Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Boarded Up Businesses Appear Across Milwaukee

Modern furniture store, a grocery store and gas stations are all covered in plywood.

By - Apr 11th, 2020 07:24 pm
West Elm in the Mayer Building. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

West Elm in the Mayer Building. The boards have now been removed. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped much of urban life. Across the country streets are quieter, office buildings are dark and air pollution is down.

You could be convinced in many areas of Milwaukee that it’s simply a Sunday. Much looks the same as it would on a spring weekend. But a few businesses across the city have boarded up their windows with plywood and closed down, even if they weren’t required to.

Glorioso’s Italian Market, 1011 E. Brady St., was the first location spotted by Urban Milwaukee. The grocery store has been boarded up since at least March 25th and closed since March 17th, despite the fact that many grocery stores are doing record business and allowed to stay open under Governor Tony Evers “safer at home” order.

The West Elm furniture and home decor store, at 342 N. Water St. across the Milwaukee Public Market, was also boarded up despite its windows being above ground level. The building lobby, which provides access to the apartments and office space upstairs, remains open. West Elm stores across the country are closed and boarded up, part of an international trend for major retailers.

“Clearly, their owners were not allayed by reports from the New York Police Department that crime levels had dropped significantly in the last week,” wrote Elizabeth Paton in the New York Times of retailers in the trendy SoHo shopping district in Manhattan. Calls for service with the Milwaukee Police Department were also down as of late March.

But it’s not just West Elm and Glorioso’s in Milwaukee that have boarded up their windows. Urban Milwaukee also spotted two gas stations on W. Lisbon Ave. that were boarded up (the Clark Station at 5505 W. Lisbon Ave. and the Clark station at 4950 W. Lisbon Ave., city records indicate they have different owners).

Is what they’re doing legal? “There is a permit requirement for boarding a structure and the fee is $125.00,” wrote Department of Neighborhood Services supervisor Chris Kraco in an email to colleagues at DNS and the Department of City Development. “I can only recall one time in 20 years here where we held someone to the permit requirement and fees for boarding a building not subject to an order from us to board it.”

The city pays for its own permits when it boards up a property wrote Kraco, but none of the four private businesses did. Is the city going to rush out and issue them a violation? “I suppose they could be asked to get a permit but I don’t find a listing in [the city permitting system] for board-up permits and it might seem unreasonable to charge people acting in response to a declared state of emergency when we in practice have not required a permit or fees for a homeowner boarding a vacant vandalized or fire-damaged building,” wrote Kraco.

UPDATE: Historic Third Ward Association executive director Jim Plaisted confirmed the boards have been removed from West Elm at the request of the property owner and under a city order. The order, available online, was issued April 2nd, before Kraco emailed other city employees and Urban Milwaukee photographed the building. The order references the Historic Third Ward Architectural Review Board. None of the other properties are subject to city orders.


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