WAUSAU – As the coronavirus pandemic continued in its second year, communities and businesses in the Wausau area adapted in different ways.
That meant plenty of changes, plenty of challenges and plenty of new opportunities. To showcase some of the events that changed Wausau’s economic landscape, we’ve gathered our top business stories from this year.
Worker shortage affects local businesses
Local businesses across many different industries faced staffing shortages this year, a long-standing problem made worse by the pandemic.
According to Dennis Winters, chief economist for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, baby boomer retirements, falling birth rates and young talent leaving the state were already causing staffing shortages before 2020.
“We’ve known this was going to happen for at least 20 years,” Winters said.
To deal with the employee shortages, Wausau businesses such as restaurants, bars and in-home care agencies told the Daily Herald they were forced to adapt by cutting operating hours, offering hiring incentives and reducing their service capacity.
READ THE STORY: ‘Catastrophic short staffing’ at Wausau area businesses forces closures, other adjustments
Redevelopment organization demolishes downtown Wausau mall
The Wausau Center mall, which has been in downtown Wausau since 1983, closed in April and was demolished this summer in order to make way for future redevelopment.
This frees up eight city blocks for a multimillion-dollar redevelopment project, overseen by a committee called the Wausau Opportunity Zone. Current plans for the former mall space include residential and retail areas, office space, restaurants, entertainment and green spaces.
When WOZ acquired the Wausau Center, a majority of the mall’s spaces were vacant. WOZ and city leaders hope the planned redevelopment of the mall will help revitalize the city’s downtown district.
RELATED: ‘The city needs to grow’: Wausau Center mall redevelopment to include demolition; work could start in July
RELATED: Wausau Center Mall to close next week; demolition will begin in May
RELATED: Demolition of historic Wausau Center Mall is about 80% complete; DNR lists site as contaminated
Stores in former Wausau mall relocate
While plans for demolishing the Wausau Center were underway, the mall’s remaining 25 businesses had to consider their future plans.
Some businesses permanently closed their Wausau locations. Others, like Spencer’s, Bath & Body Works, Maurice’s, Buckle and the Wausau Children’s Museum, moved to new locations in Wausau, Rothschild and Rib Mountain.
Rib Mountain town leaders told the Daily Herald they hoped the relocations would help spur the city’s economic development after being slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
RELATED: COVID-19 slowed Rib Mountain development. Can Wausau mall stores, new subdivision, TIF district turn that around?
Aspirus acquires several Ascension properties
Aspirus, a Wausau-based health system, bought seven hospitals, 21 clinics, and Spirit Medical Transport from Ascension in August.
The acquisition included hospitals in Wausau, Merrill, Woodruff, Stanley, Tomahawk, Rhinelander and Stevens Point. Jenny Redman-Schell, president of Aspirus Medical Group, assured patients they would continue to experience the same quality of care from their provider.
Aspirus renamed their new hospitals in December. A complete list of the renamed medical centers, clinics and services can be found at aspirus.org/transitioninglocations.
RELATED: Aspirus officially acquires Ascension facilities in central, northern Wisconsin
Skogen’s Festival Foods purchases Trig’s stores
Skogen’s Festival Foods, which operates over 30 full-service grocery stores in Wisconsin, purchased the Trig’s stores in Wausau, Weston and Stevens Point in October.
“There are a lot of similarities in vision and philosophy between the two companies,” Mark Skogen, president and CEO of Skogen’s Festival Foods, said in a news release at the time of the acquisition. “We look forward to welcoming the Trig’s associates and to becoming an active member of these great communities.”
The former Trig’s stores opened as Festival Foods stores in early December.
The parent company for Trig’s, the T.A. Solberg Co., continues to operate grocery stores in Minocqua, Eagle River, Tomahawk, Rhinelander and Manitowish Waters along with several fuel and convenience stores.
RELATED:Festival Foods opening dates set at former Trig’s sites in Wausau, Weston, Stevens Point
Former Semco employees win settlement after abrupt layoffs
Semco Windows & Doors, a Merrill manufacturer, was found in August to have violated state law when it abruptly closed its plant on Dec. 31, 2019.
The company’s 140 employees found out about the closure only the day before the shutdowns. After individual workers and their union filed complaints, the Wisconsin Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Semco in February.
As part of a settlement, the company was ordered to pay $682,864 in wages and benefits to its former workers.
And, while the lawsuit was pending, the community of Merrill offered help to the displaced Semco employees, some of whom had been working at the company for decades.
RELATED: DOJ settlement: Semco in Merrill will pay $650,000 to workers who got one-day notice of plant closing
RELATED: Laid-off Semco employees in Merrill worry about starting over. The community wants to help.
New spots for food, sweets, fitness classes
Despite the ever-changing and sometimes difficult business climate, a number of small businesses opened in the Wausau area this year. Among the new businesses were two restaurants, a bar, a candy shop and a new center for fitness classes that were profiled by our Streetwise reporter.
The new restaurants, Boriken Mart and A Taste of Jamaica, offer a taste of the Caribbean through their Puerto Rican and Jamaican fare. The Garage, a new bar in Rib Mountain, serves over 100 craft beers and other spirits through in-house and drive-thru service.
The Chocolate Shop, the new brick-and-mortar location for candy wholesaler Sweet Pick & Mix USA, opened on Wausau’s west side in September.
Spin Sisters, which operates inside the Chaos Fitness Studio on Seventh Street, started offering pole, flow and spin arts classes in August.