Nearly 20 years after she bought The Wedding Tree bridal shop, the incoming president of Downtown Mainstreet Inc. has opened a new event venue.

Deb Lash extensively renovated the third floor of her building to create The Court Above Main, which opened in June at 420 Main St. That was the largest part of an approximately $1.1 million project that also involved constructing a small addition to the building and installing an elevator.

The Wedding Tree began in 1976 and has always been in downtown La Crosse. Lash bought the business in 1996 and in 1998 moved it to its current larger location at 418 Main St.

Constructed in 1894, the building was home to the S.S. Kresge department store from 1918 to 1963, Lash said. The building’s second and third floors also were occupied by the La Crosse YWCA, with the third floor serving as a basketball court, from about 1918 to 1931. The third floor also served as a public hall for local events.

But it had been vacant since 1931 and no longer had any electricity, plumbing or heating and air conditioning system, Lash said. She had all of those and the elevator installed as part of the renovation project. The basketball court markings were preserved as the original wood floor was being restored, and new floor-to-ceiling windows and nine chandeliers were installed.

“It was empty, but it wasn’t in bad shape,” Lash said of the third floor.

“Downtown La Crosse is taking off, and it’s exciting,” Lash said of her decision to renovate the third floor and turn it into an event venue. She had been thinking for a few years about doing that.

“By 2012, we were starting to see some weddings postponed or wedding receptions moved to other cities because a few places (in La Crosse) had closed in the last decade-and-a-half,” Lash said.

The Court Above Main’s ballroom can seat about 190 people. The venue also has a lounge and bar.

Besides wedding receptions, The Court Above Main is being booked for events such as rehearsal dinners, private parties, anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, along with corporate meetings, retreats and conferences.

Last year, Lash also bought the La Crosse Bridal Expo, which will hold its next annual fashion show Jan. 10 in the La Crosse Center’s South Hall.

In October, Lash will begin a two-year term as Downtown Mainstreet Inc. president. She has been active in the organization for several years, and has served on a number of DMI committees.

“I’ve seen a tremendous net increase in (downtown) businesses,” Lash said. “People in other cities are almost jealous.”

As DMI president, she said, “I’d like to build on the success of downtown and strengthen our retail community. By working together, we can make each other look better.”

Lash also is a past president of the Midwest Bridal Buyers Association, a nonprofit trade organization for bridal retailers.

Lash graduated from Viroqua High School in 1987 and received an associate degree in marketing and retailing from Western Technical College in 1990. She worked for La Crosse Management Systems for 5½ years before buying The Wedding Tree.

The Wedding Tree has grown to be one of the nation’s largest bridal shops, Lash said. Besides selling bridal, prom and social occasion dresses and accessories, it sells men’s formalwear and rents tuxedos.

“I’ve been a single-owner store for almost two decades,” Lash said of reasons for The Wedding Tree’s growth. “We have longevity in store owner and employees. And I have great employees.” She added she has been active in community organizations, in donating to local causes and in social media.

The Wedding Tree has its own alterations, steaming and pressing operations.

Lash has about 10 to 20 employees, depending on the time of year. Her store’s busiest months are January through March.