Friday, May 07, 2021

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Sidewalk Sale Still On as Businesses Move into 2021 with Cautious Optimism

With the holiday season behind and many more cold winter days ahead, Madison’s shops and restaurants will begin 2021 with the same struggles that characterized much of 2020—but 2021 will also bring much of what allowed businesses to survive and even thrive through 2020, according to Madison Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Eileen Banisch.

Indeed, Madison is starting off 2021 the way it did 2020 pre-pandemic: with the annual Chamber downtown sidewalk sale from Jan. 13 to 17, rebranded and modified but still carrying on an important tradition in the business calendar.

“Going into this, we didn’t know what was coming. Now [COVID] is like the devil you know,” Banisch said. “We know what we’re dealing with. People, I think, are behaving themselves. That’s why we’re kind of optimistic about the sidewalk sales. It’s going to get better.”

This sidewalk will be a post-holiday test for businesses, which Banisch said have been able to adapt to the new conditions despite many struggles—something the sale will have to do as well.

“Inside/Outside Sidewalk Sale—that’s what we’re calling it,” Banisch said. “You have to offer both. Some people are still a little hesitant to go indoors...This way we’re kind of offering them a little bit of an option there.”

After what she described as a successful holiday period bolstered by the Economic Development Commission’s “Light Up Madison” initiative, which strung up lights and decorations along downtown back in November, local businesses remain optimistic in 2021, Banisch said.

“People are just dying to get out,” she said.

Three businesses have closed since March, she said, but those were all due to retirements by owners. Banisch said she was not aware of any Madison business owner who cited the pandemic when closing down.

Additionally, two new businesses have opened during the pandemic, according to Banisch, which she said was a testament to people’s hopefulness and ability to adapt to the pandemic.

“We haven’t lost any stores to COVID,” Banisch said. “We’re lucky. A lot of people had pared down their hours.”

The movie theater has no plans to reopen in the immediate future, according to Banisch, which is a specific and slightly different issue as consumers move toward at-home streaming, and even large movie theater chains are being forced to re-think their business model.

But she said that most Madison businesses are feeling optimistic going into this year, and are continuing to push forward with reopening and adapting.

Donahue’s Madison Beach Grille, which closed temporarily in December out of “an abundance of caution,” is “extremely optimistic” about this year, Banisch said, looking forward to the vaccine and a “much more productive, successful year.”

Other restaurants like Café Allegre and the Sea House are investing in infrastructure to ensure they can offer outdoor seating, even through the winter, Banisch said.

As far as the chamber and its events, Banisch said the attitude is also cautiously optimism. The Souper Bowl downtown cook-off, usually taking place the last week of January, will not happen this year, she said, with worries about people trying to sample different foods while still wearing masks. The annual Fashion Show in April is also unlikely to take place due to it being an indoor event, Banisch said.

But an outdoor antique show in May is tentatively still on, according to Banisch, as the town looks forward to warmer weather and safe gatherings outside.

“We’re very cautious to plan stuff that we may have to cancel at the last minute. We’d rather push things off, and be heavier into doing this” later, Banisch said.

For more information about the Inside/Outside Sidewalk Sale, visit the Madison Chamber of Commerce Website at madisonct.com.

 


Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email Jesse at j.williams@shorepublishing.com.

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