Brian Jacobson
Off the beaten path

Shopping on Martin Luther King Drive

By - Dec 11th, 2009 09:04 am


MLKstretchThere are more than a few locations many of us think about when it comes to shopping for the holidays. Some head out to the giant malls of Mayfair or Bayshore. Others hit chain stores like Walmart or Best Buy. Some folk  find special items or sales in well-known shopping areas like the Third Ward or Brady Street, while others forego the thrill of finding that particular gift in-person by browsing online retailers like

But for all the well-known local destinations, there are always less publicized, but just as interesting stretches of retail neighborhood blocks. One such area is North Martin Luther King Drive between West Lloyd Street and West Pleasant (or Walnut) Street, just north of the old Schlitz brewery facility. While the five-block stretch of Old World Third Street gets all the attention, this recommended stretch of MLK Drive is just as historic and welcoming. It’s been a hard couple of years for this area that just a few years ago was lined with coffeeshops and boutiques during a neighborhood retail renaissance. The ones that have held on attest to finding a niche market, a loyal clientele or assistance from online orders.

In particular:

northernThe Northern Chocolate Company (2034 N. MLK). Owner Jim Fetzer is renown for being irascible. Aside from regular Friday and Saturday hours, getting buzzed into his beautiful 1885 Cream City brick building can be a crap shoot. However, I got in easily with some faithful North Side customers on a Tuesday afternoon and remembered why it’s all worth it. Fetzer takes his previous experience working at the late Ambrosia factory, pours fine chocolate into antique molds and hand packages them. Prices are reasonable: an old Father Christmas chocolate figure was $6, while other tidbits like mint meltaways were $4. Our pick? A box of Mr. Moon’s bittersweet chocolate treats (under $11). Caveat: Bring cash or checks only; no credit cards accepted. (414-372-1885)


feinbrosFein Brothers (2007 N. MLK). This kitchen and restaurant supply company recently made news by handing down ownership from 52-year vet owner Simie Fein to longtime family associates Todd Minkin, Ben Minkin and Kevin Kavanaugh (the Minkins’ dad, Gil, started working there in the 1950s). The building, erected in 1892 for the Schuster’s Department Store, is a treasure trove. While it’s loved by commercial restaurants (in a 20-minute period, I saw three agents from well-known eateries), there are plenty of single items for everyday home chefs. I spotted a 14-inch Peking Wok for just $22. Caveat: Restrain yourself from opening up your own café after wandering the aisles. (414-562-0220)


Adambomb Gallerie
(2028 N. MLK). Before the recent explosion of tattoo shops in Milwaukee, Adam Werther had already moved from Walker’s Point to this unassuming location. The shop appears to keep a steady clip of devoted customers and word-of-mouth traffic. Caveat: Hours are listed as Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, 12 Noon to 9 p.m., but it’s probably best to call before committing to a particular resident tat artist or design. (414-276-2662)


pattonflowerPatton Flower Shop (1951 N. MLK). It’s a boutique-sized storefront. But Tony and Doug Patton, who come from a family tradition of flower arrangement and sales, have thrived just in the past couple years due to good 21st-century networking on the web. While I browsed through houseplants (the Norfolk Island Pine was $40), Doug was making an elegant boxed arrangement for a client who found their site while in Iraq. Caveat: Most listed arrangements start at $35 and can go up to $75 (not counting delivery charge), but they’re more beautiful than most grocery store flower offerings. Other items like balloons are also available. (414-431-0087)


voluptuoussecretsVoluptuous Secrets (1740 N. MLK). Just north of the MLK statue, this upscale lingerie store for full-figured women is just weathering the recession, according to owner Theresa Gazdik. But just barely, she noted. In times like, Gazdik says a nightie is a luxury. She survives through sales of bras for the select women who patronize her six-year-old store, but deserves better. I’ll admit I was too shy to pick up items and check out the prices on loungewear, so you’ll have to do some exploring on your own. (414-264-7776)


excellencewearAlso of note: Excellence Wear (a fine clothing store aimed at African-Americans), Reader’s Choice (a bookstore that’s rumored to be moving again), Crown Plumbing and Hardware (very busy due to remodeling worker traffic), and a bevy of hair salons and design firms.

Categories: Life & Leisure, VITAL

0 thoughts on “Off the beaten path: Shopping on Martin Luther King Drive”

  1. Anonymous says:

    How can you forget Crown Hardware? They have been around for over 50 years! They are the best!
    If you go there, tell them I sent you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Northern Chocolate Company is great, I just wish he was open more.

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