As downtown Madison sees an influx of young professionals and an increased population density, a city official said the historic area is evolving to meet the needs of its citizens.
Mary Carbine, executive director at Madison’s Central Business Improvement District, said State Street brings a diverse mix of new and old businesses. Some have been around for decades, like the Plaza Tavern, State Street Brats and Kollege Klub, which have all been in business for at least half a century. On the other hand, new businesses, like Mad City Frites, which will serve the Belgian steak dish “frites,” are coming in to provide a new experience for downtown customers, Carbine said.
Carbine said a regular amount of turnover in local businesses is desirable because it keeps the business district healthy and current.
“People evolve,” Carbine said. “Different generations of people and different populations, as Madison grows and changes, are interested in different things.”
The notable trend for downtown businesses is adapting to fit the changing needs and interests of their customers, Carbine said.
She said she has been seeing an increase in farm to table restaurants that take advantage of Madison’s food heritage, as well as more convenient options for delivery and takeout which reflect changing trends in how people approach eating in the city.
Madison Sole owner Jeanette Riechers said the diverse combination of businesses on State Street is what makes the area special.
“I love it,” Riechers said. “My line about State Street always is, ‘the magic is the mix.’ All these things come together, and the juxtaposition of old and new is what’s fun about it.”
Riechers said she is excited about downtown Madison’s future, especially with the addition of brand new developments like The Hub and Ovation 309, which she said bring a good contrast to some of the older buildings in the area.
Madison Sole began in 2002, but Riechers said the building is probably 150 years old.
“There’s challenges in being in an old building,” Riechers said. “It’s not inherently efficient.”
She said operating in such an old building leads to heat and air conditioning problems, but because she is only leasing the store, there is only so much she can do.
While she loves the historic feel of State Street, Riechers said it does not make sense to continue trying to make inefficient buildings work in an evolving business district.
“The truth is, a lot of old buildings just don’t make sense. They’re not historically significant, they’re not beautiful, they’re not efficient,” she said. “We’re going to have to look at, when does it make sense to take out and update buildings that are no longer kind of in tune with the needs of the neighborhood.”
In an effort to make the most of older locations, most downtown businesses have become much more interested in improving sustainability and efficiency, Carbine said. She said projects such as Sustain Dane’s MPower Business Champion program have helped stores like Community Pharmacy and Tutto Pasta implement more environmentally-conscious practices.
Looking ahead, Riechers said she thinks the biggest change is yet to come, and in the end, she believes it will all be for the better.
“That’s one of the great things about doing business downtown, is it’s constantly changing,” Riechers said. “There’s not one year that goes by that is like the last.”