, , , , ,

Small Wisconsin Cities Look To Preserve ‘Wine Walks’

Officials Say Events Help Keep Downtowns Vibrant

tyle_r (CC-BY-NC)

New guidelines from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue threaten to end so-called “wine walks,” events that small cities use to bring people downtown. But there’s an effort among advocates to ensure they’re legal by changing state law.

Baraboo Mayor Mike Palm said wine walks are one way to maintain vitality in the heart of a city.

“It’s no secret that downtowns in rural Wisconsin are under constant pressure from highway commercial, big-box, strip malls and what not,” said Palm.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Under a proposed bill, municipalities could continue to get a Class B or “picnic permit” to hold two wine walks a year. Underaged persons would be allowed to attend, but not drink.

State Rep. Keith Ripp, the Assembly author, said he and Sen. Howard Marklein, the Senate sponsor, plan to tweak bill to ease concerns about over consumption.

“One of these changes will be the introduction of a 9 p.m. end time for pouring wine. This time will not effect when these events have to close,” he said.

Marklein said there haven’t been enforcement issues:

“There haven’t been problems. They’re working well. It’s a great way to get people, especially small towns, to get people downtown who might not otherwise visit those stores.” he said.

Baraboo’s Mike Palm said the city has had 15 wine walks so far and never issued a citation.

Bekah Stelling, owner of Bekah Kate’s Kitchen, Kids and Home Accessories, chairs the town’s wine walk. She said stores want to locate downtown so they can be part of the events.

“Because of that we have very few, if any, empty locations in our downtown. And that’s a true feat in this day and age,” said Stelling. “There isn’t a more cost-effective way to guarantee that, in our case, 500-plus people will walk into your business in one day.”

Todd Wickus, owner of Just Imagine Toys and president of Downtown Baraboo Inc., said the revenue from wine walks allows the group to pay for other events like movies on the square, craft fairs and a Sunday market.

Downtown Baraboo Inc. Vice President Lacey Steffes said the Tavern League of Wisconsin is concerned about competition from wine walks but she called that shortsighted.

“They are done at 9 o’clock so there’s lots of time for people to be out and about. Our downtowns are going to be of no value to us if there’s five bars and 18 empty storefronts.”

Officials from Baraboo, Portage, Mauston and Reedsburg recently testified in favor of the bill at the state Capitol.