Downer Avenue merchants enhancing bike race festival
Merchants in the Downer Avenue shopping district on Milwaukee’s East Side are furthering their commitment to the International Cycling Classic by enhancing the Downer Avenue Bike Race, which will be held July 26 this year.
Race-watching along the Downer Avenue leg of the cycling classic has turned into a festival for neighbors and thousands of others from outside the area. Last year’s race drew an estimated 14,000 spectators, said Tom Vaughn, owner of Downer Wine and Spirits and one of the organizers of the festival.
"We want to solidify our commitment to the race and its connection to the neighborhood," Vaughn said.
The festival includes live music and food. A third band will be added this year and a wider menu of food items will be offered. Additionally, the merchants association for the first time will produce a promotional poster for the event and will engage other marketing efforts.
"We really want to promote this street as a shopping destination and give Downer Avenue an even stronger foothold on this incredible race," said Yvette Livingston, owner of The Windowbox and also a member of the race festival committee. "There is a lot of event competition in July; we want to make sure our event stands out."
The Downer Avenue Bike Race is one of the favorite legs of the International Cycling Classic, which was started in 1969 as part of Summerfest. The Downer Avenue leg owes its existence to Otto Wenz Jr., who for many years owned and operated the former Sentry grocery store on Downer Avenue.
Wenz, a one-time bicycle racer, was the organizer of the cycling classic, which now has races from Menasha south into Illinois.
The races here have gathered international attention and acclaim. Last year, the Downer Avenue leg drew 215 riders from 13 countries. This year, the goal is 250 riders and 15 countries, Vaughn said. "VeloNews has called the Downer Avenue race the No. 1 leg in America, and we’re really proud of that."
USA Cycling has recognized the International Cycling Classic as the longest-running multi-category cycling race series in the country.
While amateurs compete in some of legs of the two-week International Cycling Classic, the Downer Avenue race is for professional racers who lap a 0.6-mile course 100 times. Winners of the leg have included such international cycling greats as Greg LaMond, Lance Armstrong and Eric Heiden.
"This has never been a great business day for us, but when you bring in that kind of talent in such a premier event, it’s great marketing for the merchants," Vaughn said.
Money raised during the cycling race is used for streetscaping improvements.
This year’s Super Week races run July 12 to 28, kicking off with a new event in Illinois. For more on the bicycle races, see www.internationalcycling.com.
May 2, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee, by David Niles, of SBT