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ERRP aims to preserve Northwoods feel while supporting local businesses

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January 9, 2024

EAGLE RIVER – Despite the temporary lack of snow and mild winter thus far this season, Eagle River, a community of about 1,600 in the southeastern portion of Vilas County, is alive and well.

A big reason Eagle River – nicknamed “The Snowmobile Capital of the World” – is thriving is because of the work of the Eagle River Revitalization Program (ERRP).

“Our vision is to preserve the unique Northwoods character of Eagle River while supporting the growth and vitality of our city,” Executive Director Karen Margelofsky said. “Our mission is to provide financial, design and promotional assistance to stimulate our business community.”

The executive director since Aug. 2021, Margelofsky said the ERRP is an accredited Main Street America program.

“We’ve been nationally accredited since 1999,” she said. “We are funded through the Eagle River BID (Business Improvement District), and every year, we ask the city for the funds… they gift those to us to run our organization. All Main Street programs are guided by four points: design, promotion, economic vitality and organization.”

Margelofsky said getting volunteers lined up to help run the organization properly and making sure those funds that come in are appropriately used, is critical.

“The design portion (of the Main Street program focuses on) the beautification of the city,” she said. “There are lots of gardens, flags and flowers downtown and in the parks. We also have an Artscape program where local artists create their pieces of art, and we have sponsors to do it so we have a public art display every summer.”

Promotions let the world know what the ERRP is doing, Margelofsky said.

“That would be the website, and we run the local farmers’ market in the summer two days a week,” she said.

The final point guiding the ERRP, economic vitality, Margelofsky said, is what brings businesses into the city.

“We work with entrepreneurs, current business owners and the city to see where help is needed,” she said. “We’ve worked with filling empty buildings in the past, but now there are also housing, labor and childcare needs. We want to help Eagle River prosper.”

Margelofsky said from what she’s heard from many people, “Eagle River is on the map for everybody now.”

“The downtown has grown – there are only one or two empty buildings, and we have lots of variety,” she said. ”It’s known as a vacation area, but there is more to it than that. It’s a friendly area with a small-town feel, and businesses love being here. People will find three new businesses opening up this summer.”

More on Main Street America

According to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) website (, there are 35 Main Street America programs in the State of Wisconsin.

I know Eagle River is the only one (in Wisconsin) that encompasses the entire city limits,” Margelofsky said. “Errin Welte from WEDC tells me, ‘you might even be the only one in the nation, but I know you’re the only one in Wisconsin.’ We are unique – yes, we build our downtown because that’s vital, but we service all of the city limits.”

Margelofsky said ERRP supports all sectors of business.

“I’ve filled buildings all around town and am always looking at vacant lots to try and help all businesses,” she said. “We help industrial, manufacturing, builders, retail, restaurants and even the school district.”

Mother Nature is confused

With little to no snow on the ground through early January, Margelofsky said “it’s a little rough right now.”

“I’ve talked to businesses – their business has dropped since Thanksgiving,” she said. “People have been spending a bit differently since COVID-19. Some businesses are up from last year while others are maintaining. No one is complaining, though – businesses are still doing well.”

Eagle River lies along the river with the same name, which is part of the popular Chain of Lakes.

The area is made up of 28 lakes, which is the largest number of inland interconnecting lakes in the world.

“Of course, we are a tourist destination, but when tourists don’t come, locals seem to go out more,” Margelofsky said. “It’s a double-edged sword. You lose the locals when there are too many tourists. Maybe when there is snow people who come for Christmas would stay the whole week and go snowmobiling, but with no snow, they go back home. But I know they’ll come back up when we get snow.”

She said the locals want all businesses to succeed, and they are sensitive to the economy in and around Eagle River.

“Many times, locals don’t go out during the busy times because they know it’s tough right now with labor shortages, and they want the tourists to have a good time instead,” Margelofsky said.

Comprehensive labor survey

Cognisant of the workforce gaps many businesses are struggling with, the ERRP’s labor task force recently wrapped up a comprehensive labor survey.

Margelofsky said the survey, which was designed in collaboration with local business leaders, is designed to determine the needs of Eagle River’s business community.

We launched the labor survey to gain insights and develop solutions,” she said. “We understand the ongoing labor shortage is a pressing issue affecting our local businesses. The input (collected) will shape our community’s future.”

Margelofsky said the data collected will be used to determine employment trends, workforce needs and challenges and help shape future ERRP strategies and initiatives.

Other topics addressed in the survey, Margelofsky said, included talent recruitment, retention and development, J1 visas, child care and growth opportunities.

The survey also addresses housing.

Margelofsky said Eagle River is like many other tourist destinations when it comes to housing.

“We are a huge Airbnb area now,” she said. “We have a lot of rental units, which is great for the room tax dollars – and we want vacationers and have them spend money – but the affordable housing options for families are (then) limited. You’re within two minutes of a lake almost everywhere you are in Eagle River. City houses, lake houses, they’ve been swooped up – many are weekly rentals.”

Margelofsky said Eagle River’s apartments are also full.

“We know we could fill affordable apartments, no problem, but we’ve talked to developers and because construction costs are high, interest rates are high, etc. that has hurt, too,” she said. “We might be slotted for some apartments in 2025. That’s our struggle – if we don’t have places for our families and workers to live, then bringing more people up here doesn’t help anybody.”

Eagle River is a place where many people have second homes, Margelofsky said.

“We have situations where people have second homes in Eagle River and only live there three months a year,” she said. “The other nine months, it sits vacant. Kudos to them for being able to have a second home, but maybe a teacher or another worker could live in it (for the nine vacant months). I think other tourist towns in our area struggle with the same thing. Also, the city doesn’t own a lot of land that can be transitioned into affordable housing.”

For more information on ERRP, visit Facebook or find it online at 

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