Step 1, use Comic Sans … Step 2, maybe sprinkle some Papyrus in there. Step 3, try your best. If any year deserves some terrible fonts, you better believe it’s 2020.
Every year, we do an annual Year In Review Quiz to check on how closely our readers were paying attention to local goings-on throughout the year. We don’t exactly want to make you relive 2020 (for obvious reasons) but perhaps, here at the end, it might be cathartic knowing all of this stuff is in the past. Things can only get better from here, right? ... Right?
So, with that in mind, let’s take a quick look back at 2020 before we get this truly awful year behind us forever, shall we? Then we never have to think about again.
Are you ready?
Take this quiz to prove your valley wisdom!
mural city, u.s.a.
Have you noticed the picture perfect proliferation of murals around downtown Eau Claire? Well, we certainly haven’t missed it. In the past year, the Eau Claire Public Arts Council and a number of local artists have made it their mission to add some color to dark days by painting vibrant artwork across Eau Claire exteriors.
As if COVID-driven craziness wasn’t enough, 2020 also had to be an election year. The pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and other factors (cough cough impeachment cough cough) made the election one unlike any other. The final results — across the region, state, and nation — showed an ever-deepening partisan divide: Cities largely went for Democrat Joe Biden while more rural areas voted for Republican Donald Trump.
right here in river city?
Over the course of a few years, Eau Claire native Joe Luginbill made a name for himself creating cooking videos, getting elected to public office, starting a children’s charity, serving on a boatload of boards and commissions, announcing plans to re-open the State Theatre, and basically being a media-savvy, ginger version of Forrest Gump, seemingly popping up everywhere and doing seeming everything in the Chippewa Valley.
Back in January, however, Luginbill’s fortunes turned (figuratively, and apparently literally): Utilities were shut off at the State Theatre, forcing out a tenant, the Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ Community Center. Luginbill — who had resigned from office a few months earlier — seemed to vanish, both from town and from social media, leaving collaborators and community members in the dark.
Luginbill issued an apology saying he had been “completely overwhelmed” by daunting projects, and Eau Claire Police investigated his foundation for “suspicious financial transactions” (although no charges have been filed).
to mask, or not to mask?
According to the Eau Claire City-County Health Department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. But, many individuals — whether it’s because of pre-existing medical conditions, personal opinion, or beliefs about personal freedom — choose not to wear one.
One local restaurant came under fire in the last year for its anti-masking and anti-vaccination signage with excerpts such as “Do not accept the ‘new normal,’” and “Do not submit to testing,” as well as “Stop wearing masks,” which came under fire for being anti-science.
The eatery’s owners fired back that their private business should be able to share whatever opinions it wishes to share.
kwik trip 2.0
Ahh, Kwik Trip. A true Midwestern delicacy. With fresh Glazers, steaming Karuba Gold coffee, and fresh slices of the latest copy of The Leader-Telegram (and let’s not forget their well-priced bananas and bagged milk!), Kwik Trip is perhaps the one good thing 2020 has to offer.
Eau Claire gained another one this past summer in a ground-floor storefront on Water Street. Although it offers everything you could possibly want from a Kwik Trip, it’s missing one signature gas station item.
on stage, off stage
One of the things we missed the most this year is live performances. And arts venues have been hit hard — like, really hard — by the pandemic.
It’s what led us to write our Sept. 25 feature, “Lights Out,” looking at how badly the arts have been injured by the COVID-19 pandemic. But there’s a bright spot. Many theaters, galleries, and readings went virtual so folks around the community could still enjoy the arts while staying safe at home.
One local theater company decided there’s no “curbside theater” options, and so they pivoted to find a way to keep in-person performances safe.
a dicey situation in Eau Claire
In October, undercover special agents from Wisconsin’s alcohol and tobacco enforcement unit busted Big T’s Saloon — a bar in Eau Claire — for having a shake-of-the-day bar dice game with a jackpot of over $30,000.
The bar’s owner is now facing charges after a patron put $2,000 into the game, later got kicked out of the bar, and had friend tip off the powers that be. Certainly, it’s a strange news headline to come out of a strange year in the Valley.
gone away is the Kmart, here to stay is a new mart
Eau Claire’s old Kmart building on Clairemont Avenue has finally (finally!) started undergoing demolition, with plans to build a new grocery store in its place. This new 95,000-square-foot supermarket is set to open next year.
here’s the snap
Who could forget that racist Snapchat conversation among members of UW-Eau Claire’s Blugold football team that broke in the news in November 2019? Big. Yikes.
The Spectator, UW-Eau Claire’s student newspaper, released images depicting Snapchat exchanges between football
players with messages like,
“For all who can’t make the BME (Black Male Empowerment) meeting, [name] and I are holding WME (White Male Empowerment) tonight at 7.” and “Think the cross will still be burning? Don’t want to miss that again.”
Later, The Spectator reported that one of the football players was accused of allegedly donning blackface in high school and participating in conversations about “dressing Black” for Halloween.
This fall, it was announced that Converge Radio — a local radio station formerly owned by the UW-Eau Claire Foundation — would be sold to a Christian radio station based in Appleton.
For a while, it was looking like Converge — and its dedicated local fan base — would be going dark indefinitely, but in December the station announced plans to continue broadcasting on 101.9 FM from their new studio in the Pablo Center, with no ties to the university. The station, which plays a lot of indie rock and local music among its own original programming, has gone through two name changes in its near five-year tenure.
fresh looks, fresh cuts, fresh faces
Facing a global pandemic has shown us all one important thing: Self-care is super important. And what better place to remember that than at one of the many new salons in the Chippewa Valley?
(Hint: It’s called the ‘Milliner Conservatory’)
all press isn’t good press
In recent years, when national media attention turned to the Chippewa Valley, it was typically for positive news, such as the proliferation of music festivals locally, the success of Justin Vernon and Bon Iver, and the city’s growing reputation as a great place to visit and live.
In 2020, however, the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic locally brought some less-than-flattering coverage.
the future for the future
Even before the pandemic, the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire was planning to build a new home as part of redevelopment on North Barstow Street.
And while COVID-19 led the museum to make the difficult decision to close its doors until has a new home, that doesn’t mean the Valley’s favorite place to take kids wasn’t busy in 2020.
Over the past few months, the Children’s Museum announced it had sold its current building, 220 S. Barstow St.; that it will open a temporary pop-up museum inside the Visit Eau Claire office; reached an agreement to build anew on a city-owned lot; and unveiled plans for its new digs.
no justice, no peace
Last year, the Chippewa Valley saw an increased attention on social injustices, particularly for Black and Indigenous people and people of color.
A number of preexisting social justice organizations led the charge in Black Lives Matter protests, and encouraged the creation of new organizations to continue the fight for justice.
project put on pause
The long road toward building the Sonnentag Centre — UW-Eau Claire’s planned multimillion-dollar event and recreation center on Menomonie Street — continued to get longer in 2020.
Since it was first announced in 2014, when university alums John and Carolyn Sonnentag announced a major gift of land and funds to the UWEC Foundation, the project had gone through many twists and turns.
What is it about a worldwide pandemic that just makes you wanna eat candy? Maybe it’s just us, but maybe not!
The Chippewa Valley saw quite a few new establishments pop up in 2020 that make our sweet tooth tingle. From candy, to donuts, cheesecake, and more — 2020 definitely gave the Chippewa Valley a sugar rush.
Menomonie is weird (officially)
In June, Thrillist — a national travel and culture publication — published an article about all the strange and paranormal stuff that has happened in Menomonie over the years, calling the city “the Twilight Zone of Weird News.”
This spring, we had to watch as music festival after music festival announced their cancellations for the summer of 2020.
Festivals are a big deal in the Valley — culturally and economically — so the loss of the five major festivals (Country Jam, Eaux Claires, Blue Ox, Country Fest, and Rock Fest) was disappointing to say the least.
friends of the pod
All this pandemic downtime has given us plenty of time to put new podcasts in our ears! We even launched our very own podcast, The Volume One Podcast, in 2020.
The pandemic radically altered shopping habits.
From socially distanced in-person shopping sprees to curbside pickup and online ordering options, local retailers really had to pivot — quickly — to ensure they could keep their staff and community safe.
(Hint: This eCommerce site was launched in 24 hours!)
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