Credit:

Carol Schroeder, , Orange Tree Imports

In this dog-eat-dog world, business owners can only look out for themselves, right?

Not so, says Carol "Orange" Schroeder, co-owner with husband Dean of Orange Tree Imports, 1721 Monroe St. Since opening the shop in 1975 - it sells cookware, gift items and kids' stuff, among other things - she has helped bind a tight-knit community out of the specialty shops, restaurants and other businesses that line Monroe Street. Thanks in part to that effort, the Monroe Street retail strip is at the heart of one of the city's most vital and pleasant neighborhoods.

As Schroeder sees it, if her neighbors in the retail district thrive, so does she. "It became clear that the more the successful the street was, the more successful Orange Tree would be."

Schroeder has done much of this work as the longtime head of the Monroe Street Merchants Association, which she co-founded. Its signature event is the yearly Monroe Street Festival of music and shopping. The association also publishes a guide to the district, and merchants cooperate on projects, like an umbrella-sharing service shoppers can make use of on rainy days.

Schroeder brings her community-minded spirit to many projects. She endorses buy-local initiatives. She supports local arts and entertainment. She is on the boards of organizations ranging from Susan G. Komen for the Cure to the Monroe Street Library. Her book, Specialty Shop Retailing: Everything You Need to Know to Run Your Own Store, is in its third edition, and with it Schroeder has mentored an international community of like-minded independent retailers. She even manages her employees in the spirit of what she calls "participative democracy."

"We feel really lucky to be in Madison," she says. "It gives back to us."

- Kenneth Burns