ANTIGO - Ten years ago you would have seen a lot of vacant storefronts in downtown Antigo. In an effort to change that, city officials started a grant program for people trying to improve their business or start a new one. Forty-six businesses took advantage of the city's façade grant and improved the outsides of their stores.
But if you want to start a businesss, that can be a huge risk. For aspiring entrepeneurs like Bob Frei of Wild Epitome, the city also made it possible to weather even the worst of storms.
Bob Frei and his wife loved serving their homemade wine to guests.
"We got to the point where we were giving away more wine than we consuming ourselves," said Frei.
When they learned about the Antigo's downtown grant programs this summer, they decided to open a business.
But days before opening the July 17th disaster struck. Two big sections of their roof peeled back from the storms. They knew they were going to lose months of business. Frei and his wife weren't sure if they should go forward with their winery.
"There were some thoughts about what we were doing," said Frei.
But they decided to keep at it, mostly because Antigo's entrepreneurship grant gave them some financial flexibility.
"It helps out greatly for a small business like ourselves," said Frei. "For every dollar we spent on the building we were able to get 25 cents back."
City Administrator Mark Desotell said the entrepreneurship grant gives a partial match up to $100,000 in purchases.
"It might be a cash register; it might be a security system," said Desotell. "But it might be structural reinforcement or electrical upgrade to the building."
Through a partnership, the City, county and CoVantage Credit Union doled out $325,000 to incentivize businesses to spruce up the downtown. This spurred $1.2 million in total investment.
Even after the July storms, the adversity isn't over for the Freis. The downtown will undergo a complete road construction in 2020. Desotell said it is a necessary inconvenience that will pay off in the long run.
"We can't predict but we can be happy about all the things that are going to go right," said Desotell. "And we'll work with the downtown businesses to solve problems as they come up."
That help, plus the city's grant programs, means the Freis are confident that their business will overcome the upcoming road project, just like the July storms.
"We're open now, it made us stronger and I think we'll be successful," said Frei.
The Wild Epitome will have its grand opening ceremony on Saturday from noon to four. Normal hours Thursday and Friday 12pm-7pm, and Saturday 12pm-4pm.