Milwaukee Biz Blog: We have a retail desert

Wendland

Not since the relatively short-lived heyday of The Shops at Grand Avenue, has Milwaukee’s downtown (especially the West Wisconsin corridor) been considered any degree of vibrant. It’s time for positive change.

At least three apartment development projects are underway – and more are in the wings. The city is teeming with urban living excitement – but the simple fact remains: we are devoid of go-to downtown destinations. What I believe West Wisconsin Avenue needs is retail revitalization.

In my role as Vice President of Hamacher Resource Group, a Waukesha-based retail marketing and merchandising consultancy, I am privileged to travel to industry events across this great country, oftentimes spending time in downtown locations similar in size to Milwaukee. And, I must admit, the bleakness of the empty Milwaukee storefronts and motionless sidewalks does not leave a good impression of our city.

Although Milwaukee has a number of retailers that exist in our downtown area, there does not seem to be a cohesive plan that creates a destination for shoppers. Building on what is already established to create a more robust retail shopping experience may be the answer.

Here are the types of businesses flourishing in other locales: a CVS, Walgreens or other vibrant drugstore; delicatessens and small, neighborhood eateries; local boutiques and artisans; snack shops, doughnut sellers, and specialized food vendors (think fried cheese curds). Often an urban grocery store is located in the center of the activity. And all of the windows shine and invite passersby to step inside.

Additionally, I favor pedestrian-only cordoned areas with children’s playgrounds, open-air seating, small entertainment stages (Milwaukee is a highly-talented city), and some local proprietors (bakery, floral shop, etc.). Even if Milwaukee’s car-free area was only open on certain days of the month, it may invite more foot traffic and serve as a gateway to the Milwaukee Riverwalk (one of our city’s hidden treasures).

So, why not Milwaukee? Let’s work together to solve this issue and make our downtown the center of development. With the activities going on in Park East, it’s time for the Wisconsin Avenue corridor to get into the game!

David J. Wendland is vice president at Hamacher Resource Group Inc. in Waukesha.

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