December 5, 2022

Cap Times Idea Fest: Madison retailers say COVID-19 has erased optimism of a year ago | Nicholas-garton

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State Street stood empty on Friday, March 20, as most stores were closed and residents stayed home to fight the spread of COVID-19. 

A Cap Times Idea Fest panel discussion presented two very different scenes for Madison’s retail business community: before COVID-19 and after.

The panel included Jessica Cavazos, president of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County; Stacey Scannell, owner of The Soap Opera on State Street; and Carole “Orange” Schroeder, co-owner of Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street. Downtown Madison Inc. president Jason Ilstrup moderated the discussion. 

Prior to the pandemic, panelists described a solid and strong market for retail businesses. People were shopping at stores on State Street and other areas of the city, especially downtown, and boosting the market.

“People were optimistic and Madison was having kind of a renaissance,” Cavazos said. “But all of a sudden, COVID stopped everything and made people have to think about what are the new norms?”

Scannell said business at The Soap Opera, a health and beauty shop that’s been a mainstay of downtown retail for decades, was going strong prior to the pandemic.

“What was nice is we were starting to see sale improvements in the store,” Scannell said about the pre-COVID world. “Downtown was having a lot of events and that was bringing business to us.”

Since the pandemic hit, she has been working to rebuild every aspect of the store from how it looks physically to the amount of staff (at one point during the pandemic her staff dwindled from 10 to 2), and maintaining a strong website.

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