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On Retail: Madison Public Market on track for 2024 opening

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Madison Public Market

This rendering shows the former city Fleet Services building at East Johnson and North First streets after it is transformed into the Madison Public Market. The $18.3 million facility is scheduled to open in early 2024.

The dream of a public market in Madison has been talked about, envisioned and conceptualized for at least 16 years.

There have been debates, proposals, studies, visits to other markets around the country and several sites considered. And while the wait for its opening at the corner of East Johnson and North First streets is just under two years away, one of the leaders of the effort believes excitement for the $18.3 million project remains and is building new momentum following two years of uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Madison Public Market

A rendering of the Madison Public Market shows what the interior of the space could look like after an extensive renovation.

Anne Reynolds, who spent 21 years at the UW-Madison Center for Cooperatives and now chairs the City of Madison Public Market Development Committee, said the city will request bids for the project this summer with the renovation of the city’s former Fleet Services building beginning in November.

An executive director for the 45,000-square-foot market will be hired in early 2023, which will allow for the selection of food and retail businesses to fill the 30 vendor spots, temporary spaces for seasonal businesses and two other larger spaces that could hold a brewpub, café or restaurant in the 1960s-era industrial garage. The market, anticipating 500,000 customers a year, is expected to open in early 2024 and in February of this year received $4 million in funding from a program that uses federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Over 200 businesses have expressed an interest in being part of the market, many of which took part prior to the pandemic in tasting events.

“This project has been alive for a long time and we did have a pause during COVID because there was just so much uncertainty,” Reynolds said Tuesday. “We’re going to be rebuilding those connections in the next six months. We’re really looking forward to that process. One of our priorities is to reconnect.”

Madison Public Market

The former headquarters of Madison's Fleet Services Division will become home to the Madison Public Market at North First and East Johnson streets.

The vision for the market includes it being a year-round marketplace filled with small businesses from local entrepreneurs, many of them minorities and/or just starting out. Five businesses have already been chosen for the market through the MarketReady program that was launched in 2017 to provide connections to resources, coaching and business mentors to prepare business owners for operating in the market.

Those chosen for the market include Melly Mell’s Catering; Little Tibet Madison; Antojitos, a Puebla-style kitchen and juice/smoothie bar; Caracas Empanada from Luis Dompablo, who has had a Venezuelan food cart in the city since 2010; and Perfect Imperfections, a business that sells a natural handcrafted body care line that uses locally sourced ingredients.

Reynolds said there could be more funding announcements later this year which will also help “create the kind of buzz that we had in 2019,” prior to the shutdown.

“I think the market is going to provide an opportunity for success for small vendors,” Reynolds said. “Our commitment to a real multicultural experience and diversity in this market is going to create something that is really unique.”

New grocery store could open in fall

Plans to convert a former strip club building into a neighborhood grocery store continue to move through the city’s approval process.

The Urban Design Commission will review plans on Monday for Gooh Grocery, 3554 E. Washington Ave., in a building that for years was home to the troubled Visions Night Club.

Gooh Grocery

The former Visions Night Club at 3554 E. Washington Ave., could be transformed by this fall into Gooh Grocery, a 3,000-square-foot locally owned grocery store.

If approved by the city later this month, work on the $1.4 million project could begin in early July with the 3,000-square-foot store opening sometime this fall, said Jerreh Kujabi, one of the property owners, who emigrated from the West African country of Gambia about 20 years ago.

A new rendering of the building shows a beige color scheme with green awnings over the windows, a drastic change from its current worn, dilapidated look.

Visions Night Club

Visions Night Club, 3554 E. Washington Ave., has been closed for over two years, but could be home to a grocery store by this fall.

“It will definitely be a fresh look for the neighborhood,” said Kujabi. “It’s quite a transformation and will really uplift that corridor. We’re really excited.”

The project has already received $320,000 in funding from the city and an application has been submitted for a $250,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

The store’s business plan calls for selling grocery items to the neighborhood and featuring produce from area farms.

Macy’s at Hilldale adds new concept

One of Madison’s upscale retailers has added a sizable discount area.

Macy's Backstage

About a quarter of the upper level of the Macy's store at Hilldale has been turned into a Macy's Backstage. The store-in-a-store concept offers up discount prices on name-brand merchandise.

Macy’s at Hilldale has added a Macy’s Backstage, part of a growing approach by the retailer to offer brand-name clothing, housewares, children’s clothing and even toys at discount prices.

The Madison Backstage, located on the upper level of the store, opened May 21, has four checkout counters and is one of 37 Backstages opening this spring in Macy’s stores around the country. Most of the store-within-stores range from 11,000 to 16,000 square feet of retail space and by the end of June will be in nearly 300 stores around the country, including its flagship store in downtown Chicago.

Macy's Backstage

There are nearly 300 Macy's Backstage stores across the country. The Madison store opened May 21.

Wisconsin is home to two other Macy’s Backstage stores at Fox River Mall in Appleton and Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa, according to the company’s website.

Festival and Kwik Trip launch fuel saver

A pair of Wisconsin-based companies have teamed to create a fuel savings program.

Skogen’s Festival Foods and Kwik Trip have launched a program that allows Festival Foods shoppers the opportunity to earn 1 cent off Kwik Trip fuel purchases with every $10 spent at Festival Foods.

Festival has 39 stores, including two in Dane County, while Kwik Trip has more than 800 locations.

Send retail-related tips and story ideas to or call Barry Adams at 608-252-6148.

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