Broadway District looking to rebound after shaky 2020
By Lee Reinsch
GREEN BAY – 2020: It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.
Best of times because in times of crisis, entrepreneurship and creativity flourish.
Worst of times, because businesses of all sizes struggled to keep their doors open.
Best of times, because the Broadway District in downtown Green Bay used its reserves of passion and energy to keep moving forward.
Worst of times, because On Broadway, Inc. (OBI) almost had to shut its doors.
“The reason On Broadway exists is to shine a light on the Broadway District as the hub of a vibrant downtown,” said Gail McNutt, president of the On Broadway, Inc. board of directors, at the annual State of the Broadway District address, Tuesday, April 27, at Gather on Broadway.
On Broadway’s own light dimmed last year when loss of revenue forced OBI to shed staff and furlough its executive director.
“Ninety-four percent of our budget comes from events and the sponsorships tied to those events,” said Brian Johnson, OBI executive director.
With most events canceled last year, the 2021 slate was also endangered.
But crowdfunding and a capital campaign saved the day.
The organization was able to hire an events director – Allie Thut, to whom attendees were introduced at the event – and plans to fill other openings.
Though 2021 won’t be back to normal, it’s swinging in that direction, and there’s reason to be optimistic.
For example, in the past year, more than a dozen businesses opened or relocated to the Broadway District, from herb, hat, consignment and smoke shops to a CPA firm.
“It’s been a horrible year for small business, but it doesn’t mean it’s the end for small business,” said Paul Northway, president of American National Bank.
He said that while companies like Amazon may have benefited from the pandemic, it was the big box stores that suffered, not the Main Street-style shops.
The latter stayed nimble, and many expanded the ways they get their products to customers.
“As people develop new habits, it’s probably logical to think some of those are going to stick,” Northway said. “What’s really important is understanding how your clients want to be served going forward.”
In that vein, On Broadway’s intern is working on developing an app that would aggregate the power of local merchants, making their goods and services easier to access.
The Farmers Market on Broadway will return this summer – good news not just for lovers of fresh produce.
“All of those vendors are small businesses – microbusinesses,” Johnson said.
Last year’s Wednesday summer farmers market was a severely scaled-back version held at Leicht Park, featuring a fraction of the number of vendors.
This summer’s market, back on Broadway, will see vendors spaced further apart and efforts taken to avert crowding.
There will be a Fire Over the Fox this year, but it won’t be the daylong crowd scene of yore.
“We anticipate a fireworks-only show with a few food trucks to keep people’s bellies full,” Johnson said.
Last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic.
The night market, igNight, which in the past was held once a month from June to September, will be back this summer, but it may take a different format.
He said it may launch in July instead of June, with a new event called the Mural and Busker Festival that would feature a mile of live mural painting and musicians, known as buskers.
Johnson said particulars are still being worked out.
“It would be spaced out and would allow us to do things that beautify the district,” Johnson said. “People love watching people paint.”
He described it as a family festival-type event.
The Broadway District extends from Ashland Avenue east to the Fox River and Mather Street south to Mason Street.
As one of some 860 designated Main Street communities in the country, OBI’s four pillars include organization (which includes everything from leadership to financial footing), design (which includes streetscape, historic preservation and public art), promotion (of businesses/events, and generating foot traffic), and economic vitality (including business recruitment and expansion).
Johnson said this year’s State of the Broadway District set registration records, with more than 330 people attending either virtually or in-person.