State Street is a magical place. There are few areas like it in a bustling urban environment. Walking down the sidewalks, the diversity of options and cultures represented are immediately apparent.
Mooyah provides the classic American burger you need, Kabul satisfies your Afghani cravings, Browzer’s Bookstore has books piled to the ceiling and Princess of India Imports has a unique selection of traditional Indian clothing. Not only does State Street provide copious amounts of study space and numerous foodie restaurants, but its blend of shops, boutiques and bookstores makes it truly unique.
However, perhaps even more noticeable is the amount of high end shopping that has begun to dominate the Madison landmark. A glistening Under Armour store sits nestled beside a sprawling Urban Outfitters, just down the block from Francesca’s — all tremendously expensive establishments.
Continuing up the street, the pattern does not change. Jazzman Clothing is far from affordable. The Gap — even when a sale is on — is still not an everyday store. And that comes before a number of tapas bars and luxury coffee bars.
The point is, as college students, disposable income is scarce, and food and retail options on State Street are far from affordable. But, State Street is the only commercial center within walking distance of campus, and by far the most convenient and popular. So we have come to a crossroads.
On one hand, State Street should take advantage of its popularity and continue to collect revenue for the city of Madison by attracting customers and tourists to its location. On the other hand, State Street is nearly built into a college campus, where money is generally tight but options for shopping and eating are still desired. In an area that has become wildly expensive, accessible options are hard to come by.
So what can be done to solve such an issue? I see two futures — one in which things remain the same and students with little to spend are left by the wayside, and one in which a more conscious effort is made by city planners to accommodate shopping and dining options for those without the means to shell out their hard earned cash.
To do this, the University of Wisconsin should send out a survey gauging student’s current satisfaction with the array of establishments on State, and then take necessary steps to make the area more affordable. The suggestion is not to expel establishments already in the area, but rather increase mindfulness in approving the construction of new stores in the future.
While name brand stores may bring that flair of familiarity to some, they also bring a dread of inadequacy to others that should be addressed both for economic and emotional reasons. Walking through an area where stores look appealing and have positive status connotations assigned to purchasing the product can be wonderful, if you have the means to afford it. But many don’t. And because so much of UW social life culminates on State, low-income students are left out of the loop when it comes to going out to dinner or spending a morning walking to the Capitol.
For those who cannot afford such lofty prices, constantly walking through an area where those establishments are celebrated and revered can take a toll. Not to mention the increased effect over time, as thoughts of inadequacy and marginalization become deeply and dangerously engrained.
In essence, State Street should be more affordable. While name brand stores give the area a sense of commercial superiority, they also leave many unseen passers-by stranded with few options. For future students, I hope for commercial options which reach a broader population.
Oh, also, the next time there are more than five people in the Under Armour store, take note, because it probably won’t ever happen again.
Lucas Johnson ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in journalism.