Cheese Capital celebrates heritage, future with historic designation

by Randy Schwoerer Downtown Business Manager Plymouth

Saturated in history and rich in originality, the city of Plymouth, Wisconsin is a cut above the average charming little Midwestern town. In fact, it has something no other city can offer: the distinction of being the Cheese Capital of the World.

The city has secured that official designation from the state, said Administrator Brian Yerges, and a variety of projects are planned to build up the city’s identity under that mantle.

Decades ago, Yerges said, Plymouth heralded its strengths with highway billboards and special events dedicated to celebrating its reputation as the cheese capital of the world, but over time that focus slipped away. “We had the Cheese Derby Day parade, a huge parade with bands from all over the country,” Yerges said. “In the late 1970s and early ’80s … those events disappeared. We’re resurrecting some of those events, resurrecting the idea of being cheese capital of the world.”

The biggest effort is the renovation of a historic 1875 cream city brick building in the heart of downtown and turning it into a combination interactive historical tour of Plymouth’s cheese making past and cheese shop that carries all the best products created at local cheese companies.

“In terms of product that comes through our community, we take more cheese to market than any other area,” Yerges said. “Fifteen to 18 percent of the cheese that’s consumed in the United States comes through Plymouth and/or our local cheese companies.” Other projects, including the beautification and enlargement of Stayer Park and the re-building of the historic Huson Water Tower, will only contribute to the overall goal, said Plymouth Redevelopment Authority Chairman Lee Gentine.

In its quest to adopt the cheese capital name, Plymouth is focusing on striking a balance between two vital priorities: attracting tourists and shoppers to the community and creating a solid community for businesses to thrive.

“I think one of the most interesting things in downtown is every store is proprietary from the standpoint that they’re individually owned,” Gentine said. “They’re not corporate stores, they’re not chain stores.” Although about 50 percent of new businesses fail in their first five years nationwide, Plymouth’s eclectic shops have a much longer lifespan.

“I think the difference is that when they’re in larger geographies they don’t stand out,” Gentine said. “In Plymouth, they certainly will stand out. The bottom line is that I think a business coming into Plymouth probably has a better chance to survive because we offer incentives.”

In addition, Yerges said, the community is uncommonly protective of its local businesses. “People always talk about Plymouth as being like a Mayberry and I think it’s true,” Yerges said. “People who live here are extremely dedicated to each other, extremely supportive of each other and the business community, the downtown retail shops and coffee shops.”

Mary Hauser, Executive Director of the Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, said the long-established efforts to attract both visitors and residents to Plymouth will now have a common theme. With boast-worthy amenities like a first-class school district, an outdoor historic mural driving tour, an aquatic center and skiing and snowshoeing centers – in addition to the lineup of unique retail options – Plymouth has plenty to offer everyone, she said.

“Our visitors guide, which used to be just for tourism, will now be a Visitors and Resident Guide,” Hauser said. It will include all the standard information tourists want, including hotel, dining and recreation options, as well as information about the city’s unique history, its school district and residency information. “I think if we can latch onto this cheese capital theme, we can really make Plymouth a destination,” she said. “The cheese capital is part of who we are. That is our history.”

As the city entities are working together to build on that identity, the real personality of Plymouth comes through. What is Plymouth? It’s the cheese capital of the world. Why? Because of the product that goes through the community, because of jobs in that business, jobs in related industries. There are very few cities that have such a dominant strength in an industry and still have the genuine warmth that is Plymouth.

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