Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward is emerging as the city’s fashion center and a shopping destination. The area just south of downtown boasts a growing number of locally owned boutiques, selling designer clothing and shoes for women, men and children.
The neighborhood now boasts two national high-end retail chains.
Anthropologie, a national retailer of high-end women’s fashions and home décor, opened in the Third Ward in mid-January. Design Within Reach, a national furniture chain that opened in 2006, was the first national chain in the Third Ward.
The fact that two national high-end retailers chose the Third Ward suggests that the area has truly arrived as a fashion district, some neighborhood boosters say.
“It’s a sign that (the neighborhood) has evolved,” said Stephanie Sherman, co-owner of Lela, a boutique 321 N. Broadway. “It’s such a perfect fit. We (local boutiques) have proven that the market exists for what we’re selling. (The national chains) have followed us.”
Josh Minkin, a commercial real estate broker with CB Richard Ellis who focuses on retail, agreed. Minkin helped sign Anthropologie to its lease at 301 N. Broadway.
“They felt that the local fashion stores were very strong,” he said. “They felt that (the Third Ward) was a high-end boutique environment, the type they feel comfortable in.”
Four years ago, the Third Ward had a few condo projects and some retail stores, but didn’t have a lot to offer those looking for high-end clothing. The area’s evolution is similar to that of other neighborhoods in larger cities, Minkin said.
“Sometimes areas that are always perceived as great evolve,” he said. “It generally starts with cool bars and clubs. Sometimes people go there because of the low rent. Then it becomes the hip place to do business.”
When Lela opened in the Third Ward about four years ago, it was the first boutique in the neighborhood. East Towne Women’s Resale, a consignment shop, was the only other clothing store in the neighborhood.
Sherman and her business partner, Carrie Arrouet, thought high-end boutiques would work in the Third Ward because several art galleries had opened in the neighborhood and because of its proximity to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
“Fashion and art go hand in hand,” Sherman said. “And it had close proximity to downtown, and we knew that the Public Market was coming. We knew that it would be a huge catalyst for development. It has been for us.”
Lela operates in about 1,300 square feet of space now, with six employees, in addition to Sherman and Arrouet. The partners are now in negotiations with their landlord to add about 500 square feet of space to the store, Sherman said.
Since it opened, Lela has encouraged other boutiques to open stores in the Third Ward, Sherman said. Instead of discouraging potential competition, she believes all retailers in the neighborhood will be healthier if more stores open there and create a communal destination.
“Our corporate philosophy is that we need (the Third Ward) to be like the fashion districts in New York and Chicago,” Sherman said. “We’re not 100 percent there yet, but it’s exciting to see. We have a dozen stores here that weren’t here four years ago and we’re all making it and growing.”
Today, the Third Ward is home to boutiques and stores that sell urban fashions, high-end women’s and kids clothes, shoes and jewelry. Some stores feature New York and national brands, while others focus on local designers.
It’s also home to boutiques that specialize in gifts and home décor.
Wendy Pawlyshyn, co-owner of Juju Gifts, Accessories & Décor, 222 E. Erie St., which opened about 18 months ago, said the Third Ward has changed much in the time since her store opened.
“Two years ago it was largely talk, that it was the emerging place to be,” she said. “It’s starting to become the reality (today). All of the indicators are there, especially with a national retailer like Anthropologie. They’re obviously seeing things that people forecast a couple of years ago.”
If the Third Ward continues on the pace it has been on in recent years, the neighborhood should have more than 30 independent boutiques and at least three national retailers in the next three to four years, Sherman said.
“I would love to see from Broadway to the park filled with stores on the first and second floors,” she said. “I want to look at a picture of commission row and see racks of clothes on both side of the street.”
Several of the designers that sell clothing through Lela are now thinking about opening their own stores, Sherman said.
“My vision (for the area) is to have an atmosphere where you’ll have fashion retailers, but you’ll also have stores where you can walk in and meet the designer,” she said. “When we get to that point, that’s when we will be able to say that we produce and sell fashion here.”
And some signs tell Sherman that she’s right. She’s seeing more suburban Milwaukee customers, drawn in by Anthropoligie, and a growing number of Chicago-area shoppers.
“What we have seen are Chicago people not going into Chicago, but coming here to the Third Ward,” she said. “We’re building a reputation as the fashion capital of the Midwest. Chicago has done a lot of marketing, but not a lot is happening at the grassroots level.”
Minkin said the Third Ward will likely continue to attract more high-end retailers, both local and national chains.
“If those two are (Anthropologie and Design Within Reach) are successful, others will come,” he said. “I know that others are looking.”
The following boutiques and stores have opened in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward in the last four years.
• Divna, 219 N. Milwaukee St.
• Freckle Face, 407 E. Buffalo St.
• Hers, 309 N. Water St.
• Grotta & Co., 207 E. Buffalo St.
• J. Bird Boutique, 415 E. Menomonee St.
• Juju Gifts, Accessories & Décor, 222 E. Erie St.
• Lela, 321 N. Broadway
• Metro Eye, 301 N. Water St.
• Moda3, 320 E. Buffalo St.
• (Shoo), 241 N. Broadway
• Stephanie Horne, 159 N. Broadway
• Sprout!, 320 E. Buffalo St.
• Three Graces Women’s Clothing, 207 E. Buffalo St.
Key Milwaukee projects
• Harley-Davidson is building a $95 million, 130,000-square-foot museum at the east end of the Menomonee Valley at Sixth and Canal streets in Milwaukee.
• Developer Tim Dixon is building the Iron Horse, a hotel that will cater to motorcyclists, in a six-story, 100-year-old former warehouse building at 500 W. Florida St., Milwaukee.
• Potawatomi Bingo Casino is building a $240 million expansion.
• Ziegler-Bence Development is building a 144,000-square-foot multi-tenant industrial building on the former Milwaukee Stockyards property at 1221 W. Canal St. Menomonee Falls-based Proven Direct plans to move to the building and will occupy about 80,000 square feet of space.
• Joseph Zilber, the founder of Milwaukee-based Zilber Ltd., is redeveloping the 20-acre former Pabst brewery complex in downtown Milwaukee into a mixed use neighborhood.
• Milwaukee-based Mandel Group Inc. is building the North End development, which will have 483 housing units and about 25,000 square feet of retail space when it is completed in five to seven years.
• Fort Myers, Florida-based Development Opportunity Corp. is building a 14-story building at the southeast corner of North Water Street and Juneau Avenue in downtown Milwaukee. The project will include a 121-room Staybridge Suites hotel, 31 condos and 14,000 square feet of retail space.
• Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. is building a six-story, 400,000-square-foot expansion of its Franklin campus at South 27th Street and West Drexel Avenue.
• Oshkosh-based WHG Companies LLC is building a 120-room Comfort Suites hotel at 10831 W. Park Place, on Milwaukee’s far northwest side.
• KL Hotel LLC is building a 198-room Crowne Plaza hotel at 10499 Innovation Drive in the Milwaukee County Research Park in Wauwatosa.
• Equitable Development LLC and Devo Properties LLC are building the 500,00-square-foot Fountains of Franklin lifestyle center at West Rawson Avenue and South 51st Street in Franklin. The development includes a Sendik’s store.
• Franklin-based Mark E. Carstensen Construction and Development Companies Inc. is building the 250,000-square-foot Shoppes at Wyndham Village development at the southeast corner of Highway 100 and Drexel Avenue. The project will include a Target and a Sendik’s store.
• Park Ridge, Ill.-based The Bricton Group Inc. is building a 114-room Staybridge Suites hotel southwest of South 27th Street and Ryan Road in Franklin.
• Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare is building a 275,000-square-foot hospital northwest of South 27th Street and Oakwood Road in Franklin.
• Wauwatosa-based Irgens Development Partners LLC is building a 165,000-square-foot office building called Mayfair Woods Business and Technology Center at the northeast corner of North Mayfair Road and Research Drive, in the Milwaukee County Research Park.
• Renner Architects LLC is building a 20-story, 101-unit condo tower at 1313 N. Franklin Place, Milwaukee.
• Oak Brook, Ill.-based Renaissant Development Group LLC is building Park Lafayette, a pair of 20-story condominium towers, with a total of 290 units, at North Prospect Avenue and East Lafayette Place in Milwaukee.
• Liberty Property Trust is building an office and industrial park along the east side of South 27th Street, between Southbranch Boulevard and Oakwood Road, in Oak Creek. It will have five buildings totaling about 300,000 square feet of space.
• Woodman’s Food Markets Inc. is building a 237,000-square-foot store on the west side of South Howell Avenue, one block north of West Forest Hill Avenue in Oak Creek.