'Had to draw the line:' Several downtown Racine businesses close in wake of COVID-19 economy

RACINE -- The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to dramatically change the way they operate -- either shifting to customer pick-up, or just closing altogether.

Now, a handful of businesses in downtown Racine are closing for good at the hands of the virus.

Just off Main Street, John Brownewell brought a dream to life through Wildcat Barbeque -- his own space, complete with a custom-built smoker -- in downtown Racine.

John Brownewell

"We had to completely scrub it down, re-paint it, get all the floors redone," Brownewell said.

But now, six months after opening its doors for the first time, the restaurant is closed for good -- tied to the fallout from COVID-19.

Wildcat Barbeque couldn't keep up with the skyrocketing expenses, which Brownewell said stem from outbreaks at meatpacking plants across the U.S.

"We went from paying $3.50 per pound for brisket last year to paying $8.50 a pound a few weeks ago," said Brownewell.

The restaurant isn't the only business closing shop near downtown Racine. Smart Mart -- a niche, organic-only grocery store at 4th and Main -- has also closed.

"We all firmly believe in eating organic and eating healthy, and we support local all the way. And we didn't want to change that," said Parker Wickert, co-owner of Smart Mart.

Smart Mart was unable to partner with a vendor before premiums jumped 50% -- again, due to the pandemic.

Megan Wickert

"When I had to choose between literally buying food at my house and buying food for the store, that's where we had to draw the line," Megan Wickert, Smart Mart co-owner, said.

Now, the Wickerts and staff pack up their store, hoping for another chance in a more stable market.

"You live and you learn, you know? That's how it goes," said Parker.

Lux Beauty Salon and the Red Moon Jewelry Store were both forced to close as well.