I almost can't believe I'm writing this, but I think major retailers should give one more shot at saving the Grand Avenue mall.
I'm surprising even myself, because it wasn't all that long ago that I blogged that the mall should just throw in the towel and become something else.
Yet, because we moved our office Downtown a few months ago, I find myself visiting the mall several times each week. I'm going there for lunch, mostly because the covered skywalks make walking around in the winter much more tolerable. And guess what?
There are lots of people at the Grand Avenue mall.
Not tons, like I remember it in the '80s, and they're not necessarily shopping at the pre-paid wireless stores or nail salons. They're eating lunch or meeting at the Stone Creek Coffee or working out at the YMCA or scouring T.J. Maxx for bargains.
Even if suburbanites have long since given up the mall for dead, focusing on points north, south and west to do their shopping (feel free to infer racial undertones, if you want) working people in Downtown still come here during business hours.
The thing is, if Grand Avenue mall wants to rebound, it's going to have to do more than play business incubator and offer free or discounted rent to pop-up shops. That's great – I'd rather see a startup web design fill a space for cheap than leave it empty – that's how we started out at our very first office.
But the mall needs stores. Real stores.
There are actually a few. After paying close attention to the few major chains in the mall, I did notice that people were in fact visiting Walgreen's and Office Max and Radio Shack. They weren't, however, visiting Boston Store. It looked sad and empty.
So that's probably the main argument against the "if build it, they will come" plan. But Boston Store only remains at the mall because of the corporate offices above it, or perhaps from some civic duty. You can tell the store isn't really giving it its all, and why should they?
I assert that the new owners of Grand Avenue must really, really incentivize some stores – that once lived here – to come back. Don't just give them free rent. Work with the City to make it worth their while. I bet even Boston Store could do OK if it wasn't the only store on the empty west side of the mall.
The thing about the "if you build it they will come" plan is that it doesn't work in reverse. The people who are already coming to Grand Avenue mall don't have anywhere else to visit when they're done with lunch, so you can't really say if more people came to the mall there would be more stores.
Someone needs to take a chance. I don't expect The Gap or H&M or Crate & Barrel to arrive out of the goodness of their corporate hearts. We don't need them to do Milwaukee a favor.
But Milwaukee knows that it's not putting its best foot forward when tourists and convention goers visit the Grand Avenue. Spending some money to make sure they come back is a worthy investment in the city's future.
pfan, The comments on here are reflective of the suburban people that come to this city to work. Unlike most major cities where people would be taking subways/buses/trains for transport, in MKE we drive. It's convieniant in Chicago/NY/SF to have a taget near your work so you can pick up stuff on your break and then take them home on public transport (no need for parking). But in MKE people have a choice to either drive their car to a place downtown with little to no free parking to do their shopping or to simply go to the Target near their house in the burbs.
The only people that would benefit from a target or any other store moving into the Grand Ave are people that live down town. And unfortunately that number is not great enough to keep such a store profitable. That is why so many have come and gone. I say buldoze it and build a new arena. (kidding!!).
Some of the comments I see on here about the "hellish" parking at Grand Ave are just hilarious --- but mostly sad. It's a great example of Milwaukee's ridiculous expectation for supreme parking convenience. If you can't drive directly into whatever place it is your going, get out at the front door, and do it all for free... it's a nightmare. Good grief, please go visit dense, vibrant cities and see how they relate.
Couldnt agree more with PlayerGotGame.
Its interesting to me that in cities of similar size, you have vital downtowns and many have large malls in their downtowns. So it can be done successfully but you cant just drop a mall on 2 city blocks and presume people will swarm to it. Its so right on the mall isnt a destination place. Theres nothing anchoring it to anything, or vice versa, sort of like a giant barge adrift on some water.
Theres the perception issue which I think is really at the core of whats going on. The perception of the mall is that its unsafe and contains nothing more than several athletic shoe wear and discount. You cant change a perception if theres some truth in it. I mean, in the end there's validity to that perception.
I worked at the Grand Avenue part time when I was in high school in 1983, and since 1988, I have worked within blocks of the mall. Ive seen so many stores come and go: Gimbles, Marshall Fields, The Gap, Casual Corner, The Body Shop, Goldis, Lane Bryant (twice), and that's just a few. Now, its just a strip mall without the strip.
I love downtown. I dont want to work in any other part of the city, and I definitely dont want to work in the suburbs. And I will come downtown to shop. I really will, except I dont need a set of acrylic nails, or a pair of sunglasses sold off a cart, or a knock off Louis Vuitton purse, or my moms face airbrushed on a T shirt. Seriously, its like shopping at the State Fair. And I aint going there either, but thats another topic all together.
Just writing about shopping at the mall makes me kind of depressed. Sad indeed.
I dont have the answers, just know putting a Target in the mall isnt going to be the answer either. Thats a nice to have but I cant see people flocking to the mall to go to Target. Frankly it would be a nightmare with parking alone and why come downtown to shop at Target when theres access to so many Target stores through the city and suburbs.
It seems to me that you'd need to have a massive security presence in the GA to attract female shoppers back to the area. Crime and personal safety, real or perceived is a major factor on where suburban (race inferred) women will likely shop. Free parking is also a factor and would be a hard thing to sort out in the downtown area. Some sort of low rent agreement for a year or what have you might be a way to draw businesses back too.
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