According to the FCC, there are only about 100,000 phone booths left in the United States.

And some of them are close to home. 

One of the last, working payphones in Eau Claire just happens to be on North Barstow Street, which is in walking distance of Volume One World Headquarters – so naturally, they sent a twenty-year-old intern (me) to suss it out.

Thar she blows.
Thar she blows.

I didn’t know exactly where the payphone was, so my plan was to just walk around North Barstow until I found it. Luckily, it wasn’t hard to find. It was standing tall and forgotten in the afternoon sun right across the road from Star Cup (316 N Barstow St.), and I nearly got run over by a huge beverage delivery truck as I took the picture you see above. It does indeed work, but the “interface” was not immediately user friendly to me. I assumed I could pick up the receiver, drop in two quarters (for what I thought was a local call), and the dial tone would just sputter out of the speaker. But I soon learned how inexperienced I really was.

As it turns out, the receiver needs to be hanging from the cradle when you insert your coins or nothing will happen, and the delivery truck driver who nearly ran you over will try to chat with you about payphones as you stand there, confused and upset that this machine ate your quarters. It took me about three tries until I got the steps right. 

As it turns out, the receiver needs to be hanging from the cradle when you insert your coins or nothing will happen, and the delivery truck driver who nearly ran you over will try to chat with you about payphones as you stand there, confused and upset that this machine ate your quarters. It took me about three tries until I got the steps right. After I was confident it was working, I stood there for another few seconds waiting to hear my roommate’s phone ringing on the other end.

I did not hear said ringing.

At this point, I became a little frustrated, and I almost threw in the metaphorical towel, but then I heard the voice. There was a faint, womanly voice coming out of the receiver in my hand, and I had to crush my ear with the speaker to better hear it, and what she said was this: “Please insert one dollar.”

Above: Quarter-guzzling legacy telecommunications technology.
Above: Quarter-guzzling legacy telecommunications technology.

What?! One dollar? But, my roommate lives in Eau Claire! That’s a local call, isn’t it?

Begrudgingly, I fished around in my purse for another two quarters and fed the greedy payphone one more time. I was able to call my roommate (who is very patient with me), but the number was unfamiliar so she declined to answer. I left a message.

I felt extremely stupid dialing her number from a payphone as I had my cell phone with all her contact information in one hand and the very quiet receiver pressed to my ear in the other. It was like the old and the new worlds colliding on that corner of Barstow and Madison. But hey, it worked.

And for the low, low price of fifty cents for a local call (one dollar for a non-local cell phone), you too can interact with history.

The idea for this adventure was inspired by an Instagram post  from the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is looking for more local payphones. If you know of one, let them know!

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Thursday, Aug. 15th, 2019

Dungeons & Dragons in Eau Claire: How to Get Started

Images: 1, 2, 3 (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Images: 1, 2, 3 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a tabletop roleplaying game (RPG) which encourages its players to not only do a lot of basic math, but to really indulge in their fantasies and imagination to create a world of magic and combat all their own. As part of the character-building process, players are told to pick ideals and flaws that their characters have, as well as what their own personal goal might be outside of the main campaign created by the all-knowing dungeon master (DM). D&D has become more mainstream in recent years, possibly due to the downfall of the Satanic Panic of the '80s (and definitely because of its emergence in beloved pop culture franchises), and more people than ever have started unraveling the secrets of the fantastical world of Faerûn. Nowadays, D&D isn’t just for dark, damp basements. 

James Johonnott, Volume One's listings and resource editor and a seasoned DM, would explain it to the “non-dice-rolling public” as “a group of people sitting down to imagine a story together.” And, those stories you make with friends can be dramatic, hilarious, or heroic, and they stick with you. Making plans with friends, especially as an adult, can be very challenging. At any given time, adult life is absolute chaos, but Johonnott says setting time aside every week helps him to “foster and maintain adult friendships.” Not only does D&D allow for a fun break in the chaos with friends, but he adds, “Imagining another person and their personality, goals, and ambitions is a great way to connect with other people at the table, and explore other identities.” D&D is all about imagination, adventure, and problem-solving, but it’s also about friendship, as corny as that sounds, and building memories that will last a lifetime.

That's Great, but ... How Do I Play?

If you’ve been wondering how to get started, have no fear because Eau Claire Games and Arcade is here (315 Graham Ave., Eau Claire | website). Eau Claire Games and Arcade has set aside scheduled times for players to meet on Sundays from 3 to 8pm as well as Mondays and Wednesdays from 6 to 10pm. Here you will be able to find players and DMs to help you understand the rules and mechanics of the game, as well as find other groups to join if you’re alone, and believe me, you are never alone in searching for a D&D group. You can even privately message the store on Facebook if you need help forming a group, and they will help you contact other players around the Chippewa Valley. If you’re a newbie and you feel intimidated by the seasoned players who seem to know everything about the game, that’s okay, but know that these people are a great resource and the employees are there to help you.

D20 Gaming (2158 Eastridge Center, Eau Claire |Facebook) is also a great place to get involved with the D&D community, and it’s a wonderful place to get your starting equipment. I recommend every player invest in the D&D Player’s Handbook and a set of slick new dice, and every DM should have a copy of the D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide to help them build their world and lead a positive gaming experience.

However, these rule books can get a little pricey. When I asked Johonnott what advice he had for someone who’s interested, but is also on a budget, he recommends checking out to find free rules, and purchasing the newly released D&D Essentials Kit is “the best way to get in on the ground floor.”

[UPDATE] Another longtime local resource for D&D supplies, gameplay, and instruction is Clairemont Comics (2215 Fairfax St., Eau Claire | website).

5 Tips for the New Hero

1. You do not have to use real figurines. Figurines can get expensive, and painting them can be annoying and time-consuming, so just forget the whole thing and use some extra dice lying around. Honestly, as long as it’s small, you can use anything to represent your character on the map. Random baubles from around the house, pieces and figures from other game sets, or even painted rocks from the yard work perfectly.

2. You don’t even need a map, either! DMs need to prep and think of so many different scenarios for their players, that making combat or setting maps can get really time-consuming, but if you have a small party with a good imagination, maps aren’t necessary.

3. Playing for four hours straight can be exhausting. Mentally and emotionally. Be kind to yourself and take a break in the middle of the session, or start off with smaller sessions of one or two hours to get yourself used to using your brain at full throttle for extended periods of time. Snacks and fizzy drinks are also great to have on-hand during a session to give your brain the extra boost it needs to explore an abandoned castle.

4. If you don’t know how to play, or you think you’re playing it wrong, don’t worry about it. The beauty of D&D is that every party and campaign is different. But, if you still want some examples, there are plenty of podcasts out there to listen to, such as The Adventure Zone, which is available on all podcasting platforms, and Critical Role, an online series which can be found on Youtube,, or their own website at

Important Note: Not everyone is as professional or talented a story-teller as Matt Mercer! Sometimes, you just gotta be a McElroy, and that’s great fun, too.

5. Lastly, and this is the most important part, don’t be afraid to get silly! I know it’s hard in the beginning, and you’re going to feel stupid, but making up fun accents or voices and throwing yourself into something is so much fun and rewarding. Sharing such a powerfully imaginative experience with your friends makes those friendships so much stronger, and it allows you to fully immerse yourself in that world.

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Thursday, Aug. 8th, 2019

Keep Calm, Bon Iver Fans: You can listen to the entire new album today

i,i listening party at The Local Store in downtown Eau Claire, August 7.
i,i listening party at The Local Store in downtown Eau Claire, August 7.

After listening parties took place last night (Aug. 8) in more than 60 cities all over the world in places like Amsterdam, London, New York, L.A., Sydney, Tokyo, and a little ol’ city called Eau Claire – Bon Iver started dropping songs from their new record i,i every hour overnight (plus videos). Six of them are out there as of this posting – “We,” “Naeem,” “Marion,” “Salem,” “Holyfields,” and "iMi," featuring James Blake and Velvet Negroni – but by the end of the day today, the record should be out in full.

Physical copies of i,i, the band’s fourth album, release on Aug. 30. Four singles from the record have already been out there for a while – “Hey Ma,” “Man (U Like),” “Faith,” and “Jelmore.”

With i,i and the ensuing arena tour that follows its release, the band and its growing family of collaborators are gearing up for a blockbuster live show, the details of which are outlined in a recent mini-documentary released with WeTransfer.

“It’s a much bigger sound, and we’re pushing more air,” frontman Justin Vernon said in the mini-doc. "I hope when people hear the record they’re kind of interested to see how we’ll do it live, because it’s quite intense. There’s a lot of layers, there’s a lot of big sounds, and everyone’s challenged by the record. We’re literally in the midst of figuring out how to do that and it feels really exciting.”

There’s gonna be lots more to talk about in the next few weeks, so keep your ears open and eyes peeled.

You can stream all these songs wherever you do that kind of thing, and you'll be able to get your physical copies Aug. 30. And you can preorder physical copies from The Local Store.

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Friday, Jul. 26th, 2019

Wisconsin State Journal Profile Dives Deep on Eau Claire, Banbury Place

Eau Claire's Banbury Place via the
Eau Claire's Banbury Place via the "S Bridge."

On July 14, the Wisconsin State Journal dedicated more than 3,500 words to the story of Eau Claire’s economic comeback and artistic endeavors, pointing to a number of developments helping to make it all happen. The profile stands out against the many other articles on Eau Claire we’ve seen over the past five years because it takes a much deeper dive than the usual tourism pieces, and rightfully recognizes ideas and people who’ve been in play for well over a decade.

Sure, you’ll see the usual references to Justin Vernon, the Pablo Center, and other big, important developments of the past 10 years. But as the article details, it’s taken heartfelt effort on behalf of hundreds, if not thousands, of Chippewa Valley doers to get the city on track for improvement.

Prominently featured was the impact of Banbury Place, which serves as a home for hundreds of small local businesses, studios, artists, and more:

“One of the most vibrant and colorful places in the complex is building 13 that had been used as a hardware warehouse and parts facility for the tire plant. The building is now home to several studios for a wide range of artists, a coffee shop, art gallery and Forage, an event space and commercial kitchen that opened in 2016.”

It’s great to see Banbury and its residents get the attention they deserve. The sprawling complex has really been one of the city’s workhorses as far as artistic and entrepreneurial efforts are concerned. The article does a good job tracing the property's historic economic significance to what it is today – and the people who make it so.

Artisan Forge Studios gets its own call-out for similar efforts to house and inspire local artists and entrepreneurs.

“Across town, a similar concept is growing in a former International Truck repair shop. The 33,000-square-foot Artisan Forge Collective was created by Greg Johnson, a metal artist and fabricator, in 2015. The building is home to 51 artists, a coffee shop and hair salon. The idea of the business is to provide studio and gallery space for artists with Johnson's staff marketing and selling the artwork for the artists.”

Other shout-outs include the Lismore Hotel, The Oxbow and The Lakely, Jamf Software and Zach Halmstad, and the Eau Claire Jazz Festival, as well as area artists both established and up-and-coming.

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