‘One day at a time’: Fundraiser money helps downtown businesses hang on

MADISON, Wis. – The money raised following three days of destruction in the State St. area is being allocated to about 60 downtown businesses.

“Oh, it’s been crazy. We’ve been trying to take it one day at a time,” said Carolina Pezua, who owns Estacion Inka along with her siblings. They moved the Peruvian restaurant a couple spots down to a bigger space on University Ave. right before the pandemic began. “It’s been like a nightmare after another.”

The restaurant’s windows are still boarded after sustaining damage about six weeks ago. Like many other business owners, Pezua supported the peaceful protests that preceded the violence.

“We definitely are for Black Lives Matter,” Pezua said. “We were saddened and disappointed that our window got broken. That was very sad.”

In two weeks following violence in the area, community members donated a combined nearly $200,000 to a Boys and Girls Club of Dane County fundraiser. That money went to a Downtown Emergency Relief Fund.

Tiffany Kenney, executive director of Madison’s Central Business Improvement District, said about 60 businesses applied to receive those funds.

“They’re feeling a little bit alone, kind of lost on the street, lost in what happens next for them as small businesses,” Kenney said.

In early June, more than 40 State St. businesses replied to a Business Improvement District survey saying they would likely close. Kenney said so far, 17 businesses actually have.

In the short-term, she said businesses need a boost to stay open.

“We’re really, really excited that everyone who applied got funding at almost the levels they asked for,” Kenny said, adding that $160,000 of the money raised was split between the about 60 businesses, with allocations anywhere from about $400 to $7,500 to fix damage and pay for insurance deductibles.

“That gave not only the financial boost that they may need now to hopefully stay a little longer with us, but it also gave them a big spiritual and emotional boost,” Kenney said.

“That is going to be able to help us replace windows,” Pezua said. “Thanks to the Madison community and the Boys and Girls Club.”

Pezua says the new space is double the rent and they’re working with half their usual staff. Takeout is keeping them afloat, but they’re not bringing in money. At the same time, she’s grateful to get by another day with hopes of a better tomorrow.

“It would be really, really sad to have to close the restaurant, not only because we want to give the community our food because it’s an experience, but also it’s taking away jobs,” she said. “We’re praying that we’re going to be able to make it through this whole nightmare and be able to survive. The more help we get, the better chance we have to stay open.”

The Central Business Improvement District, the Black Chamber of Commerce and the Latino Chamber of Commerce each got $10,000 from the fundraiser, while $5,000 was sent as a gift to George Floyd’s family, according to Kenney.

City leaders are planning a Downtown Recovery Program and Downtown Equity Program. On Tuesday night, Common Council members referred a resolution budgeting $500,000 to the programs to further meetings.