As more and more commercial chains open in downtown Madison, residents and University of Wisconsin-Madison students question storefronts’ impacts on the overall culture and atmosphere of the historical State Street.
“I am from LA, where Studs is a massive thing. I would go at home to get piercings, and it was always a super fun place,” said UW student Sophia Goldberg. “In my honest opinion, though, it is the most random thing to open on State Street. Why do we need Studs? I also can't lie, I got a piercing the day it opened for fun.”
Aside from Studs, a number of commercial chains are setting up shop on State Street, including Jamba Juice and Auntie Anne’s. Historically, State Street is known for its diverse, locally-owned retail shops and restaurants. Yet, some locals are nervous about how these chains will impact local and family-owned businesses as well as the historical ambiance of downtown.
“I think that the culture of State Street is heavily dependent on the locality of the businesses. That's what gives it its appeal — it's a place where you can go that showcases all the different places and opportunities that Madison has to offer,” Madison local Abbi Adams said. “My personal fear is that some day, rather than the historic street full of really cool vibes and local culture, we're just going to have another copy-and-paste road that you could find anywhere else in the world.”
UW-Madison student Remy Rigby is among those who are not against the corporatization of State Street.
“I think the chains on State Street don't directly impact the culture, but I think the further away you get from State and away from campus are the areas that truly feel the need for family-owned businesses,” Rigby said.
Jason Ilstrup, president of Downtown Madison Inc., has a different perspective on the matter. He said that despite these fears, the number of locally-owned businesses downtown and on State Street has actually risen in the past few years.
“The data clearly shows State Street and the Capitol Square business have remained, and continue to remain, dominantly locally owned,” Ilstrup said.
Since 2018, the number of locally owned businesses on State Street and around Capitol Square has risen from 80% to 82%, according to a 2022 Downtown Madison Inc. report. Since the pandemic, there has been an increase in pedestrian traffic in the area which has resulted in an increase in locally-owned businesses. The number of vacant storefronts decreased from 54 to 40 in October 2022.
“State Street and Capitol Square business areas are organic, always changing with the times,” he said. “There are constantly new shops, restaurants and attractions coming and going from the area. These changes give downtown life and bring more people downtown, all in the search of something new.”
UW students and Madison residents can expect additional cool, interesting changes to the downtown area in upcoming years, Ilstrup said.
“An ever-changing downtown is a more interesting downtown,” Illstrup added.
Editor's note: Sophia Goldberg has written for the Life & Style desk at The Daily Cardinal.