Viroqua trying to drop ‘poorest town in Wis’ ranking

Viroqua ranks as the poorest town in Wisconsin, according to a recently published study.

The study used the median household income of towns with a population under 25,000 people.

The folks at Viroqua Chamber Main Street (VCMS) are among the leaders in trying to boost the economy in their town. One of their efforts is called the Holiday Pop-Up program.

The organization just started the program last year, and it’s success is bringing it back for a bigger and better second lap.

At this time last year, Tim Wirtz was not the owner of Driftless Fair Traders. The business idea wasn’t even a thought 12 months ago.

“It was literally a pop-up business. I think from the time we decided to do it to the day we were open was about six days,” Wirtz said.

Driftless Fair Traders opened its doors in downtown Viroqua last November. It was one of a select few businesses chosen through the pop-up business program to occupy an empty storefront rent-free for two months. The hope being these businesses will get noticed in the community and stay open on their own.

“Considering that it’s open ended, it’s a great way to try out a business plan in a small community, see what’s going to fly here, see what’s not,” Wirtz said.

Nora Roughen-Schmidt, executive director at VCMS, the organization behind the program, said the pop-up program is about more than just helping out small, local businesses.

“It was put in place as an economic driver and also just as a way to build awareness about the community and fill some storefronts downtown,” she said.

Wirtz said he wouldn’t even be a business owner if it weren’t for the pop-up program, but 10 months after opening, the business is still going strong.

“I’m going to make a good go of it and it seems to be a potentially viable, sustainable thing in this area,” Wirtz said.

Roughen-Schmidt said two of the three businesses that were selected last year are still open and on their own today.

This year, four businesses will be chosen for the pop-up program. A grant from Vernon County will fund the rent for the four businesses chosen this year. It is large enough to pay for four months of rent, compared to just two months last year.