Something is going on at the Grand Avenue these days. Actually, I think a lot of little things are going on and it's got folks walking the mall again.
For my first 17 years in Milwaukee, I was Downtown pretty much every day. Every job I held was Downtown and I spent a lot of time at Grand Avenue Mall. In fact, two of those jobs were located in the mall. But, like most Milwaukeeans, I haven't spent much of the past decade in The Shops at Grand Avenue.
On most of those visits, I've found it depressing.
So, imagine my surprise today when I wandered over to see what's up and found the mall alive with foot traffic and what appeared to be, gasp!, customers patronizing businesses.
Sure, the "glory days" of the sparkly new Grand Avenue Mall, with its long list of nationally known shops have long since ended. In the intervening years, the mall has become weighted down with a toxic reputation that has seemed to play out like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Grand Avenue has been trying lots of approaches and it looks like lately some of them are taking hold.
A number of pop-up shops have arrived, which is creating some buzz.
Some long-term tenants like TJ Maxx, Stone Creek Coffee and Brew City Beer Gear are making a go of the Grand Avenue.
A number of former retail spaces are now home to offices.
Today, the mall was downright bustling. Folks were drinking coffee and reading at Stone Creek, the Wednesday Westown indoor market found a number of vendors set up in the walkways in the "new mall" side, salons were tending to customers, browsers were eyeballing electronics in Radio Shack.
To get into the holiday spending spirit at the mall, I took a moment to enjoy my annual egg nog latte at Stone Creek and watch the passersby ... and there were indeed passersby.
The mall felt alive. Certainly, it doesn't appear to be doing 1985-era business again yet, but, I had the definite feeling today at the mall – for the first time in a long time – that it's too soon to write an obituary for The Shops of Grand Avenue.
A lot of the foot traffic is a mix of people from the Federal building that populate the area for lunch. This isn't an indication that people are traveling to Grand Ave as a destination. There still really isn't anything to make people go out of their way to come here.
The pop up program is great for small businesses but adding an art shop, soap company, Bella Baby and a book store isn't going to increase anything. It's a step in the right direction but this is a journey with many steps required for the mall to even be on the same caliber with other malls.
For most residents not in the downtown area all of the other malls are better options with more stores that people would actually frequent on a regular basis and free parking. Why would anyone pay to park at the Grand Ave to browse the lack of anything interesting?
I'll be curious to see how this plays out.
I keep hoping that Grand Avenue will make it but agree with the other person's comment -- it only bustles during business lunch times; I used to live downtown and Saturdays were the most depressing time to wander. However, downtown overall is dead on weekends.
Yes, the mall often has just over 100 people in it from the hours of 11:30 - 2:00pm M-F (business lunch time). Before/after that it is as empty as can be. If only there was an economic model for a mall that only was open from 11 - 2 during the week. I cannot believe a single business in the mall (except for Walgreens) is turning a pofit. Everytime a store's lease runs out it closes. The pop-up stores model worked in other cities, but so far it's not going anywhere here. I never see anyone shopping in the few pop-up stores there are. Milwaukee needs to let this mall die. With Bayshore/Mayfair/Broofield Square minutes away with retailers people want to shop at, there is no need for the Grand Ave other than it's foodcourt.
3 comments about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Bobby Tanzilo
Published Nov. 26, 2014
Big changes are on tap at Milwaukee Art Museum, where the collections galleries are closed while the permanent collection is re-installed and an expansion project is under construction. MAM's Senior Conservator Jim DeYoung is the man charged with getting it done on time, on budget and, most importantly, without damage.
Published Nov. 25, 2014
When Mayor Tom Barrett visited Highland Community School on Monday to welcome home a group of adolescent students from China, the trip -- according to the students themselves -- wasn't officially over yet. Today, it is officially complete.
Published Nov. 25, 2014
This year, Dental Associates completed its restoration of the Iron Block Building -- actually a pair of connected buildings dating from 1860 and 1899 -- and the work put a gorgeous new luster on one of Downtown's most aged landmarks. As Milwaukee's only iron-facade building, it's a real Milwaukee gem. To look at the historic Iron Block Building on the corner of Water and Wisconsin now, you'd be hard-pressed to believe it almost didn't survive.
Published Nov. 24, 2014
The photomontages created by Eau Claire's Then and Now Photography seamlessly meld images of the same place but from different eras, creating a fascinating and unique look at how familiar sites in Milwaukee have changed over the years.
Published Nov. 22, 2014
The world's most famous ice skating rink shimmers beneath what must be the most impressive urban tree, perhaps in the world, and the shop windows in the Center and along Fifth Avenue must be seen to be believed. Crowds queue to see the holiday spectacular at Radio City Music Hall and Times Square is decked out in green and red. And all America comes to check it out.
Published Nov. 21, 2014
Few likely know the idea of farm to table better than new Blue Jacket chef Justice Neal. Neal, after all, went from farm to table himself, having grown up on 40 acres near Beloit. Recently, Neal, who served as the restaurant's sous, was promoted to replace departing chef Matt Kerley, who had run the kitchen at Blue Jacket since 2013. Since he's already launched a new menu, we decided it was time to check in with him about his work in the kitchen.
Published Nov. 21, 2014
Milwaukee Public Library looks into Milwaukee's historic public schoolhouses with a small exhibit and panel discussion at Central Library.
Published Nov. 20, 2014
Thanksgiving is on the horizon and you're hosting (or attending) a family dinner. What to do about wine? How to find something that pairs well with both turkey and cranberries? How to find a wine that appeals to you, your parents and Aunt Millie? It can be challenging, but experts say a few simple rules can help guide the way...
Published Nov. 18, 2014
One of the most recent building "booms" at Milwaukee Public Schools added a handful of new schools to the city's landscape, but at least one planned project -- and perhaps more -- never saw the light of day.
Published Nov. 14, 2014
Serious music fans will relate. Though a lot of music enters my ears, very few make the kind of impression that Lucy Wainwright Roche's 2013 record, "There's A Last Time For Everything," made on me. A year later I can tell you exactly where I was when I first popped it into the CD player and sat transfixed, unable to move. Lucy Wainwright Roche comes to Milwaukee next week, and we talked to her about it.