LA CROSSE Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Since last April, thousands of businesses have filled vacant storefronts through a state run-grant program, which was set to end next month. State officials are trying to make downtown areas more vibrant across Wisconsin.

The Main Street Bounceback program was established last year to help small businesses move into downtown vacant storefronts. Missy Hughes with the State Economic Development Corporation says the intent was to support businesses that made it through COVID’s hardships by building up their surrounding area.

“They came out of the pandemic and had empty storefronts on either side of them, and it was really hard to imagine a car driving by and stopping when there was just one store there, so we wanted to fill those vacant spots,” said Hughes.

Fifty million dollars was initially put into the program, which was distributed through 10,000-dollar grants.

“This program has succeeded in helping more than 4,200 businesses and nonprofits move into new spaces. These businesses and nonprofits have created jobs, new opportunities, and revitalized downtowns in all 72 Wisconsin counties,” said Evers.

One of the nonprofits helped by the program is La Crosse Promise, an organization fostering educational opportunities through housing developments.

“Our neighborhood scholarship provides place-based educational scholarships to families that invest in the community through building, buying, or significantly remodeling homes right here in La Crosse downtown areas. Now, our office has a presence in the same areas,” said Aaron Czappa of La Crosse Promise.

Governor Tony Evers is pleased with what the Main Street Bounceback program has accomplished, so more money is going towards it. An additional 25 million dollars of federal COVID relief funds will support the program through the end of the year.

Grant applications can be submitted until December 31st. Governor Evers says if the Main Street Bounceback program were to continue past this year, funding would have to come from the state.