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About 30 empty storefronts pose challenge for downtown La Crosse

LA CROSSE, Wis. - Members from the La Crosse community are invited to head downtown Friday night for the annual Spring Fling, an event showcasing what downtown stores have to offer.

While businesses have thrived in recent years, some empty storefronts still pose a challenge.

About 30 storefronts remain empty in the city.

April Langwehr knew the storefront on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Jay Street in La Crosse was a cut above the rest.

"I'm just surprised that nobody snatched it up," said Langwehr.

After a year and a half of cutting hair on the fifth floor of the Scenic Center, she decided to relocate her shop to the storefront below, but the move to a street with neighboring empty storefronts was a bit of a concern until she actually opened up shop two days ago.


"I just probably had three or four random people whom I've never met before, just stop in and they're just like, ‘Oh my gosh, the place looks great. I'm so glad to see something on Fifth Avenue,'" said Langwehr.

"Fifth Avenue has been really one of those areas that we've focused on," said executive director of Downtown Mainstreet and Mayor-Elect Tim Kabat.

Kabat said not just any store can sustain a business in downtown La Crosse.

"They can't be that typical ‘suburban big-box style' that has been surrounded by a sea of parking because we don't have that down here," said Kabat.

"We provide a service, obviously, and the people who have to shop here feel there's value in that service," said Larry Thorson, dealer at the Antique Center in La Crosse.

The antique center a few blocks away has been in business for nearly 30 years.

Now that the store's neighbor Cherry Pickers has left, Thorson is concerned what might take its place could have an impact on his business.

"I would probably prefer something more of a boutique-type because people who often come to shop boutiques often come and are often interested in antiques or collectibles," said Thorson. "So hopefully the one would feed off the other."

Kabat said it's all about the right timing and the right business.

"The big combination, really, is having the right building owner, the right property owner with that correct franchise," said Kabat. "So it's just a matter of persistence and just a matter of selling La Crosse."

Kabat said what he's heard from people in the community for types of businesses they'd like to see downtown would be things like another dollar store, a convenience store or even a store that specializes in cellphones.

Several dozen businesses in downtown La Crosse will stay open later and offer special discounts throughout the weekend for the Spring Fling.

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