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Coronavirus: Milwaukee Neighborhood Businesses Hard Hit

Chuck Quirmbach
Part of the East Side Business Improvement District in Milwaukee.

More than 300,000 people have filed for unemployment in Wisconsin in recent weeks. Gov. Tony Evers, like most other governors, has placed limits on many business operations to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. One state projection says the Wisconsin unemployment rate could eventually hit 27%.

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Elizabeth Brodek is executive director of the East Side and Downer Avenue Business Improvement Districts in Milwaukee, which collectively work with a few hundred business and property owners. She says it’s been tough for her members.

“We have a lot of restaurants in the two business improvement districts that I work for. They tend to be operating at around 10% of their normal revenue, which obviously is a huge, huge hit,” Brodek says.

On Milwaukee’s near south side, Nancy Bush heads the Mitchell Street Business Improvement District, which includes about 100 commercial property owners. “In the last several weeks, we have probably 60% of our small businesses — that includes retailers, merchants — who have had to close," she says.

The business advocates say firms that are still open are gas stations, grocery outlets, dollar-type stores, and restaurants that have an active takeout or delivery setup. Some professional services are open by appointment.

There are federal and state financial assistance programs for small business. But Brodek says there have been hiccups. “Obviously, we appreciate the attention that the federal government and state government are putting on supporting small businesses. But the rollout has been very difficult to navigate,” Brodek says, adding that timely aid is vital for many firms.

While the state’s largest business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, wants Evers to end the safer-at-home restrictions by April 24, Brodek says many of her members on the East Side want to go with what the science says.  

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Part of the Historic Mitchell Street Business Improvement District.

On Mitchell Street, Nancy Bush says it’s very hard to zero in on a specific start up date for more economic activity. She says the comeback, whenever it starts, will be slow. “So financially, I obviously see this draining our business owners, our retailers, a whole lot longer than the current health aspect of the situation," she says.

Bush urges political leaders to support frontline health care workers, but also businesses — for as long as it takes.

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.