Niche Book Bar Coming To Bronzeville
Buying a city-owned building to create Black-focused book store and wine bar.
A new book store and wine bar is planned for Bronzeville.
Cetonia Weston-Roy will open Niche Book Bar at 1937-1939 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. It will be the first permanent home for the business, which Weston-Roy founded in 2019 as a mobile business using a display cart atop a bicycle.
Weston-Roy was selected as the winning respondent Monday afternoon by the Bronzeville Advisory Committee to a request for proposals from the Department of City Development.
“My heart has been beating very fast these past few months hoping for this,” said Weston-Roy. “I just want to say thank you so much.”
Her business will attempt to merge books with the community.
“I am a bookstore focused on serving black literature and red wine,” said Weston-Roy. “We would be a community space where families can come in for story time. They can get baked goods, coffee, tea and then in the evenings book clubs can come in.”
“I have seen her work to bring not just this to life, but to engage so many businesses and partners,” said committee member Deshea Agee, former executive director of the area business improvement district and now a vice president at Emem Group.
Weston-Roy has won multiple grants from LISC Milwaukee‘s Brew City Match program. She received Business Planning Track support as part of the first cohort in October 2019 and completed a business-planning course through the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation in fall 2019. In summer 2020 she was announced as a Space Track winner and later a Cash Track winner to fund startup costs.
She’ll now put that training and seed funding to use by taking over a historic building on one of the city’s key commercial corridors.
Built in 1895, the brick building contains 2,640 square feet of space. The city acquired the property in November 2019 through property tax foreclosure. It was the second time the city took over the building through a property tax foreclosure from the same owner.
A historic use report from DCD indicates the building’s first floor has been host to a wide variety of uses. It was home to a radio shop in 1935, a restaurant in 1948, a soap company in 1955, a church in 1965 and a men’s clothing store in 2005. Most recently it was used as an office, but has been vacant since 2016. Today it is largely stripped to the studs.
The second floor contains an apartment with multiple levels.
The RFP offered the property for $80,000.
Committee chair LaShawndra Vernon said Weston-Roy was one of six applicants the committee reviewed. It relied on a new rubric developed in partnership with DCD.
DCD real estate development services manager Amy Turim said if Weston-Roy’s proposal falls through Neff’s proposal would be selected. “We don’t anticipate it being an issue,” said Turim of Weston-Roy’s ability to pull off her plan.
Neff said she looks forward to finding a space in the north side corridor. The Space MKE, which currently operates in leased space at 2018 S. 1st St. in the Harbor District, is looking to operate a multi-use studio for photography, audio recording, dance and events.
“I look forward to seeing that vision also find a home in the area,” said Agee.
“I’m super excited to see what you do with the space,” said Neff to Weston-Roy.
The Common Council will also need to approve the sale.