What will it take to bring shoppers back to Grand Avenue?

Better stores, restaurants desired

The Shops of Grand Avenue.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:04 pm


The new owners of the Shops of Grand Avenue say they have ambitious plans to revitalize the downtown shopping center, which could include new uses for much of the space.

Shops of Grand Avenue (1)
The Shops of Grand Avenue

But what do shoppers say it would take to bring them back to the Grand Avenue? The mall has struggled for years to attract and retain tenants and most importantly, shoppers.

“The last time I was there, I was 12. I’m now 28,” said Lauren Vrany, a business technology analyst for U.S. Bank.

Similarly, Vance and Melissa Lee, a couple originally from California, said that they could find much more interesting things to do in Milwaukee than visit Grand Avenue.

A group led by Tony Janowiec, principal of Milwaukee-based Interstate Parking, purchased the Shops of Grand Avenue in December for $24.5 million. The group has not announced redevelopment plans for the mall, but have indicated that they are in lease negotiations with Ross Dress for Less for a 25,000-square-foot space and have floated the idea of adding a rock climbing mall and a brew pub. They have also mentioned the possibility of leasing space for office tenants or to educational institutions.

Some downtown dwellers have strong opinions about what the new ownership group should do improve the mall. Some said that adding more restaurants and healthier food options such as Chipotle or Mario Batali’s Eataly would encourage them to visit Grand Avenue.

“Any restaurant besides the current Applebee’s would be good for the mall,” said Jack Eckblad, a real estate agent at the First Weber North Shore office.

Jack Eckblad
Jack Eckblad

Some shoppers suggested high-end department stores or boutiques such as Nordstrom, Crate & Barrel, West Elm and Pottery Barn as the key to improvement for The Grand Avenue, which currently has Boston Store and TJ Maxx for department stores.

But downtown shoppers are craving a face-lift, and it seems, a price-lift as well.

H&M, Gap and Sephora were also popular suggestions for the mall’s improvement, especially among millennial shoppers.

“You really want a destination for people to come and shop,” said Ellen Cook, who says she used to shop at Grand Avenue many years ago but a lack of choices drove her away.

Ellen Cook
Ellen Cook

A couple of shoppers mentioned the idea of a shopping destination, and according to them, a destination is exactly what the current mall is not. They said that accessing Grand Avenue is not convenient, mostly because the mall lacks free parking.

“There should definitely be free parking,” said Vrany, “or stores should validate parking for their customers.”

Joe Johnson, another Milwaukee shopper said that he wants to use the mall to easily run quick errands, something he says he cannot do now.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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