Viroqua’s Pop Up Shops
Bringing Business Back to Main Street
In 2014, Viroqua Chamber Main Street’s executive director, Nora Rougen-Schmidt, had an idea. With several downtown buildings sitting vacant, she wondered if she could persuade owners of these commercial spaces to offer the incentive of free short-term rent to small businesses for the upcoming holiday season. She reckoned it could be advantageous for both parties. The businesses could test the waters for a short time, and if successful, they might take a more permanent lease. Thus, the Viroqua Pop-Up Shop initiative was born.
“A committee selects a certain number of businesses based on the quality of the application, resume and business plan,” she explains. “Businesses receive free rent for three months. Landlords are generous enough to discount the rent as they see the program as a win-win. If the tenant stays, they get a yearlong lease.”
Her instincts were spot on; the initiative has proven to be a downtown triumph. “We have had a tremendous amount of success. We are empowering entrepreneurs and creating destinations in our community. This year, 85 percent of the applicants were women. Our program is bringing diversity to Main Street,” says Nora.
Viroqua’s pop-up shops are broad-ranging. This year, they include small boutiques featuring toys, clothing, green products, handmade crafts and art, a gourmet baked goods shop, a wellness and yoga studio, and a computer (Mac specialist) technician.
One of last year’s pop-ups that thrived is Cowboy David’s Bake Shoppe. David and Joseph Rogan-Nordstrom have successfully owned and operated Kickapoo Valley Ranch Guest Cabins for 14 years, and one of their signature perks is an awaiting basket of mouthwatering homemade cookies for each guest party upon arrival.
“For years, people have been telling us, ‘You have to sell us these cookies; they’re the best cookies ever,’” says Joseph. “In 2012, we started asking ourselves if we’re supposed to be bakers … because the world was telling us our creations were amazing. So we set about building a wonderful commercial space in our barn where we started making cookies and cakes.” The two expanded into muffins, cupcakes and even perfecting frosting recipes. They also cater weddings and corporate events as well as ship special orders.
When it got to the point where David was baking as much as 14 hours a day, they decided to expand the baking business, hire employees and increase production—a move the two felt was a natural next step. VCMS’s Pop-Up Shop program was in its third year when they realized they simply hadn’t put two and two together. They applied and were awarded the opportunity to move into a downtown space. The bake shop was a hit.
“The program works successfully because of three things,” says Joseph. “First, the Chamber negotiates well with property owners to get something in their spaces. The second is the power of the committee to pick really good candidates. And finally, it’s the community itself. This is a community that loves this community.” And it’s safe to say that the community loves Cowboy David’s—they’ve stayed in their downtown space and have seen great success.
Another of last year’s pop-ups that successfully remains is Jaali’s Dollies, owned by 21-year-old entrepreneur Jaali Parrish. In her space, she makes and sells unique, handcrafted dolls, plush toys and other creations. “I’ve been needle felting for 12 years now, and I’ve always liked making stuffed animals and toys,” she says. (Needle felting is the art of creating 3D sculpture out of wool with specialized needles.)
She first sold her work at a holiday fair, and for a number of years that was her only sales outlet. Last year, she noticed a Facebook post about the Pop-Up Shop program and that a small, but perfect, space on Main Street was available. She applied and was accepted. From the start, her business thrived. “Enough people knew my work, so I think having an actual space helped,” she says. “Before that, people would have to contact me through social media or by phone. Also, the first three months were during the holiday season, so people came in looking for gifts, and lots of out-of-towners popped in, too.”
Her shop is across the street from Viroqua’s farmers market, and she believes that generates more customer traffic. In the future, Jaali says she’d like to travel and do some art fairs, and try some new things like sculpting figurines. For now, she’s quite content in her little shop, and intends to remain.
Testing the waters is one of this year’s pop-ups, The Social LLC. Owner Jade Schultz, who creates wire art, home decor, wreaths and other crafts, is sharing space with Full Circle Supply (which is also testing an expansion from La Crosse into Viroqua with the Pop-Up Shop program). Once finished with art shows for the season, Jade saw an opportunity to continue selling her work through the holidays. “It was a good way to get my feet wet,” she says. “I’ve never had my own store space, so it’s going to be fun to figure out how to bring [the people of] Viroqua in here, because I’m used to taking my work to other places.”
In addition to vending her wares, she intends to offer some classes and workshops, such as a centerpiece making class using vintage materials. If the shop works well, she says, she’d like to continue. “My art shows are just on weekends, so I could be here during the week and hopefully hire an employee that can mind the store on the weekends I’m not here.”
Viroqua’s Pop-Up initiative, it seems, is a win for everyone.
Viroqua’s Pop-Up Businesses
Open through the holiday season, hours vary. Check store listings.
- Red Caboose Boutique: 117 N. Main St. Laura Buechele, Rebecca Eby 608-443-8335 www.facebook.com/redcabooseboutique www.redcabooseboutique.com
- Pura Vida Wellness Studio Mike & Mandy Palen 541-633-5329 207 S. Main St. www.facebook.com/puravidaviroqua
- Full Circle Supply Mary & Josh Larson 608-473-1252 211 S. Main St. www.fullcirclesupplylax.com
- The Social LLC Jade Schultz 608-799-5375 211 S. Main St. www.facebook.com/thesocialllc
- MacHelper Matthias Minnig 608-632-7631 210 S. Main St. www.machelper.org
- Artful Fabrications Lori Lea Harms 210 S. Main St. www.facebook.com/Artful-Fabrications
Pop-Up Shops Turned Year-Round Shops
- Cowboy David's Bake Shoppe David and Joseph Rogan-Nordstrom 608-638-2253 207½ S. Main St. www.facebook.com/CowboyDavidsBakery
- Jaali's Dollies Jaali Parrish 608-606-6299 209 S. Main St. www.facebook.com/JaaliDollieswww.jaalisdollies.com
Check out more photos from Viroqua's Pop-up Shops by clicking here!