Local business owners and volunteers remove plywood from business storefronts on Thursday in downtown Kenosha.

Downtown businesses are ready for a return to normalcy

Volunteers provide assistance to local business owners

By Samantha JacquestKENOSHA.COM

Samantha Jacquest is the owner of Blue House Books, Kenosha's full-service independent bookstore in Downtown Kenosha. Sam loves sharing her love of books with the community and bringing in popular and local authors for events. When not at her shop, Sam enjoys traveling and spending time Downtown with her friends, family, and rescue dog Flash.

Let the light shine in.

Take a walk through downtown and uptown Kenosha and it is a very different scene than it was five months ago. Every day our small business communities are a step closer to normalcy as the plywood comes down and brick-and-mortar shops can once again enjoy sunlight.

Business and building owners in the Downtown and Uptown communities were supported during the last five months by countless volunteers who came to help their community in its time of need. The Downtown Kenosha, Inc. volunteer crew started removing boards early Thursday morning from any business that asked for assistance.

One of the major sources of volunteers, both in August and now as businesses are taking boards down, is Johnson Financial Group.

With four locations in Kenosha and its headquarters in neighboring Racine, Johnson Financial Group immediately sprang into action to support recovery efforts, led by Southeast Regional President Karla Krehbiel.

“Getting involved was an easy decision for us,” Krehbiel said. 

Johnson Financial Group immediately donated $10,000 to the One Town Recovery Grant in late August. In total, $400,000 was raised. Coordinated by Downtown Kenosha, Inc., the money is being dispersed to businesses in the Downtown and Uptown communities that sustained physical damage during the civil unrest.

“Our community needs small businesses,” Krehbiel said. “We cannot survive without them in the community. We wanted to be on the forefront of recovery support and let the other banks in town know what Johnson Bank did. We wanted to be the role model to push other banks to help.”

Born and raised in Kenosha, Krehbiel felt a personal obligation to support her town’s recovery and was immediately supported by her employer. Dozens of JFG employees felt the same.

In August, many employees volunteered with Downtown Kenosha, Inc. in their own free time.

“I work with small businesses all day long,” Krehbiel said. “Johnson Financial Group is a family-owned business. I know the heartbreak this caused the small business owners. It’s important to me that the community bonds and gets together to help each other.”

Alexandria Binanti, executive director of Downtown Kenosha, Inc., said business owners are looking forward to removing boards from their windows and moving on from this dark chapter in Kenosha’s history.

“We’re rebuilding our sense of community and developing a stronger bond with our Uptown sister district,” Binanti said. “DKI would not be as impactful without the support of service and investment in the future of our small business communities without our bigger partners, such as Johnson Financial.”

“Our community needs small businesses. We cannot survive without them in the community.”

– Karla Krehbiel, Johnson Financial Group

Krehbiel said she has JFG employees from all over the country asking how they can help ever since the civil unrest in August. As part of its annual volunteer day, JFG is compensating employees so they can take a few hours away from work this week to help remove plywood in Downtown and Uptown.

“Kenosha is our backyard. It’s our employees’ homes and family businesses. Supporting our employees and neighbors in their time of need is what we do,” Krehbiel said.

Brett Bjorn, owner of Mike Bjorn’s in Downtown Kenosha, said he’s excited for the boards to come off his building.

“I think we all want to get back to having that beautiful sunshine coming in,” Bjorn said. 

The boards on Mike Bjorn’s have been up since the initial unrest in August. He feels encouraged by months of peace to finally take down the plywood, which will be happening in the next few days.

Binanti, as well as many other downtown business owners and employees, believes Kenosha came out stronger from the experiences of the past five months.

“Through recent adversities in Kenosha, the one positive we can take away is the community’s commitment to uplifting each other and rebuilding in a positive, purposeful way,” Binanti said. “In the future, we will continue building our community with equitable practices in our small business communities.”