New Boutique for Water Street
Non-profit Grand Avenue Club to open store around corner from its headquarters.
An upscale resale boutique is expected to open by late September in a long-vacant retail space in the Plaza View Building, 608 N. Water St., just south of the “Ladybug Building.” The Water Street Boutique will be operated and staffed by members of the Grand Avenue Club, located immediately to the south in the historic Bank of Milwaukee Building. The nonprofit club, founded in 1991, specializes in education, socialization and employment for the mentally ill of Milwaukee County.
The new store will fulfill all of those missions, as well as add a revenue stream to the organization, which has assets of about $3 million, and operating expenses of about $100,000 per month. The organization relies heavily on contributions and grants from public and private partners.
No Ordinary Shop
According to Rachel Forman, Ph.D., the executive director of the group, “This is no ordinary shop! It will prepare Grand Avenue Club members for paid employment by offering pre-vocational training in sales, customer service, merchandising, stock work and retail management.”
Forman says the organization is currently drafting a business plan with the assistance of the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation. The plan should be complete by mid-August, at which time the group will apply to the city for an occupancy permit. If all goes well, the store could be open by September 22nd, in conjunction with Doors Open Milwaukee, Forman said.
“The store will sell only top quality (albeit donated) jewelry, designer, clothing, accessories, home décor, household items, very small pieces of furniture and more. We will also be selling the art produced by the artists of Grand Avenue Club. The work of Dale Hester, Paul Bier, Brian Bishop, Shana Elias, Janet McCray and Tracy Dreher and others will be available,” Forman said in a statement.
In an interview, Forman said the opportunity to open a store at the location was quite fortuitous. She credited Wendy Burke of Burke Properties for offering the site rent free. On behalf of the organization, she said, “We are grateful to Wendy Burke who is generously lending us the space.”
The City Assessor estimates the fair market rent for the store at $13.97 per square foot, or, $22,310 annually for the 1,597-square-foot space.
The Store Today
Five small white mannequin busts line the window of the storefront at 608 N. Water St., while construction paper obscures the interior. Signs painted in pink tell us that “Furniture,” “Fashion,” “Art… and so much more” will soon be on the way. The storefront is part of the concave facade of the three-story building constructed in 1965. The adjoining storefront at 612 N. Water St., its mirror image, is likewise vacant, and is offered for lease by Founders 3 Real Estate Services. It formerly held such businesses as Erbert & Gerbert, Uncanny Soup and Suburpia.
Immediately to the south of the building, an attractive gated entrance has been constructed that leads to the Grand Avenue Club, with an address of 604 N. Water St. The new entrance even includes a Little Free Library. The club address is just around the corner at 201 E. Michigan St., on Milwaukee’s only block of extant 19th century commercial structures. With a Walkscore of 99 and a transit score of 70, the location of both store and club is ideal for its audience. The old bank building, dating to 1856-58, is a fine example of commercial architecture of the era. As the Grand Avenue Club states, it is “accessible by bus to every neighborhood, town and village in Milwaukee County and also conveys workplace respect and dignity.”
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