La Crosse Launch grants help new downtown businesses

A new La Crosse initiative is offering start-up businesses grants to promote a thriving downtown.

Launch La Crosse, an initiative from organizations including Downtown Mainstreet, will make grants available to both new and established businesses.

Its new ‘Ignite Grants’ are specifically for new businesses in downtown La Crosse within that difficult first year to help get owners on their feet.

“La Crosse and the downtown area is really thriving, and it’s a great time to be in business downtown,” said Kelly Castady, co-owner of the contemporary women’s clothing store Willow Boutique.

As Castady will tell you, however, opening a business isn’t easy.

“It never ends; there’s always something that can be done,” she said.

Willow opened on Pearl Street in November of 2016, and so did A&S Clothing Co., just a few blocks away on Main Street.

“I wanted to work for myself. I never thought it’d be women’s clothing, but hey, we gave it a shot,” co-owner Aaron Tourville said. “We wanted to create a different, comfortable shopping experience.”

Tourville said the biggest problem he and his fiancee have had so far is getting the word out about their new store.

“Not a lot of people know about us,” he said.

Castady agrees marketing is a struggle.

“As a new and small business, we have very small budgets to spend on marketing and advertising,” she said.

That’s why Castady and Tourville, the first winners of the La Crosse Launch Ignite Grant, are happy to have some extra help.

“Downtown is very successful, but we still want to see that continue to be supported and grow,” said Robin Moses, Downtown Mainstreet executive director.

Willow received a $2,000 cash grant, and A&S got $3,000.

“For us, I already know it’s huge,” Tourville said. “I genuinely believe this will be a priceless addition to what we’re doing.”

In addition, they also got thousands of dollars’ worth of marketing and media packages.

“Really, really great for a new business,” Castady said.

“These types of businesses, they add character,” Moses said. “If we don’t support new business growth, we can become a community where you don’t have those options.”

Moses said next spring, Launch La Crosse will select the next recipients of the Ignite grants.

Launch La Crosse is also offering Accelerate grants to existing businesses to help them expand. Winners for that grant will be chosen in the fall.

Moses said both grants are privately funded by community investors.

More information can be found at this website.