Milwaukee nonprofit organization Grand Avenue Club plans to open a resale boutique in downtown Milwaukee.
Called Water Street Boutique, the store is planned for a 1,500-square-foot space at 610 N. Water St., located next to Grand Avenue Club’s downtown headquarters, according to plans submitted to the city.
The store would sell upscale donated items, including clothing, jewelry, housewares and original art, while also providing pre-employment training opportunities for people living with mental illness. The organization plans to open the store later this year, pending approval from the city.
GAC offers adults in Milwaukee County who have experienced mental illness with pre-vocational, employment, educational, housing, recreational and cultural opportunities. Rachel Forman, executive director of GAC, said the idea for the store emerged out of members asking for more retail work opportunities.
Currently, members work in various administrative, sales, grocery store and daycare positions at businesses in the Milwaukee area, including Troubadour Bakery, Outpost Natural Foods, Foley & Lardner, Pick ‘N Save, Renaissance Child Development Center, colour palate, CVS, Milwaukee County Department of Housing and Lutheran Social Services, among others.
Under the plan, GAC members will be involved in managing and operating Water Street Boutique, including accepting and sorting donations, determining the value and price of products, preparing items for sale and managing merchandising, maintaining sales records and helping with store maintenance.
GAC members will work as volunteers while receiving pre-vocational training at the store, after which they will be able to transition into paid positions in other retail settings, Forman said.
“The purpose of pre-vocational training is to increase people’s confidence and purposefulness," she said. "Our work is very person-specific. It’s not a program where you have to reach a goal by a certain time. We work side by side with our members.”
Burke Properties owns the Plaza View Building at 608-10 N. Water St. and will allow GAC to run the store in a ground floor retail space in the building for free, Forman said. All proceeds from the store will benefit the organization. GAC is largely supported by foundation grants, the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, government funding and individual contributions.
The Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative Corp. has helped the organization develop a business plan for the store, and Downtown Milwaukee BID #21 has also welcomed the idea, Forman said.
“We could not have been greeted with greater enthusiasm and civic generosity,” Forman said. “They were very open to the idea and like the idea of an attractive store in the downtown area on Water Street, particularly in a currently unoccupied store.”
GAC has applied for three grants to help cover operational costs. The organization plans for the store to be entirely self-sufficient by the third year. At that time, GAC would decide whether to maintain the store as a work unit of its pre-vocational training program or spin it off as a separate social enterprise project, according to the business plan.
In its business plan, GAC officials noted the success of two nearby resale shops, including Lela Boutique at 321 N. Broadway St. and Retique at 190 N. Broadway St. in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.