Many cities envy Madison, WI’s thriving State Street retail corridor. After being converted from a four-lane road to a pedestrian-focused thoroughfare in 1974, State Street has become synonymous with funky retail stores and welcoming locals. It’s a draw for University of Wisconsin students, residents, and visitors alike, and an important economic and cultural asset for the city. According to Downtown Madison Inc.’s latest State of Downtown report, Madison’s Central Business Improvement District (BID), which contains State Street, saw vacancy rates decline from 7.5 percent in 2012 to just 4.6 percent in 2014.
In recent years, however, the mix of retail on State Street has trended toward businesses focused more on food and drink and less on goods and services. According to Downtown Madison, Inc., 40 percent of businesses in the Central BID are food and drink businesses—but only 25 percent are other types of retail. Local leaders are concerned that if this shift continues, the area will fail to meet the everyday needs of local residents.