Downtown Milwaukee has struggled to attract retailers for years. Recently, the downtown area lost two major retailers at the Shops of Grand Avenue: Old Navy, which closed earlier this month, and Linens ‘n Things, which closed last year.
The downtown Milwaukee Business Improvement District has hired a recruiter to help attract more retailers to downtown and hired a consultant to create a retail recruitment strategy for downtown.
Yet despite the ongoing challenges for attracting retailers downtown, the grocery market is healthy in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.
Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Supermarkets Inc. has two stores downtown about one-third of a mile apart and another store just north of downtown in the former Jewel Food Store at 1100 E. Garfield Ave.
Roundy’s two downtown stores, East Pointe Pick ‘n Save at 605 E. Lyon St. and Metro Market at 1123 N. Van Buren St., are some of the company’s top performers, according to grocery industry analyst David Livingston, a former market research manager for Roundy’s. Combined, the two stores have more than $1 million in sales per week, he said.
“I think they’re extremely happy with those two,” Livingston said. “Those stores are doing real well down there.”
Meanwhile, the Pick ‘n Save store in the former Jewel located at 1100 E. Garfield Ave. is performing “OK,” Livingston said. That store serves more of the Riverwest neighborhood and does not compete with the grocery stores downtown, even though it is less than a mile northeast of East Point Pick ‘n Save, he said.
“That’s a little different neighborhood from downtown, across the river the demographics change,” Livingston said. “People downtown aren’t going to go up there, especially with the two other stores downtown.”
The downtown Pick ‘n Save stores are smaller than suburban Pick ‘n Saves. East Pointe Pick ‘n Save is about 40,000 square feet and Metro Market is about 50,000 square feet. The density of downtown development makes large suburban-sized stories unfeasible, Livingston said, so Roundy’s essentially needs to have two smaller stores downtown instead of one big store.
The downtown Pick ‘n Save stores have higher customer volume than suburban stores, but smaller sales per customer, Livingston said. The downtown stores often attract neighborhood residents who walk in a few times a week to shop, or downtown workers that stop in for lunch or to buy a few items.
The downtown area will get another grocery store next year. John and Anne Nehring, who own a Sendik’s store in Shorewood and Groppi’s Market in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, plan to open a grocery store called Nehring’s Family Market in three buildings that previously housed the Habhegger Clutch Shop at the intersection of Brady and Water Streets. It will be a 15,000-square-foot store, much smaller than the downtown Roundy’s stores.
“We have been looking for the right location in this area of the city for some time,” Anne Nehring said. “This site not only offers abundant parking, but it also allows us to rehab several older buildings that we believe are consistent with our identity – offering a full service grocery market that fits in well with Milwaukee’s traditional neighborhoods.”
The downtown market can support the addition of the small Nehring’s store, Livingston said and the Roundy’s stores should not be adversely affected.
“(The downtown Roundy’s stores) could give up a little bit of business and not notice it too much,” he said. “(The small Nehring store) is not going to make a big impact.”
Other grocery shopping options near the downtown area include the Whole Foods store at 2305 N. Prospect Ave., the Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward and the Good Harvest Market organic grocery store also in the Third Ward.
Unlike the downtown Pick ‘n Save stores, Livingston said the Whole Foods store is “underperforming.”
“I think they’re a little disappointed in that one,” he said. The store may be having trouble attracting customers because of its high prices, lack of surface parking and its lack of proximity to the freeway, Livingston said.
The Public Market and Good Harvest Market do not make a major dent in the downtown grocery market, Livingston said. They are niche stores, similar to what the Nehring’s store will be, he said.
The downtown area probably will not attract any more large grocery stores anytime soon, but another small niche store could be supported, Livingston said.
The condominium boom downtown during the last 10 years has provided more grocery customers for the area and long term the continued growth of downtown will strengthen the market for grocery stores there, Livingston said.
“It’s going to keep growing downtown,” he said. “They’re going to keep building and building.”
The Nehrings are counting on the downtown growth to continue.
“In addition to benefitting from Brady Street’s success, we are banking on the future residential growth of the Park East corridor and additional housing throughout the neighborhoods that we plan to serve,” Anne Nehring said. “We feel like we are getting in on the ground floor of something great.”
The Heartland Housing Inc. and St. Ben’s Community Meal plan to build a four-story, 35,000-square-foot building with 45 apartments for low income residents and 8,500 square feet of community space on one-third of an acre of vacant land at 2501-13 W. Fond du Lac Ave.
The Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee plans to build a 37-unit apartment building at 722 W. Washington St. on the city’s south side. According to the Housing Authority, “the site plan is compact and pedestrian-friendly.”
A 10,000-square-foot office building and training facility is planned for the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ Union Local 599 in the Towne Corporate Park of Granville at 8701 N. Lauer St.
Menomonee Falls-based Continental Properties Company Inc. plans to add a 16,000-square-foot ALDI grocery store to its Burleigh Square development at 12140 W. Burleigh St. The development is anchored by Office Max and Lowe’s stores.
The Shoppes at Fox River project, being developed by Opus North Corp. at 1200 W. Sunset Dr., which will be anchored by Target and Pick ‘n Save stores, also includes plans for a Chili’s Grill & Bar restaurant and a Noodles & Company restaurant.