Long faces and longer-than-normal checkout lines were common Friday morning at the Shopko store in Bridgeview Plaza on La Crosse’s North Side, shortly after doors opened on its closeout sale, touted on window signs and in-store banners as having prices at 10 to 30 percent off.
“It breaks our heart,” Karin Troyanek said in an interview that interrupted her bargain-hunting trip with her sister, Sonja Schaller. “We don’t have anything here now. The hot-dog stand and here (Shopko) were two places where North Siders could meet each other.”
That hot-dog stand had been Coney Island Station, which had been a few stores down from Shopko, until it closed in November.
Asked whether her disappointment is because she doesn’t have transportation to two other Shopkos — one on the South Side and the other in Onalaska — or other stores, Troyanek said that isn’t the case.
“This is our place, dear,” she said with a rueful but friendly, smile.
“What are the people on French Island going to do?” Troyanek said. “It’s going to affect everybody.”
The sisters also lamented the loss of jobs for employees, and Schaller attributed the closing, in part, to online shopping.
“A lot of stores are suffering because of the internet,” she said. “You can order anything.”
Shopko, headquartered near Green Bay, announced the closure of the North Side store and five others this week — a follow-up to its revelation last year that it planned to close 39 stores in 19 states by the end of February. Other closures are in Appleton, Grafton, Menasha, Seymour and Sussex.
With about 360 stores in 24 states, Shopko has said long-term outlooks on profitability, sales trends and growth potential dictate the closures. The chain reportedly intends to seek bankruptcy protection from creditors next week.
News about the latest blows to the chain came this week, when McKesson Corp., a pharmaceutical supplier for Shopko, told a judge this week that it has delivered $67 million in drugs to Shopko since Nov. 11 but has not been paid since early December.
McKesson asked Brown County Circuit Judge William Atkinson for a restraining order to keep Shopko from selling the medications it has supplied. McKesson attorney Jeff Garfinkle revealed during a court hearing that Shopko is expected to file for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday.
Shopko attorney Stephen Hackney countered that a restraining order would require the retailer to close its pharmacies and would harm patients who need the medications, according to Press-Gazette Media.
Atkinson rejected McKesson’s request.
The chain’s public relations representative did not respond to several calls requesting information about the number of employees at the North Side store and the long-term projections for the stores at 4344 Mormon Coulee Road in La Crosse and 9366 Hwy. 16 in Onalaska.
Bridgeview Plaza, which was built in 1970, has several vacant storefronts between Lebakkens Rent to Own on the north end and Harbor Freight tools on the south. Tenants include businesses such as CosmoProf, a cosmetics supplier; LA Nails, and an H & R Block tax office, but it has vacancies that had included a clothing store, a card collector shop and a nutrition store, among others.
North Country Steak Buffet occupies the northwest corner of the plaza, while the building that once housed a Burger King restaurant on the northeast corner has remained vacant since the fast-food spot closed in August 2017.
“It breaks our heart. We don’t have anything here now. The hot-dog stand and here (Shopko) were two places where North Siders could meet each other.” Karin Troyanek, North Side resident
A pilot program to require drivers to pay for on-street parking near two La Crosse campuses is free to move forward after a Thursday decision by the city’s Common Council.
The council voted 12-1 to turn down council member Justice Weaver’s proposed ban on pay-by-phone parking near Western Technical College and University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Weaver, who represents the UW-L campus on the council, cast the sole vote in favor of the ban.
The ban was proposed after the Board of Public Works in September gave the city’s parking utility the go-ahead to require drivers to pay $1 an hour to park on select streets around UW-L and Western. Under the policy, they will be required to pay by phone, either using a mobile app called Passport Parking or by calling 1-800-789-7593.
Weaver argued that the cost is onerous to students, many of whom live at or below the poverty line, and the city should have met with students prior to implementing the program.
Proponents of the paid parking program emphasized that parking is expensive for the city to provide and an inconvenience for property owners, adding that allowing paid on-street parking is necessary should the city decide to move forward with a parking benefit district ordinance proposed to go to the council next month.
Council President Martin Gaul, who served on the now-disbanded Parking Utility Board, said his experience convinced him of the necessity of charging for parking to offset the expenses associated with providing it to drivers.
“I firmly believe that parking isn’t free, and although I doubt or I have concerns with the approach that we’re taking on this particular program, I do believe we’re doing this on a trial basis and we need to start somewhere,” Gaul said.
Allowing the city to charge for on-street parking is a key part of allowing parking benefit districts, which are neighborhood-led efforts that charge for on-street parking and funnel those funds into projects in the district.
If it moves forward, neighbors will have the ability to get together and draw maps where they agree to charge for parking, and a portion of any revenue from that paid on-street parking will fund projects they choose to prioritize.
Council member Jacqueline Marcou said the students she talked to about this were more amenable to paying for parking if their fees benefited their neighbors.
“Where this area is that we’re talking about, parking around UW-L, could that then be included in the parking benefit district?” Marcou said.
Kabat said it depends on how the people who live there define the boundaries of a parking benefit district in that neighborhood, but it’s a possibility.
Council member Andrea Richmond wanted to know how much of that revenue will benefit the parking district.
“Who is going to decide the money that’s coming in — if it’s 50,000 or whatever — what is the percentage that’s going to be going back to the neighborhoods?” Richmond asked
La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat clarified that any revenue collected right now would go toward funding the parking utility; however, should the council approve the parking benefit district ordinance next month, the council would decide what percentage of funds go toward neighborhood improvements.
Council member Roger Christians said he wasn’t against charging for parking but suggested lowering the rate from $1 per hour to 50 cents per hour.
Kabat said that was something the Board of Public Works could address but cautioned against attempting to address those details in the council chambers.
“I don’t really believe that you all should try to set pricing. That’s why you pay professional staff to do that analysis,” Kabat said.
Gaul agreed, saying Christians’ heart was in the right place but those decisions “are under the control of the Board of Public works and rightly so.”
Richmond added that it was a little late to change the rate after the city spent $2,700 on signs saying the rate was $1 per hour until 7 p.m.
However, she also said, “I think the Board of Public Works needs to do a little bit better job when they think about how this is going to affect the neighbors. I think having that until 7 o’clock was a mistake.”
The La Crosse Center renovation cleared a significant hurdle Thursday when the city’s Common Council voted 12-1 to approve a concept to put the majority of the expansion to the west of the arena.
Council member Doug Happel asked what he should do if he’s interested in stopping by the campus, but doesn’t have his phone on him.
“I would recommend you find another parking space,” Kabat said, adding, “This is a relatively new technology. The alternative is to have to make a significant capital investment to install pay stations, and the staff, before we would take that move, felt it would be good to at least test this out.”
The parking utility suggested the campus area for the pilot program, saying students were more likely to be adaptable to the new technology and carry cell phones to either pay through the mobile app or call the 800 number.
Nearly three-fourths of the emails sent to the UW-La Crosse chancellor in the month after a porn star spoke to students as part of the university’s Free Speech week expressed support for Gow’s speaker selection.
That’s according to the nearly four dozen emails obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal through the state’s open records law regarding an episode that attracted national media attention, led to a letter of reprimand from UW System President Ray Cross, prompted an audit of Chancellor Joe Gow’s office’s discretionary fund and denied him a pay raise.
An email Gow sent to porn star and sex educator Nina Hartley three days after receiving Cross’s letter scolding him for exercising “poor judgement” reflects just how much he stands by his invitation.
“This is without a doubt the most original and thought-provoking presentation I’ve seen in my 12 years at our university,” Gow wrote to Hartley on Nov. 9.
Hartley delivered an optional lecture titled “Fantasy versus reality: Viewing adult media with a critical eye” to a reported 75 attendees on campus Nov. 1. Her lecture sparked about half a dozen op-eds in the La Crosse Tribune, including one by Gow, and headlines from national media.
Included among the 200 pages of documents released to the State Journal is a terse note Cross wrote to Gow in the days after the media attention.
“I just received a copy of your Op Ed (you didn’t share it, others did) — I am not pleased. Your defense of your actions just makes things worse,” Cross wrote.
On Nov. 11, Gow issued an apology for “the sensationalistic media attention (UW-La Crosse) has received as a result of a speaker I brought to campus.” The statement did not apologize for inviting the speaker.
Cross, who received the statement in advance of its release, told Gow that he was “comfortable” with the message, according to a newly released email.
Gow received emails related to Hartley from nearly 50 individuals, including students, staff, faculty, alumni, a former regent, and an emeritus dean of UW-Madison’s College of Letters and Science in the month after the Nov. 1 speech.
Of those, 33 messages expressed support for Gow’s invitation to Hartley and 13 came from disappointed or outraged individuals who used subject lines such as “disappointed alumni” and salutations such as “irate taxpayer.”
Other comments came through different types of communication. UW-La Crosse director of alumni relations Jane Morgan sent a note to Gow informing him that she received calls and text messages from concerned alumni, which were not represented in the university’s records release.
Morgan forwarded a note to Gow from alumnus Andy Ellingson who wrote: “Rest assured your association won’t get a dime from me. I could win the Powerball and I wouldn’t give (UW-La Crosse) a dime.”
Another angry alumna, Sharon, whose last name was redacted, wrote that she would stop donating to the university after 27 years of doing so.
But the majority of email senders stood behind Gow.
A UW-La Crosse student whose name was redacted wrote that she transferred to the campus last spring and Hartley’s frank discussion on sex education reinforced that it was the right decision for her.
University library services assistant Liz Bass wrote along those same lines: “Porn is pervasive in our society via the Internet, and to not shine a light on it through open, rational discussion means it remains in the dark, secreted away to be manifest in unhealthy and often injurious ways. Thank you for trying to bring this darkness into the light.”
Alumnus Matthew Dockter acknowledged he personally wouldn’t be interested in listening to Hartley speak, but applauded Gow for providing a forum for someone outside the mainstream.
“That’s the Wisconsin Idea in action,” he wrote.
Three others asked for Gow’s resignation.
“I am seeing these snowflakes graduate with a head full of mush, heavily indoctrinated with garbage about socialism and liberal thought,” Alumnus Chris Mikula wrote. “If (UW-La Crosse) is supposed to be an institution of higher learning where varying ideas and views can be shared, then why not invite someone like a Ben Shapiro to speak on campus? … Explain to me how a porn star is helping these students build resumes and better their interviewing skills.”
Shapiro’s appearance on another UW campus, along with other conservative speakers interrupted by protesters at college campuses across the country, led the UW System Board of Regents to pass a free speech policy in the fall of 2017.
Gow invited Hartley as part of the university’s inaugural Free Speech week, which he created in response to a July 2018 memo from Cross encouraging chancellors to find ways to encourage and protect free speech.
Gow personally reimbursed the $5,000 speaker’s fee amid the public outcry. The fee initially came out of his office’s discretionary fund, which is supported by interest earnings and vending machine revenue.
UW System spokeswoman Heather LaRoi said Friday the auditors are still conducting the review of Gow’s discretionary fund.
The campus speaker controversy at UW-La Crosse will likely continue in the spring semester when an anti-pornography group speaks comes to campus in late February.
Gow initially announced he would bring Fight the New Drug as a counter-speaker to Hartley. He then found out a Christian student group known as Cru had already received $2,400 from the university’s student government earlier last fall to bring the group to campus.
Luke Rickert, Cru’s La Crosse area director, characterized Fight the New Drug as a nonreligous, nonpolitical group that will speak at the campus’s student union at 8 p.m. on Feb. 7.
“With the epidemic of pornography plaguing the college scene, we’re trying to address that in a way that would not only speak to those of Christian faith, but also those of a non-Christian faith who are wrestling with the effects of pornography,” Rickert said.
Rickert said he expects more than 75 people to attend, in part, because the group plans to promote it unlike Hartley’s speech, which Gow decided not to include on the university’s events calendar nor to publicize to media outlets.
Emails show several people have already reached out to Gow unhappy with the speaker selection.
“Fight the New Drug relies on research that is not backed by credible science,” assistant professor Elizabeth Humrickhouse wrote to Gow.
Humrickhouse pointed Gow toward a letter written by eight neuroscientists and one psychophysiologist who said Fight the New Drug is “systematically misrepresenting science” and disregards the scientific method.
Gow wrote back: “It appears that this organization is not without controversy, and this makes me all the more eager to hear what they have to say.”
Gow said in an interview the speaker was just another example of the importance of free speech. He encouraged people with concerns about Fight the New Drug to attend the voluntary event and lamented that he would be unable to attend because of a Regents meeting scheduled in Madison the same day.
“Listen critically, ask good questions, make up your mind — that’s what we’re here to do as a university,” he said.