Grand Avenue Mall; Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Milwaukee River in Milwaukee, WI

Located in the middle of downtown Milwaukee, the Grand Avenue Mall opened in August 1982.  Part of a larger civic revitalization effort, the mall premiered downtown during a time when retail (and nearly everything else) had moved out to the ‘burbs and downtown Milwaukee was left to the 9-to-5ers and the bums.  A nationwide problem not unique to Milwaukee, the loss of downtowns across America led city planners to develop resurgence programs, and many plans offered up enclosed malls.  I suppose they figured what was working well in the suburbs at the time might work in the downtowns and save them.

The plan worked.  For a while, at least.  Many who had abandoned downtown to shop in the suburbs returned to this large, glassy, modern two-level structure.  Occupying two city blocks on two levels with a third level food court at center court, Grand Avenue Mall skywalks over a street on the second level and is split into discontiguous pieces by the street on the first level.  The 1980s and early 1990s saw the mall at near 100 percent capacity, with upmarket local stores as well as chains such as Laura Ashley and Banana Republic. 

Milwaukee River in Milwaukee, WI Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, WI

However, you can’t reinvent the wheel, especially in the midst of dramatically changing demographics.  As soon as the mall opened, Milwaukee’s manufacturing economy began to erode, with unemployment jumping high as more and more factories left town for cheaper labor elsewhere.  As a result, crime in the city spiked at unprecedented highs during the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the murder rate doubling in the eight years between 1982 and 1990. 

Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, WIWhile few of these murders occurred in the heart of downtown, where the mall is located, many were too close for comfort in the poorer neighborhoods adjacent to downtown to the west and north.  As a result of these changing demographics, shoppers jumped ship and instead chose to plug their money into malls closer to where they lived, like Bayshore, Southridge, and Mayfair.  Vacancies skyrocketed at Grand Avenue in the mid- to late- 1990s.  Longtime east anchor Marshall Fields, which was previously a Gimbels flagship, decided to leave in 1997 after years of declining sales.  This sent the mall further into a downward spiral, and many stores in the eastern section of the mall (Plankinton Arcade) closed as a result.  The western section of the mall, with the large third-level food court and Boston Store anchor, fared slightly better but also eventually faltered.

By 2002 the mall was on life support.  The few stores remaning were mostly athletic and urbanwear chains, and the food court remained viable due to the large number of office workers nearby.  However, a huge breath of life came in the form of a remodel and repositioning.   The mall’s dated, early-1980s look was replaced with a more modern facade inside, and the main entrance on Wisconsin Avenue was given a facelift as well.  Management leveraged this remodeling to attract new stores, citing the recent growth of residential space downtown.  Extensive development in the third ward, downtown, and lower east side would provide a significant local retail base to give Grand Avenue viability again.  Also, crime in the city scaled back dramatically to pre-1980s figures, and job loss in the region was slowed.   

Grand Avenue Mall TJMaxx in Milwaukee, WIBut, instead of reinventing the wheel and trying to re-establish a top-tier superregional mall downtown to compete with Mayfair, Bayshore, and Brookfield Square, management sought to instead establish a different niche for Grand Avenue.  The first step in this transformation was to rename the center from Grand Avenue Mall to The Shops of Grand Avenue.  In-line small store space was scaled down dramatically in the eastern section of the mall by replacing all of the stores on the first level and the hallway with two box stores, Linens ‘n Things and TJ Maxx.  The result is kind of interesting, design-wise.  One can look down from the second level of the mall directly into the stores, as little was done to change the old configuration other than removing the small stores’ walls.  Old Navy was also brought into the mall, replacing another large section of vacant in-line space.  Also, the vacant Marshall Fields was redeveloped into a Borders and Residence Inn and renamed ASQ Center.  Although not technically part of The Shops of Grand Avenue, ASQ Center is connected to it by the same skywalk which connected Marshall Fields. 

Today, The Shops of Grand Avenue is chugging along all right.  By no means is the center as successful as it was during the 1980s, but neither is that the current owner’s intention.  Instead, the mall functions to serve the needs of the retail base which supports it, the newer neighborhoods downtown, and the 80,000 office workers which funnel in and out of the city center daily.   The store roster speaks to this, and the food court is still as busy as it ever was.  If management continues to woo more tenants in, it could really work out.  The design features of the mall, and the way it’s hemmed in with hundred-year-old buildings, is rather unique and pleasing to the eye.

At any rate, Grand Avenue is currently the last enclosed shopping mall in the city of Milwaukee.  As of ten years ago there were three others: Southgate, Capitol Court, and Northridge, but each met its own fate largely due to the same demographic problems which felled Grand Avenue.  We took the pictures featured here in April 2007. 

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Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, WI



153 thoughts on “Grand Avenue Mall; Milwaukee, Wisconsin”

  1. Sounds a lot like a more-successful version of Indianapolis’ downtown Union Station shopping complex, which if I’m not mistaken closed for good after declining for years.

  2. Same thing happened in St. Louis as in Indy – St. Louis Center, which was built around the downtown Dillards (Now Closed), and Famous-Barr (Now Macy’s). It started off strong, but leveled off pretty quick, and by the end it was pretty much nothing but urban stores and places selling cheap jewelry and cell phones. All but the Macy’s are now shuttered, and the area is being redeveloped into offices, hotels, and lofts.

    Is there one of these 80s vintage inner city malls that was actually a long term success?

  3. When working as a consultant, I spent over a year in the Residence Inn that is attached to the mall. I frequented the food court in the evenings for a quick bite to eat. I remember there were still quite a few people in the mall, esp. in the daytime/afternoon. The mall closes early, so it was pretty much a ghost town in the evenings. It is also nice that the different sections of the mall are connected by skywalks, especially in the icy winters when the temperature never got above 20 F. You could walk four city blocks and not have to go outside.

  4. I thought of one mike, how about Stamford Town Center in CT. It’s right downtown & is doing fairly well with 90% of it occupied & a new wing set to open in november. Bear in mind that downtown Stamford is resurging with new housing, retail & restaurants.

    Another city that comes to mind is White Plains NY. If you would like to check it out
    White Plains BID has plenty of info on whats happening downtown.

  5. Reminds me of the Harborplace Gallery (across Pratt Street from Harborplace itself), which is still pretty well-tenanted but has no anchors and always seems to have a few gaps in the food court. There’s no real reason for anyone to go there after 5, and not a lot of people do.

  6. i miss the grand ave as it was . i remembre bing there on opening day i also remember going there on a school feel trip ,had a teacher that was realy into shopping when the mall opened mayfair was old and dinngy the fields there (macys) was realy bad never being remodled as of that time . in contrast the grand ave had big sparkiling new stores and the department stores gimbles and boston store had been re done from top to bottom. the mall for smeone in there late teens and early twentys was the place to be seen and the place to see. the same people you went to the clubs with on weekends were working shopping there and living inon the east side it was apart of my life i wish i could get back more than any othe old mall the grand ment a lot to me i dont go vary often any more it almost hurts in my gut to see it the way it is now . i was talking to a old frend the other day he works for the boston store he said that its still making money(now only Two Floors)but the end is comming he felt that thay will look to build a new store with parking neer buy after all boston store is a bon ton co. and thay did just close state st in chicago if the boston store goes i think it will be the end of the mall for sure.

  7. Wow, this place looks wonderful. I especially like the fact that you can look straight down into the TJ Maxx space.

    There was another anchor here too — Woolworth. It became an Office Max.

    Also, what’s that big white block at the top right on the mall directory?

  8. Kind of a pre-renovation Freehold Raceway Mall/Danbury Fair Mall clone by looking at those skylights.

  9. I think this should serve as a model for a lot of other struggling urban malls from the 80’s & 90’s. Here in Cleveland we have two – the Galleria at Erieview, and the Avenue at Tower City, although Tower City has fared slightly better. Tower City especially started off all high end: Gucci, Fendi, Barney’s, etc. Now it’s a lot of second-tier chains selling urbanwear and cell phones, right alongside Brooks Brothers, MAC, and Ann Taylor. Also, the City of Columbus just took ownership of Columbus City Center, which is mostly in the same boat. This kind of a concept could work in both places, with the increasing number of condos downtown.

  10. That is such a classy looking mall. THe mall owners had the right idea to bring in big-box stores to liven it up, and hungry office workers must help as well.

  11. This mall always fascinated me ever since my first visit there nearly 19 years ago……October 1988.

    At that point in time, Gimbles had already made the name swap to Marshall Field’s, but the rest of the mall retained all its 1982-era tenants and storefronts. I remember many of them vividly to this day.

    In 1999, the newer half of the mall, which runs the length from Boston Store to 2nd St., was pulled out of its 1982-vintage chrome and neon, terra-cotta floortiled scheme into what you see in these pics.

    The famous Plankinton Building was restored to its original appearance in time for the opening of the mall in 1982….beforehand it had been drastically turned into office space with ground-floor retail during the 50s-60s.

    I have a mall directory I’ll have to dig up from 1988 I got while visiting there during the hoilday period. There’s tons of store names, both local to Milwaukee, and nationally known, that don’t exist anymore.

    Grand Ave. and Wausau WI’s Wausau Center mall, are two of the very few examples left out there in the entire U.S. where there’s still some sort of viable retail functionality going on in these downtown complexes. Most now have been shut or converted completely to office or residential use. If you’re in the area and into malls and a mix of modern and historical architecture, I do recommend a visit to see this place in person.

    Before I forget to mention too……this is also one of the few malls left in the entire U.S. that still bears an in-mall Walgreens……there before the mall, but integrated into the 1982 complex. Woolworths was the same….there before the mall but integrated into it with interior entrances.

  12. Yeah, the Walgreens here is somewhat of a relic and probably won’t go away anytime soon due to the lack of space for one of their standalone prototypes. Its sign is very neon and the store is unrenovated.

    I am also wondering what the large block is on the directory. I thought it may have been Office Max but it isn’t. It might be office space? I also know UW-Milwaukee operates satellite classrooms from within the mall in the Plankinton Building. Their elevator comes out right in the middle of the mall, which I always thought was funny.

  13. That ‘block’ was once the main branch of First Bank, which I believe was regional. It’s empty now, the First Bank name having been bought out by what was (at the time) called Firststar back in the mid 1990s. Firststar was eventually acquired by US Bank. I don’t know if any offices occupy it.

    Woolworth’s spot is now Office Max, as has been stated. This was only a single-level Woolworths. The second level above it is inline shop space, the floors above it are offices.

  14. It is so cool how you can look right down at the TJ Maxx. I love this place! It is a beautiful center with arches, skylights, chandeliers and 3 story atrium design. Some more big box stores and maybe some outlet stores could be added to the pretty decent store mix and keep this place viable for many years. But it is good to see that a big city downtown mall can be redefined and redeveloped instead of being closed down and demolished. Some other similiar malls have not had the chance to be redevelop such as New Orleans Centre in downtown New Orleans.

    The New Orleans Centre has been closed since hurricane Katrina hit, and is probably not going to be reopened. It is a 3 level glass covered atrium type mall, similiar to Grand Avenue, opened in the late 80’s on Poydras street across from the Superdome and connected to the still closed Hyatt Regency with 2 anchors, Macy’s and Lord & Taylor. It had a few successful years following the opening. It was once owned by Simon Properties. But the same fate hit NO Centre that hit many other downtown malls. Even before the storm had hit, New Orleans Centre was on life support. It lost an anchor when Lord & Taylor closed in 2004 when they abandoned there prescence in the south. Little by little all the major chains were slowly leaving and there was not much left in the mall as far as major chains went except for Gap, Ann Taylor and a few others, and a lot of local book and souvenier type stores that are in abundance just a few blocks away all over the French Quarter. And they also had a TV station and fitness center on the 3rd floor. My last visit was in spring 2004 a few months before L&T closed and it was half empty then. Check out the posting on for tale of NO centre. Even though downtown New Orleans never really shuts down because Bourbon street and the French Quarter is pretty much a constant non stop party with 24 hour bars and clubs, the mall was too far away from this constant activity and pretty much just catered to downtown workers at the food court, like many other similiar malls, guests at the Hyatt who forgot things on there vacation, and events at the Superdome. A redevelopment similiar to Grand Avenue could have been a possibity because these type of stores would have been a very good alternative to the still successful, but very upscale, Shops at Canal Place anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, at the foot of Canal street just down the street. Canal Place reopened a few months after the storm, although they did lose some of the inline tenants, it is still very upscale.

  15. Another mall that would fit into this bill is the Rivercenter in San Antonio, plus this mall has the added lure of being on the Riverwalk. The difference is that due to its location, it has managed to keep itself viable.

  16. I find it sad that so many urban malls are failing. With so many people within walking distance, you’d think they would appreciate all those shops in one place, especially under a roof. Although in San Francisco, the new Westfield center is doing well. But perhaps this is due to it being enormous and they have retailers found nowhere else.

  17. Yeah, that was why Grand Ave was dying in the mid-late 1990s. It had all the same stores found at other malls in the Milwaukee and surrounding area. The Grand Ave. was able to turn itself around because of its space being remodeled, then rearranged to hold larger tenants.

    I should note a few tenants who once left the Grand Ave, only to return in its current format as a big-box style mall.

    Lane Bryant (original 1982 tenant, left in the late 1990s, returned in the early 2000s at a different location)

    Old Navy (original 1982 tenants included The Gap and Gap Kids, who left in the late 1990s)

    TJ Maxx (Original 1982 tenant was Hit or Miss, precursor to TJ Maxx, both chains of which were started by Zayre. Hit Or Miss left the mall in 1995)

  18. I would say The Gap and Old Navy are two vastly different operations, despite ownership by the same company.

  19. I love that circular set of staircases in the Plankington Arcade. Is that clown museum still in the basement? That place always creeped me out.

  20. Another thing that helps with the viability of this mall is the fact there are two big hotels attached to it. A Residence Inn and a Courtyard by Marriott. Also you have a Best Western and a Hampton Inn across Wisconsin Ave from it, not to mention a large convention center.

    I can remember staying in downtown Milwaukee once and using the mall to purchase a couple of items I forgot. I thought it was a novel concept to have an office supply store (Office Max) downtown.

    A cute story that sticks in my mind about this mall is being approached by a con artist. He told me he locked his keys in his car and needed $10 for a bus ticket to Green Bay. I told him that we could go inside and talk to a security guard. The guy didn’t want to do that. First time I ever encountered this scam.

  21. I highly doubt it. During Tanglewood Mall’s doomsdays, there was a local firefighter’s museums. Unfortunately, when the mall remodeled to provide for more big-box tenants, the museum was kicked out.

  22. Why would you just abandon your car and go over 100 miles to Green Bay when you’ve just locked your keys in? They have to do better than that to swindle me, I’m afraid.

  23. That sounded kind of funny to me too.

  24. Interesting article, John, and thanks for posting a link to it here. Am I safe in presuming that Tower City Center is an enclosed mall right in a downtown area, similar to Grand Ave. Mall in Milwaukee?

  25. Here in Atlanta, Underground has been the mall in downtown, and it has undergone about 3 or 4 renovations since it reopened in 1989. The original attempt for the mall was to be a “festival marketplace” of sorts like Harborplace or Bayside, but the mall has turned into an assortment of Urban stores, and has become somewhat of a nightclub district. This new transformation makes a bit more sense given the demographics in the area.

    Successful downtown malls I can think of:

    Horton Plaza in San Diego, which was instrumental in revitlizing their downtown area when it opened back in 1985. It also helps that the mall looks like an MC Escher drawing from hell, so it’s interesting to look at.

    Eaton Centre in Toronto has been pretty successful too. It also helps that it is directly attached to the subway and the underground city in Toronto as well. It’s fairly well integrated into the downtown streetscape, especially with Dundas Square across the street.

  26. The Circle Center in downtown Indianapolis is extremely popular with a full tenant list including Nordstrom and a Carson, Pirie, Scott (formerly a Parisian and interesting in that it’s in the old L.S. Ayre’s building). My guess is that it’s one of the most popular downtown shopping malls. But the first poster is correct, in that the Union Station mall died a slow death, more than likely due to the opening of Circle Center.

  27. I went to Grand Avenue the day or shortly thereafter its opening in 1982. I may have been in a cranky teenage mood that trip from Georgia to see my sister but I forgot my worries when reaching the mall.

    I am glad the owners have rehabilitated it. There is no way that it will attract other than area clientele. It was and still is an innovative concept- sort of the reverse of lifestyle centers.

    I remember the Woolworth’s and bookoodles of stores there. Gosh I wish I remembered all their names.

  28. Union Station in Indy died within a few years of its opening. It was a poorly executed renovation with very ordinary stores & restaurants and a poor layout that made some tenants fairly isolated from the rest. Archtectuarally, they really ignored the special features of the building. A good example of why shopping mall mindsets don’t work downtown. Circle Center was dead when I visited a few years ago–even a major convention with 20K people didn’t seem to help and it seemed to have killed the street life nearby.

    Underground in Atlanta has suffered partly because there’s nothing around it to draw & keep people.Rich’s is long gone and the area is semi-desolate with only a few homeless people and transit users at busy times. The tenant list is pretty unimaginative. It’s gone bankrupt multiple times. It would work if there were businesses that supported real urban life there, which the mall mindset of Atlanta developers and politicians has not supported in the past and only supports with duress now.

  29. Strange, we were at Circle Circle center this past summer after going to the Zoo (we live about two hours away). It was wall to wall people. Even the street life was fairly active due to the amount of restaurants surrounding the mall like the Old Spaghetti Factory.

  30. The crown jewel of the Grand Avenue Mall was the Gimbels Department Store. (Not Gimbles as typed by other bloggers.) A magnificent eight-story building of whie terra cotta that was built in stages beginning in 1902. The riverside of the building was modeled after the famous Selfrides department store in London. Gimbels opened it s first storein Milwaukee in 1887.

    Many people will remember the famous FORUM restaurant on the top floor or Tasty Town on one. For decades the store features an instore bakery, meat market and candy store…not to mention wine and liqour department.

    In the basement was the popular Gimbels budget store.

    The company was sold to BATUS which also owned Gimbels, Kohls and Saks Fifth Avenue.

    Sadly Gimbel chain of stores (Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York) were closed in the 80’s. The downtown Milwaukee store became a Marshall Fields but it never really caught on. Fields put little effort into the Milwaukee store.

  31. I came to Milwaukee to go to college in 1979. A couple of us visited the Grand Avenue on opening day (or at least attempted to visit it), we were in a car and only succeeded to drive through the parking deck in the time we had. We never found a parking spot nor did we even exit the car.

  32. I currently work at one of the shops in Grand Ave. It is quite depressing walking to work and seeing all the empty stores, but the store I work at seems to be doing ok. Many times, we bring in more sales just during the lunch hour than in the rest of the day. Our customers are very diverse, but mostly enthusiastic. The mall, in general, has interesting architecture, and I enjoy “window shopping” on my breaks by just looking down into tj maxx and linens.

  33. I remember Christmas shopping here with my family during the early 90’s. It was a sight to see, look at the architecture and bronze statues. I cannot believe they put a TJ Maxx in the middle of the mall. It is an ignorant use of space just a way to save money(or try to scrape up what is left). Milwaukee’s Downtown area is so small and Grand Avenue Mall is closer to the West Side (Marquette College) and doesn’t feel so safe when walking a few more blocks to the West. I go here sometimes for TJ Maxx, but there are so many boutiques and locally owned stores, that I have no reason to go to a mall. Also, 15 minutes on the freeway can get me to two or three better malls. The most recent ‘dying’ mall in the Milwaukee area is Bayshore Mall. It is an outdoor upscale mall with high end restaraunts, highend movie theatre/bowling lane/bar/lounge,LA fitness, California Pizza Kitchen, and many popular stores as well as big box stores. The only thing missing is an electronics store. It is a smart idea to included other amenities in a mall to insure constant participation, Parking is ample too, but people always fuss about not getting the store-front metered spots.

  34. I just wanted to add that Grand Avenue is basically a large food court and teh ground level has two or three “custom t-shirt and air brush shops” as well as numerous no-name mobile phone stores. Just a few staples of dying malls.

  35. Despite what this site touts as a successful revival, the new Shops of Grand Avenue is anything but a success story. Instead of capitalizing on the rich history of Milwaukee, the latest renovation removed any character from the mall, making it dated and ordinary before it even came to fruition. Furthermore, Northwestern Mutual and WE Energies, the former owners of the center couldn’t wait to divest of this albatross after they gussied it up and (temporarily) filed the square footage. It was sold to a NY outfit who has invested NOTHING to help this dying mall. Another blow came to the mall when Linens-N-Things filed bankruptcy, and will be shuttering their store. The photos you see on this site are of the handfull of stores still open in the mall (very deceiving). For example, take the photo of Lane Bryant. What you don’t see in the picture is that the entire wing of the mall is EMPTY. It is literally Lane Bryant and a branch of Guaranty Bank. Dress Barn, another retailer brought in before the mall was sold has already closed. Sun Coast Video and Sam Goody went bankrupt leaving another huge dent in the mall. Famous Footwear, another store brought in before the mall was sold, is struggling as a chain. So what’s left in Grand Avenue? Beyond the food court…Anchor: Boston Store, Walgreen’s, Office Maxx (and they are struggling),GNC, Lane Bryant (their days are numbered), Old Navy, Lids, Footlocker, Kids Footlocker, Children’s Place, Payless Shoes, Famous Footwear (for now), Trade Secret, Piercing Pagoda, Coldstone Creek Coffee (kiosk) and a TJ Maxx (and rumour has it that they want out). That’s it for national retailers in this HUGE mall. Then we have local retailers: a wig shop, a candy store, a home decor shop of cheap resin figurines, a pen shop (actually the only unique cool store left), two local second rate jewelery stores (all tacky gold thug necklaces), an incense shop, a thug clothing store, three small wireless phone stores, and a black clothing store that sells purple leisure suits and faux crocodile shoes. Get the picture? Not a success story. Would you come downtown for this tenant mix? Would anybody? And get this: you have to pay to park at Grand Avenue. Their new big ta-da is that if you spend $150 in the mall, you can get up to three hours of free parking! Whoppee! They should simply CLOSE the mall for a good 12 months and hope everyone forgets about the old Grand Avenue demise. Then make noticeable renovations, and work to get viable new tenants and reopen fresh. Our downtown has a humongous convention center, a public market, hotels (two of them actuall adjoining the mall), office complexes, the thrird and fifth wards nearby, three museums, a library, a casino, a college campus, and condos built on top of condos. Their is no reason this mall should have flopped. It flopped when the former mall manager, Steve Smith, went to Mayfair. Now Mayfair…that is a success story. A dumpy old mall with an ice skating rink and late 60’s decor turns into the biggest retail venuture in the metro area. You should see the place. It’s as if they are giving something away at Mayfair.

  36. From what I can tell with the store directory online:

    The cheap house decor shop is “Accents & Decor”
    The pen shop is “Daly’s Pen Shop”
    A thug store is “Terrance’s House of Threads”
    The candy shop is “Quality Candy”
    And a cell phone store is: “CellUAll”, ”

    Here’s some TJ forgot or I just can’t match up:
    Brew City Beer Gear, Foot Action USA, Children’s Place, A to Z, Beauty Luxor, Besso, Blue Kiss Photo, Charcoal Celebrities, RadioShack and a few others.

  37. You are almost right on! To clarify on a few others: the thug gold jewelry places are “New York Jewelers” (a stall space), and “Gold ‘N’ Jewels”. The thug clothing store is the A to Z, which you mentioned.. The store selling purple leisure suits is Torrence’s House of Threads, which you also mentioned. Both of us forgot about urban clothing disappointment, “Rainbow”. A recent article in the Journal interviewed Brew City Beer Gear’s owner, Mr. Keppler, who indicated he would pull out this year if the new owner didn’t turn the mall around. So, you can depend on that store being gone. I didnt include Charcoal Celebrities, because it’s really a kiosk I think.

    Now, here is something really, REALLY sad. A list of the retailers that left over the years: Astors, Cignal, T. Edwards, Overland Trading Company, Track and Trail, Kinney Shoes, Father and Son Shoes, Dolci’s, Banana Republic, Attivo, Merry-Go-Round, Chess King, Bachrach’s, Baskin, Florsheim, B. Dalton, Footgear, Canary and Elephant, Wilson’s Leather, City Lights Boutique, Young Hui Imports, World Bazaar, Gap, Gap Kids, Laura Ashley, Sock Stop, J.Riggins, Eddie Bauer, Speedo, H20+, Lane Bryant, Sunglass Hut, Id, Hunt and Peck, Units, Urban Stuff, Door County Confectionary, Traverse Bay Fudge, Saint Winefred’s Faire, Accessory Lady, Earring Tree, Gloria Jean’s, Brill’s, Desi’s, Brower Shoes, Connie Shoes, Marriane, Hit or Miss, Stewart’s, Lizzie B, Musicland, Sam Goody, Limited, Limited Express, August Max Woman, Seifert’s, Marc Jacobs, Nobel Gallery, Puzzlebox, Goldi, Claro Que Si, Evergreen, Godiva, Garden Botanika, Deliciously Different, Marc’s Big Boy, Giovanni’s Pizza, Woolworth, Netzow’s Organ Center, Kay Bee Toys, Lechter’s, The Great Cookie Company, Mrs. Field’s, Benetton, Au Coton, Victoria’s Secret, M.E. Lou, South of the Border, Sophisticated Man, Pearle Vision, Fanny Farmer, Just Pants, Leather N’ Fur, Tannery West, Pacific Southwest, Haircare Harmony, Mr. Dino’s, Spencer Gifts, ToonVille, Schwart’s Booksellers, Au Bain Pan, Vie De France, Nature Company, Bailey Banks and Biddle, The Nature of Things, Afterthoughts, Woolworth Cafeteria, Jarman Shoes, Athlete’s Foot, Warner Bros., The Body Shop, Zales Jewelers, Page’s Jewelers, Powell Jewelers, KarmelKorn, Jeans West, WaldenBooks, Bachrach’s, Charter Club, Mole Hole, Camelot Music, Tape World, Claire’s Boutique, Topkapi, Brooks, Casual Corner, Petite Sophisicate, Grand Avenue News, Petland, Apricot Annie’s, Babbage’s, Brown’s Photography, Black’s Photography, Mike Crivello’s Cameras, Dejaiz, Rainbow Kid’s, Bentley’s Luggage, Cinnabon, County Seat, Dress Barn, TieDentity, Parklane Hoisery, Deck the Walls, Things Remembered, Baker’s Shoes, Michelle’s Baguette, Hot Sam’s, Chi Chi’s El Pronto, Popeye’s Chicken, Chickadilly Circus, Taco Johns, Columbo’s Frozen Yogurt, Daquiri Shack, Salad Lover’s, Sbarro, Wong’s Wok, One Potato Two, Ollie’s Ovens, Saz’s Ribs, Murphy’s Pub, BoJangle’s, Orange Julius, Betsy’s Brownies, Turkey Gobbler, Boardwalk Fries, Shinz, Jerry’s Subs, Haagen Daz, Baby Gap, Nine West, Edel’s Faces, Miniature Junction, Merle Harmon’s Fan Fair, Sterling Optical, Soltani, Northern Getaway, Vitamin World, Stein Optical, Gimbel’s, Marshall Field’s, The Bridge Restaurant, Software Etc., Merle Norman Cosmetics, Danielle’s, Hallmark, Auntie Anne’s Pretzel’s, Desmond’s Formalwear, Gymboree, Candyland,Journey’s, Talbot’s, Stride Rite, Thom McAn.

    And these are just the ones I can remember. Any I missed?

  38. The roster was so big, I did forget a few more: R.A. Lang Cards, Remington, Precision Jewelers, Athletic Attic, Marshall Field’s, European Gifts, Ashley Gift, Health Rider, Rose Meister.

    Anyway, you get the point. No one could make a go of it in this desolate mall. And some even tried multiple times, in different locations. It was such a booming mall. It kind of reminds me of what happened toRolling Acres Mall in Akron when the owner neglected it and got greedy with the rents. Check for a few clips of this mall in it’s hey day and in its current condition. It is eerily like Grand Avenue. There is also another site called Grand Avenue has not managed to splash the pages of yet, for whatever reason.

  39. Wow, CoryTJ, that’s a lot of stores that were in the mall!

    I don’t think I would call this a ‘successful revival’ – in fact, I pointed out that it wasn’t what it was in its heyday, which was reiterated by the exhaustive list of stores above, which were once present and aren’t there anymore.

    I just wanted to point out that there was a greater dearth of stores before the renovation, which made use of the completely dead Plankinton Arcade section of the mall by converting the lower level to TJMaxx and Linens ‘n Things. Of course, all of that is being undermined with Linens ‘n Things leaving, which is too bad.

    I also wasn’t attempting to deceive anyone with the photos. The photos on this website aren’t the greatest for at least a couple reasons. First, I’m not a professional photographer. Second, mall security is often militant about disallowing pictures in malls so if I get a vantage point that provides a clear photograph, I take the picture quickly. Also, I try not to take pictures in people’s faces. So it’s hard to really set up a shot and often impromptu.

    At any rate, no, this mall isn’t doing well, and I apologize if anything I wrote made it seem like it was. I just felt it was necessary to point out the attempts at renovation and the positives which came to light rather than just saying ‘oh it’s dead and this sucks’ – and tell the whole story.

  40. Hey Prange Way,

    First, I think your photos are of excellent quality. I don’t want you to think I was ripping on your photagraphy. This mall is, for whatever reason, a very emotional topic for me. In essence, I grew up in this mall. It allowed me to open stores (kiosks), some of which went into inline spaces ( I didn’t list them in the stores above), and this in turn paid for my college tuition. I went on to work in retail for many years as a DM before departing the retail arena for a more lucrative career.

    Anyway, as I mentioned I think in one of my previous blog posts, this mall really parallels what I think happened in Akron, OH with Rolling Acres Mall. I watched a youtube video about the plateau and demise of that mall, entitled “At least they tried”. Watch it; it is a great video, but it is sure to put you in a melancholy mood. It is Grand Avenue all over again.

    In my opinion as someone with first hand experience as a merchant in Grand Avenue, the mall had several things that impacted its demise:

    1. Steve Smith left the mall as manager and went to Mayfair.. This guy was militant. Every day he would walk from one end of the mall to the other with the entire management team. If so much as a light bulb were burned out, he would make you IMMEDIATELY replace it. He didn’t just manage from an ivory tower. He LIVED the job, if you know what I mean. For example, at the time I managed one of the stores in the mall, and Smith came around and noticed a burned out light bulb. I told him I’d get to it later. He said, “No, now please.” I explained that I didn’t have enough floor coverage until noon, and he said, “That’s okay. I will watch the front of the store while you get the ladder. I’ll hold it.” And he did!

    2. Under Steve Smith, the head of security was a gentleman by the name Fernando Perez. He was equally as serious about the mall, and did not tolerate any gang activity. Mall security was outrageously visible. And if a kid had his baseball cap tipped to one side, he was asked kindly to remove it. If he didn’t, the kid was expeditiously ejected from the mall, no questions asked. When Smith left, so did Perez.

    3. Right around this same time, Rouse Management jacked up the rents. Severely! This was quite possibly the single worst thing they could have done in a time when many chains were shaken and failing. They didn’t know how to adapt out of the 80’s mentality and reinvent themselves. The party would soon be over, for everyone.

    4. Several chains went bankrupt during this time period, because they couldn’t adapt their merchandise mix. E.G. Chess King, Dejaiz, Merry-Go-Round, Attivo. They were owned by one company, and just this one bankruptcy left for vacant store fronts.

    5. Grand Avenue was famous for “cultivating” quality, local merchants into inline stores; and these stores looked and felt like genuine national chains. Brew City Beer Gear is a prime example. So is ME Lou, which left the mall for Mayfair, and now Brookfield. They had another key team player, Jill Ash, in charge of kiosk rentals. This woman was tough as nails. I, at times, hated her, but then again loved her just the same. NO hand written signage, no eating during business hours, in short, nothing unprofessional at the kiosks. She would pitch in and help vendors with visual merchandising and sales and product ideas. And the kiosk business flourished in Grand Avenue. She left.

    6. Again, at this same time, sweethart leases were coming up for renewal, and national chains didn’t renew them. It was like the perfect storm.

    With Smith and Perez gone, more thugs came into the mall. I honestly have to say they were harmless for the most part. But perception is everything. Stores that went bankrupt left holes. Rouse didn’t respond quicly enough to fill them with the proper tenant mix. The allowed mom and pop stores to rent the spaces just to fill them, but they didn’t hold them to the same standards that Ash did. Grand Avenue got hip hop crazy. Rouse’s core management team (Smith, May, Faulkner, Ash, Perez) was GONE. With the stores leaving, so did the clientelle. Neither the stores nor the customers would ever return to Grand Avenue again. It was OVER.

    Then the malls former owners Wisconsin Electric (now WE Energies) and North Western Mutual, decided to renovate the mall. In my opinion they spent a lot of money to make the mall look generic. They took away any real history of the mall that reflected the local Milwaukee flavor. Instead, the mall got generic 16 x 16 off white ceramic tiles, a new goofy color scheme that was too trendy and went out of style before completion, and this big box store concept with TJ Maxx and Linens-N-Things. The Plankinton Arcade housing Linens and TJ maxx looks, well, interesting. And I’m being kind. It screams: dead desperate mall. Now it will be empty soon.

    The new owner once planned another renovation for the mall, but removed plans from their website. Maybe they gave up too. Who knows. I’d love to find out what is in store for the mall that was such and integral part of my life.

    Prange Way, how does one get ahold of you? I loved some of the pieces you did ( I think it was you) like Port Plaza Mall in Green Bay.

  41. CoryTJ,…wow. What an exhaustive history of tenants! It covers from the mall’s opening in August 1982 till at least the late 1990s. I must say, that’s quite a feat to remember all of those. I have a mall directory from 1988 when I first visited the Grand Ave. (back when “Grand’ actually referred to the mall’s overall appearance and the sheer amount of shops within). There’s stores in that list that obviously were already gone and replaced by others in that list in my 1988 visit.

    I also didn’t know Steve Smith (whose name came up a bazillion times when Mayfair Mall had to deal with its own problem of teenagers some time back) was Grand Ave.’s manager at one point. He rules over the properties he’s run hand over fist. Hard-headed for sure, but that’s something that’s lacking in a LOT of shopping malls nowadays….management who give a damn. I don’t know if he was already out by October of 1988 when I first went to the mall at the wee age of 9, but I could tell that the mall was very well kept. Not a burnt out light bulb in sight.

    What the mall had that many malls back then lacked, was an even mix of local, regional and national tenants in its roster during the early years. It’s something that made the mall unique compared to the suburban ones, wherein those were mostly occupancy rate of national tenants was nearly 100% of the property. (not including anchors).

    To make that list easier (well, at least the October 1988 tenant lineup) for you folks, I’m going to dig up that map, scan it, and link to it when I got the time.

  42. The creepy clown museum came in around the time of the infamous “remodel” in 2001-2002. It is thankfully gone. It creeped everyone out!

    Anyone know of the new owner’s plans to reposition the mall again??? They had some drawings on their webiste but have removed them. The drawings indicated making the bix boxes back into boutique stores with awnings and topiaries. But just as soon as the plans were unveiled, they were yanked from the site.

  43. CoryTJ, I have one question about Brew City: what does it sell? Beer taps? Neon liquor signs? Just lots of beer? And what kind of other “local inline stores” were turned into “national”-looking tenants?

  44. Well, those are interesting questions. 😉 Where to begin. First, let me answer your question about Brew City Beer Gear. This is a really COOL store. It sells its proprietary designs in silk screened t-shirts, as a staple. it also sells its own line of barware and add-on items like magnets, key chains, etc. They also developed a Milwaukee version of the board game Monopoly, and they have beer making kits, and foam cheeseheads…all items you’d expect to find in Wisconsin. But they are very different and unique. The store itself sports sculptures that were commissioned and work with several themes that they used when desigining the t-shirts. The Milwaukee Bolshoi Ballet comes to mind….a comical sculpture of a portly ballerina adorns the premise.

    This venture was started by a really rockin’ family…the Kepplers. The father is the overseer, and the kids are the lifeblood of the business. Frank Keppler is the nerdy but ultra-trendy lovable self-proclaimed geek that creates all the t-shirt designs. Some are nostalgic, some are sassy, all are Milwaukee. Rick is the one that cracks the whip, and George is the one that women seemed to fall all over, and he is the charismatic one of the bunch. If you go to the website: you will get the whole picture.

    Their store is signed and merchandised like a national retail chain. Their mere presence in the Grand Ave is more like a favor to the mall. Although they have had stores both permanent and seasonal in other malls in Milwaukee, like Southridge, ultimately their success lies in the wholesale end of their operation. you will see when you visit the website. The problem in Milwaukee is generally management companies and mall owners that get greedy with the rents. I can vouch for this first hand.

    Another concept that looked like a national retailer and was originally a kiosk was “Celebrate Wisconsin”. You can guess the types of items they carried, but the manager, Jean, came up with all these really unique items and unusual twists on a theme, from gourmet foods to kitchenware, to ornaments, you name it. Example, there was the tradtional coffee mug, but they designed mugs with different kinds (guernsey, holstein) of little ceramic cows that would peek up at you when you drank your coffee. This store left Grand Avenue in 2001 and went expanded their Mayfair store location.

    I will break up this post into another post so that this column isn’t too long. There is a lot of history behind the answer to your question. lol.

  45. Other stores that went in-line but looked national were:

    Soltani, named after the owner. Sold high-end garments for women.

    Then there was this pair of women that worked at Units (this bizarre women’s clothing place where everything looked like pajamas to me. You could take a pair of leggings and “poof” it was a scarf or a skirt or whatever). When Units folded literally overnight, these two managers Joy and Diana opened a cart called “Claro que Si” which sold Batiks and Bajas. The store went temporary inline, and looked temporary, moving from empty store front to empty store front. But then something happened. The two business partners went in two opposite directions. Joy kept the ethnic clothing theme and opened chilli Peppers. It didn’t take. Diana rolled with the punches, responding to customer demand,and opened a new concept called M.E. Lou (named after her niece).,M.E. Lou sold really different clothing for women. She eventually moved the store to Mayfair, and now it is a free-standing store in nearby, wealthy Brookfield. The M.E. Lou store looked like a national chain when it took over the old Benneton spot in Grand Avenue, and it still looks the same in its new home.

    Another success was Pride of Milwaukee which reminded me a lot of the Brew City Beer Gear Store, but it had its own unique branding and direction. Rouse raised the rent and the owner, Paul, told them to take a hike. He since opened Alterra Coffee, which is like Milwaukee Metros versin of Starbucks. It is everywhere, from the Museum to the Mall, to free-standing stores. It has it’s own brand of coffee, and even restaurants here carry it. It is definitely of national caliber. See how Rouse just missed the boat by f’ing people over on the rent?! Incidentally, his wife, “Goldi” had a huge store in the mall bearing her name. It sold shoes and accessories, and clothing. It was in other malls also, and still is, but no longer in Grand Avenue. Today Goldi has several mall and stand alone stores, and looks like any national chain.

    ToonVille was another kiosk wonder turned inline. It sold, as you can imagine, anything to do with cartoon characters from Warner Bros. to Betty Boop. It sold all licensed product. This store eventually took over an old Spencer Gifts location in the mall, and it looked again, like any national retailer. Professional branding and a full-fledged neon sign. Rosemary and her husband did a great job! But then Rouse signed on Warner Bros. and they didn’t renew ToonVille’s lease. Then Warner Bros. pulled out of the mall. Karma is a bitch!

    Then there was a local retailer who owned a Petland Franchise. They developed a nature store, much like Nature Company, but with it’s own very distinct store design. It grew to a chain of I think 53 franchised stores at one time. I won’t say the name of the store, because the guy that owned it was such a supreme jerk to me. It is now defunct, as the concept was overdone, and the founder died of a heart attack I think. Again, Karma! But the mall, in its infinitel wisdom, signed The Nature Company. Well, we all know what happend to The Nature Company concept.

    Then I also had a few jewelry concepts that went inline, but only for a very short time. At one point I had five kiosks: Elements (sterling silver) Decalage (french accessories and hand bags…total flop), Here and Now (fashion earrings and accessories), Exotic Ears (BIG fasion forward earrings and accessories), and Fintasia (sold tropical fish, aquariums, and supplies all from kiosks! and yes, I had aquariums of live fish on the sky walk!). I had so much fun! Elements and Exotic Ears went inline for a few months, with big frosted glass panels suspended from chrome. I still have the logo from Exotic Ears. Rouse finally doubled my rent and I just couldn’t keep up with the never-ending rent increases.

    Oh, I almost forget Puzzlebox. This store sold unique games and puzzles, toys, and the like. It had a really cool store design with these bronze metal waves radiating along the ceiling, and the bronze matched the sign. They also had stores in Madison I think. They left in the late 80’s but I think had their roots in a kiosk.

    I just have to add this note. The reason these kiosks-gone-inline looked so professional was because of the mall’s director of temp leasing, Jill. She worked like no one I’ve ever seen. She was an absolute driver…I mean, think Soup Nazi. But she pitched in and helped people with merchandising and design. She was a well-spring of creativity. I often wonder what happened to her. I really admired her work.

    These are the ones I can remember. If you ever get to Milwaukee, I can show you around the mall and point out where everything “used to be”.

  46. CoryTJ, I have more questions (I’m sorry!)

    1) What did “Exotic Ear”‘s logo look like?
    2) I know the owner of the nature store was a jerk, but what was the name of it, again?
    3) Were Joy and Diana related?
    4) Do you have any pictures of Grand Avenue before the early 2000s renovation?


  47. First of all, I LOVE questions about this mall. It is such a part of who I am today, and I know a LOT of the history, including the owners and franchisees of many of the stores.

    I will attempt to answer your questions the best I can (and I apologize in advance for always giving you “the story” leading up to the event. LOL):

    1. The Exotic Ears logo. There were these two blond identical twins working at one of the Kiosks called ETC. Valerie and Vanessa. Valerie Solberg was an art student, so I paid her to create the Exotic Ears logo. The logo consisted of a female face (which looked peculiarly like a very famous female pop icon, which I will vehemently deny. LOL.) and the words spelled out in a very clean font. I have the original sign from the kiosk and I can take a picture and post it so you get the idea of what it looked like. The neon sign for the short lived in line store, which was destroyed before I could save it, was a black metal rectangular frame with white back lit lettering that had a thin violet border to it. I wish I could describe it better, but the management company took a hammer to it the second I did not renew my lease. Assholes! And I could have cried because it was a VERY expensive sign and a lot of thought went into the detail.

    2. The Nature of Things. I don’t want to talk about it any further here. If you want the whole story, I’ll give it to you one-on-one someday.

    3. Joy and Diana were not related. They always got along professionally, but I later learned that they were not even friends. I didn’t post their last names here, since they were not part of the former mall management (which is public record if you dig enough.) Both were very talented women.

    4. Unfortunately, I do not have any such photos before the renovation. I wish I had taken some. But when you’re young you think that everything is frozen in time and will never, ever change.

    5. The Plankinton Arcade. The mall is divided into two halves, connected by a very attractive sky walk. The Plankinton Arcade refers to the eastern half of the mall where a statue of John Plankinton resides in a rotunda staircase that leads down to the mall office an a pair of bathrooms, etc. At one time there was even a Patricia Stevens Career College in the basement. It was hilarious watching these girls from the “finishing school” walking all over the mall in their suits from Chess King with huge shoulder pads, and their Mary Kay “painted hamburger bun cheeks” makeup.

    The Plankinton Arcade used to house Marc’s Big Boy which was so cool. It was a very retro looking mall entrance with field stone. The Plankinton Arcade also had the walkway to Gimbels, and later Marshall Field’s until they pulled out and KILLED the mall.

    The Plankinton Arcade still has the lanterns on the second level that used to adorn both sides of the mall. When the new owners renovated the mall, they took out the lanterns on the New Arcade side (why, I’ll never know), along with the Green Iron clock on the New Arcade side. The entire mall had an interlocking brown cobblestone to complete the look, and that was replaced by matte cream 16 by 16 tile throughout. Also taken from the New Arcade was a fox or bear (no one really knew which) on a tightrope that traveled back and forth holding two mugs of beer. It spanned the chasm by the elevator on the New Arcade Side (see Prange Ways photos of the elevator). It was part of the Speisgarten food court (like that of the Schlitz brewery), which is now generically called The Grand Cafe. How original.The dark green railings were painted sage green, and the whole mall got this hokey light yellow-green cast paint and a ton of icky graphics along the food court in bright pinks, etc. It is the equivalent of someone wearing a brown belt and black shoes. Honestly, it isn’t a bad look, but it just doesn’t fit! Oh, also taken away from the New Arcade side when the name changed to “Shops of Grand Avenue” (which never did catch on with the locals), was the blue brick fountain which looked much like the big blue Federeal buidling also attached via skywalk to the mall through Boston Store. The mall is kind of dead sounding without the noise from the fountain. The new owners also got rid of the very loud classical music that piped from one end of the mall to the other. I loved that. It was especially fitting when Steve Smith led his brigade of royalty for their morning inspection of the mall.

    6. I’m adding my own question and answer. What was the skywalk like?
    A: It was a mad bustle every day in the morning, noon time, and at 5 p.m. as people scurried to get to work, to get lunch, or to get home. The skywalk was FULL of kiosk vendors. There was a waiting list. It was like an open air market of it’s own, with some very unique concepts. There was even a florist kiosk with live flowers kept in coolers…Rosemeister…LOL. The skinny twink that worked there was right next to one of my places and would complain about how everyone would walk by and say, “Oooh, I’m the Rosemeister…meister-iffic” etc. like the Saturday Night Live skit…the “meister” thing was a catch phrase back then.

    Any other questions? Ask away.

  48. I was excited to see work being done on the exterior and interior of the former Body Shop in a very prominent place in Grand Avenue. But my enthusiasm subsided. They simply moved the Verizon Wireless Kiosk to the store after painting it BLACK. They also filled another former storefront a few months ago…the former Sterling Optical is not Lyrics by Leija. No offense to the folks at Lyrics, but who the hell is going to shop for poems in a mall? I always see the proprietor just sitting there in this huge empty store. It is sad that the mall would take advantage of someone like this, by not telling them to find another, viable concept if they wished to open a store. Speaking of which, someone opened a shop selling, get this, stinky generic sticks of incense. Yes, Scented Garden. All the makeshift signage and stores not filled with merchandise just speak volumes about the fact that these are individuals with no retail background being allowed to embark on their little ventures. It detracts from the mall and I would think this to be a turn-off to any national chain coming through the property. I am astounded that Ashkenazy has seemingly done NOTHING to attract anyone to this center. They just seem to sit back and watch the national chains leave, one by one.

  49. The Grand Avenue Mall has quickly become one of my “favorite malls”, thanks to the information you (CoryTJ) provided me. I have thought that GAM, although not beyond repair, is a dead mall. I think that simply by getting competent people in, renovating the mall again (turn the first floor back into retail again), and et cetera will stem the outflow of chain tenants and allow GAM to flourish again. The color scheme is pretty bland, and I have two questions which are really answered with one.

    1) Which skywalk were you referring to?
    2) What’s the layout of the mall? See, here’s the Google Maps area:,-87.911471&spn=0.004485,0.006824&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=43.038733,-87.911585&panoid=bhifWQrliF4_czC3WvNzrg

    You could trace the mall via the skylights. From the west, there are several buildings, and on of them might be the Boston Store (which may predate the mall), going east, there’s a skywalk over 2nd, then a larger building which appears to surround the Plankinton Arcade, then another skywalk (is this the one with the vendors?) over to the now-ASQ Center. Bizarrely, beyond THAT, there’s ANOTHER skywalk which goes over a canal area (top pic), which leads to YET ANOTHER skywalk which leads to a parking structure. So, I’m REALLY confused now.

  50. Jonah,

    Hi! That map tool is kind of neat, but you need to maneuver it a bit to make sure you’re facing the right way toward the mall and not the blue Federal Building. Anyway, let me try to describe the mall. For all intents ane purposes, The mall is split into two halves: The New Arcade and The Plankinton Arcade. Go with me on this. I’ll talk about the other skywalks at the end.

    The New Arcade spans from 4th street to 2nd street. On the corner of 4th and Wisconsin, you have the majestic Boston Store Department Store Building. It is six storied high and the front entrance is on Wisconsin avenue, and the back entrance is on Michigan Avenue. So it is the entire block deep, if that makes sense. That is the main anchor.

    In the old downtown, before the mall, you had a Woolworth Store on the bottom with offices above it, and it faced Wisconsin Avenue. It was obviously not an entire block deep. Then there were some stores along the front of Wisconsin Avenue, then a Walgreen’s with office above it, an old two story Kresge’s building that was totally converted to offices (they left the Kresge’s name in the cement, and from the looks of it this might have been a corporate regional office for the chain at one time), and at the end of the block on the corner you had 1st Bank. All of the store facades faced Wisconsin Avenue, but only Boston Store was the entire block deep.

    Here’s how they built the New Arcade portion when it became a mall. They bulldozed the stores in between Woolworths and Walgreens. In it’s place they put the original facade of the mall, smack dab in the middle of the block facing out onto Old World 3rd Street. As part of the facade, perpendicular to the street, they built a small glass florist in what looked like a sunroom on one side of the entrance. On the other side of the entrance they built a glass atrium style high end restaurant with valet parking. The restaurant went out after the first year due to car thefts, and Marc’s Big Boy moved from their location in the Plankinton Arcade to this spot. Today it is no longer glass, but rather a brick Applebee’s structure. Now, imagine that they ripped the backs off Woolworths and Walgreens and built a mall behind the entire lenth of the blocks from 4th street, east to 2nd Street.

    When you walked through the entrance where 3rd met Wisconsin, you had the center of the mall with a big blue fountian to match the big blue federal building acroos the street. Later, in the late 90’s, in back of the center of the New Arcade they built an adjoining Mariott Courtyard to accommodate the expected conference attendees from the new humongous Civic Center that was put up across the street. They attendees never came. And tenants that gave Grand Ave a second chance by coming back, soon shuttered. Anyway, the mall was a traditional corridor with shops on both sides of the hallway along this span, with the fountain being the center of this “X” confiuration. The original four tenants at the corners of the X were 1. Bailey,Banks, and Biddle 2. Footgear (very cool locally based shoe store with multiple locations in Milwaukee) 3. Michelle’s Baguette (Later Au Bon Pain, then Vie De France, and now locally-based and highly touted Wild Flour Bakery) 4. Brill’s (another locally owned chain of menswear stores that had multiple locations) The New Arcade was three levels of glass atrium, with shops on levels one and two, and a food court on the third level, originally called “Speissgarten”. The new arcade also housed a two level sit down restaurant, bar, and club called Apricot Annie’s. It wa between the Walgreen’s and Bank on the interior of the mall. It later was converted to stall spaces on the ground floor, and Brew City Beer Gear on the upper level. A bear on a tighrope, balancing two beers, traveled back and forth, on a uniycle in the Speisgarten, above the other levels and the fountain and could be seen from practically all points in this half of the mall. There was an iron verdigris clock (think Marshall Field’s style) outside the Bailey Banks and Biddle. And then there was the glass, light-bulb lined elevator and several escalators to get between the levels. There were lanterns on level two (see pics of Plankinto Arcade) of the entire mall. They exist only in the Plankinton Arcade now. I have no idea why. The entire New Arcade was lined with tiles in a zig zag pattern that resembled the cobblestones of the streets of Old Milwaukee.

    Then there is the Plankinton Building. This building had a lot of charm. It spanned the block from 2nd street, east to Water or 1st Street.The second entrance to the mall was the Plankinton Arcade and it had the same “X” pattern to it that the New Arcade did, with specialty shops on both sides. It was two levels. This side was one big office building at one time, which is several stories high. The mall occupied two of the levels. This side, being older, was different but blended together with the other side very well. They left/repaired the old terrazo floors throughout this side, and there was an escalator and an old style elevator at one end (west) of the Plankinton arcade to get between the two levels. the escalators were taken out in the new design when the lower level was converted to a Linens and Things. On the other (east) end there was an old style elevator and the grand staircase, which still exists today. When they converted the lower level to TJ Maxx, they simply put high plexi walls around the perimeter of the railing on the second floor. The plexi also sealed off the use of the Grand Staircase which is CRIMINAL! it is so regal looking with it’s victorian dark green wrought iron designs. TJ Maxx uses it to put maniquins on it! It looks RIDICULOUS!!! The escalators were moved to the back of the Plankinton Arcade and they moved The chocolate Factory (once a small restaurant on the first level) to the second level to accommodate Linens. So when you come up the escalators now you are right by the Chocolate Factory. The Rotunda in the middle of the Plankinton Arcade leads to the second fountain with a statue of John Plankinton. It still exists, and you can see it in PrangeWay’s photos. When Ashkenazy NY bought the mall, the turned the water to the fountain off. Bastards! At the base of the Rotunda staircase are a pair of restrooms, the mall offices, and what used to be The Patricia Steven’s Career College. The first original tenants in the “X” in the Plankinton side level one were: 1. Marc’s Big Boy (later Banana Republic…a cool prototype with “caves”), 2. Gloria Jean’s 3. Deliciously Different (wonderful gourmet cafe and specialty food items, which oddly somehow had two levels without going into the actual second level. Hard to explain.) 4. August Max. The original tenants in the “X” on level two were: 1. World Bizaar (later Accessory Lady, then Godiva) 2. Puzzlebox (later Garden Botanika) 3. Sock Stop (later Eddie Bauer) 4. Baby Gap. Also, Guaranty Bank had a really odd and totally cool old fashioned looking banking lobby that opened right into the mall. No doors! It had marble columns everywhere and carved victorian detail. Also, on the first level of the Plankinton Arcade there is Peddler Jim’s produce cart and it is still there. Again, it is only there because his wholesale warehouse, Tropic Banana, is downtown near the port.

    Now, take the New Arecade on the East end of the mall, and take a skywalk and connect it to the Plankinton Arcade on the West end of the mall and you hae the basic configuration. The Skywalk connected on the second level. If you wanted to cross halves of the mall on level one, you had to go outside and cross 2nd St. And you could, as there were door on each side of the mall on the first level.

    The Skywalk: this thing was cool in its original form. Along the ceiling it had these inverted “V”‘s which were lined with light bulbs. It was very “energetic” for lack of a better word. The skywalk had the cobblestone tiles. And the best part is that it was lined with kiosks and a florist shop with cooler, so it was a marketplace in and of itself. That’s where I sold my silver, jewelry, handbags, and tropical fish. There were also kiosks in the other parts of the mall, scattered, but this was like “kiosk central”.

    Now, I know you are saying to yourself, “Where the hell was this Gimbel’s Store?” Well, that’s where the second skywalk comes in Jonah! this skywalk connected to Gimbel’s on the second level. If you wanted to get to the other anchor, Gimbels, you could cross the street on level one , or you could cross the second skywalk. The second skywalk had a Gimbels deli and frozen yougurt counter as you exited the Plankinton Arcade, and a sit down restaurant cafe on the actual skywalk, complete with frosted glass panels and mauve decor. Then there was a parque walkway in front of the partitioned restaurant, and this led to Gimbels. When Batus bought Gimbels, they converted the store to a Marshall Field’s and then shuttered it and the mall NEVER FRIGGIN’ RECOVERED!!!!

    The Gimbels was cool. It had a bakery and deli and candy counter in the basement, as well as a toy store. The rest of the Gimbels was six floors of completel old fashioned department store. Clothes to Crystal to Furniture. Paired with the Boston Store’s six levels of retail, this is what made Grand Avenue, well, Grand. Boston Store also had the same format as Gimbels. Full Service everything! I also want to say here that if you look at the pics of the Grand Staircase in the Plankinton Arcade, they once had two lit forest green football shaped signs with the Gimbels logo; one hanging on each side of the staircase. Very cool signs. The dark hunter green matched all the green in the mall. The ORIGINAL green, not the ucky pastel crap. Marshall Field’s had the same football shaped signs.

    Later on, Boston store shrank their six levels, including the basement, down to four levels. They always had their corporate offices above. That is where I had that advertising job where I botched the Eva Gabor wig ad and caused local havoc! When Ashkenazy bought the mall, Boston Store almost left, but didn’t. The shrank their store again. This time to two levels. They converted the basement to parking, which created a larger first level since it wasn’t hollow. That is, looking down into the store. And this accomodated the merchandise from the upper floor that the sealed off.

    Now, Johah, I just know you’re going to ask me about yet another skywalk connecting the former Gimbels/Field’s to the bank. Yes, there is another skywalk that goes over the Milwaukee River and it connects to what used to be Marine Bank, but today is Banc 1. It is just a plain, gray carpet lined ugly thing. Nothing to mention really.

    Also, the Gimbels was converted to 1. Borders Booksellers in the front 2. ASQ offices in the back 3. A Marriott Regency Hotel in the middle.

    I should also mention that the 1st Bank on the corner of 2nd and Wisconsin is now converted to condos on top and retail space (vacant, of course) on the bottom.

    I wish they would convert the shops back to the original configuration in the Plankinton Arcade.. Linens and TJ Maxx really detract from the look of this once elegant and brilliant mall…in my opinion. If you have any more questions, ask away. Hell, come for a visit. I’ll be your personal tour guide.

  51. Grand Avenue Update…

    Store openings:

    1. Verizon (in the former Body Shop space).

    2. Scented Garden (in the former Picture Us space). This local shop sells stinky incense sticks and reeds sticking out of jars of oil. They are using generic signage left over from merchants past (they just cut their name off) to promote “2 for 1”, apparently on incense sticks. These people do not know what they are doing.

    3.Tomato Destination (in the food court, in former Murphy’s Pub space). Neat concept. A $4.99 salad. But the guy was mixing greens together in an undersized stainless steel bowl. Another local merchant that obviously has no experience. I can’t imagine this during a busy lunch rush. Well, perhaps he picked the right mall. It isn’t busy.

    Store Closings:

    1. Lyrics by Leija (big surprise)

    2. European Gifts (which finally gave up. Tad had been in the mall from its inception).

    3. Verizon Wireless. Yes, you understand correctly. It didn’t even make it for a full month!!! It opened, and closed. Ashkenazy pissed them off.

    4. Piercing Pagoda (this inline space was originally Earring Tree, then Piercing Pagoda since the mall’s inception).

    5. Door County Confectionary (also there since the mall’s inception).

    6. Linens -N- Things is now a whopping 30%-60% off. Whooopee. They are really drawing their closing out. Signs say: NO RETURNS or EXCHANGES.

    7. Faye’s Accessories (in the former Claire’s location)

    8. Lane Bryant is one of the stores targeted by corporate to close this year. This will leave the Plankinton Arcade side with: TJ Maxx, Guaranty Bank, Alteration Stop, Old Navy, Daly’s Pen shop, and Van’s Shoes and Potbelly’s accessible only from the outside of the mall.. A far cry from the fifty plus stores that used to grace the halls of the Plankinton Arcade.

    Ashkenazy’s big plan was to rejuvinate the mall with several kiosks that they purchased. They are all sitting in one of the many vacant stores, unused. This was there master plan that they shared with current merchants, while raising their rents. Ummm, can you say lame.

  52. The food court is going pretty well for now. But Q-doba is pulling out when their lease is done. The manager there said that they can’t wait to get out of the mall. Similarly, Arby’s is not doing a great business either.

    Overall, the mall is very lacklustre, and is continuing to lose steam. This is a shame because it has every demographic advantage known to retail. What other mall has:

    Condos on EVERY side of it, and on TOP of it.

    A YMCA on TOP of it.

    Several Hotels CONNECTED to it.

    A huge convention center RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET.

    A University to the west, just a FEW BLOCKS DOWN.

    Banks and offices CONNECTED to it VIA SKYWALKS.

    The Federal Building CONNECTED TO IT.

    A bus hub RIGHT IN FRONT of the mall.

    The 3rd largest natural history museum just TWO BLOCKS AWAY.

    The Milwaukee Art Museum at the END OF THE AVE.

    The public library TWO BLOCKS AWAY.

    The Riverside Theatre, The Bradley Center, US Cellular Theatre, The Performing Art Center, The Pabst Theatre, Old World Third Street, The Third and Fifth Wards, and The Milwaukee Public Market are all within WALKING DISTANCE.

    The bus station and Amtrack JUST A COUPLE BLOCKS OVER.

    The Casino and Brewer’s Stadium are also NEARBY.

    If you can’t make a go of it with these odds, you’re not trying very hard!

  53. CoryTJ: Van’s Shoes is relocating to West Allis in October and reducing their inventory now; you’re probably already aware of that, though.

    Like you, I’ve followed this mall (and patronized it) for some time; since 1983 in my case.

    What’s your opinion on the mall getting more TIF from the city, especially in relation to the Catalyst project on 4th and Wisconsin? The rumors I’m hearing are that the entire mall may be TIFed again. Perhaps Ashkenazy is trying to bring about a nearly vacant mall so they can ask for more funding from the city. It sounds bizarre, but I’m starting to wonder.

  54. CEW,
    Your guess is as good as mine. One thing that is paramount to any business is location, location, location. This mall has location. That is the uncanny thing about its demise.

    There are a couple of things it has going against it:

    It pisses people of to have to pay to shop at a mall. It was bad enough when you had to show a receipt with a minimum purchase for an hour of free parking, or a quarter for an hour. But now there are no stores in which to spend money. Furthermore, CPI insists on “photocopying” each and every friggin’ receipt, creating a long line, and further pissing everyone off.

    2. “Perceived” violence.
    Thank you TMJ 4 for your sensationalistic journalism that killed this once thriving mall!

    Did you notice that when they started this same shit with Mayfair, that all of a sudden the media coverage stopped right after an interview with Steve Smith? You can bet that Steve Smith had something to do with putting his foot down and squashing that bad press right away. Funny, Grand Avenue never had any of this negativity either when he was there. He instituted measures to require parental supervision during certain hours for 18 and under at Mayfair. Hmmm.

    3. No Stores.
    Sorry to say, Grand Avenue, you’ve had more than your fair share of chances. Renovations, funding, development all around and on top of you. Some stores even came back and couldn’t make it. How many times did H2O Plus re-open in Grand Avenue? 3 different times!!! Each several years apart.

    It’s like the proverbial question: which came first, the chicken or the egg. Or in this case the shopper or the stores. People won’t come to an empty mall. Stores won’t come where there are no shoppers. When Rouse managed the mall, it used its clout in the beginning to lure stores, because if they wanted space in one of their thriving malls, they had to take a Rouse dud along with it. But Rouse, too, got greedy when multi-year sweethart leases came up for renewal. I know first hand. Doubling my rent in a time when the mall was “not all that”. Get real. Look what happened to Randhurst Mall…another Rouse failure.

    Ashkenazy is equally as cocky as Rouse. I wrote them a letter after they raised rents on a business I used to patronize called “Taken 2 The Cleaners”. It was nice to drop off my drycleaning, shop for office supplies, treat myself to an overpriced coffee, and do my banking all in one destination. Ashkenazy basically said that Grand Avenue is a priemiere mall and that with new stores coming in, a rent increase was in order. The also told merchants that “They are not in business to lose money. They know what they are doing”. The great plan was to pepper the mall with kiosks to increase foot traffic. As a former business owner who grew inline stores from kiosks, I can tell you this is a ridiculous plan. Kiosks rely on foot traffic, they don’t create it! And they have been out of vogue for quite some time now.

    As far as your theory that they could be emptying out the mall in hopes of more funding? You could be right. But moreover, I think they are just making some bad business decisions. If they piss Bon Ton off enough, watch them pull their corporate headquarters out of downtown Milwaukee. Then they can sit with that empty barn until they can convert it to offices or find another sucker to buy it. This is one mall that cannot be turned inside out to form a lifestyle center.

    P.S. I’m sorry to hear about Van’s shoes. I didn’t know that. But I’m not surprised. They did everything they could to hang in there. I’m sure it didn’t help when the mall sealed off entry to their store and made it an isolated parcel in a dark corner BEHIND TJ Maxx, that could only be accessed by going outside and walking around the mall. Good grief!

  55. Thanks, CoryTJ. I can’t argue with your list of negatives. I do think crime in the mall and downtown is being exaggerated by the local media, probably for purposes of increasing viewers or readership. In almost twenty-five years I’ve only seen two fights in the mall, and both involved adults and not teenagers.

    I laughed out loud at your kiosk comment! (It shouldn’t really be funny because it’s actually sad.)

    On another note, a popular local site devoted to Milwaukee has the interesting rumor that Ashkenazy will be announcing a new tenant to replace Linens ‘n Things within the next month. This particular site has some credibility. They have, in the past, usually been right about such things. It should be interesting.

    What I wish Ashkenazy would do — and this is not my own idea though I wish it were — is turn the place into an outlet mall, and fill the place with stores like Nordstrom Rack or Saks Off 5th. Milwaukee has nothing like that, and the way Milwaukeeans love bargains, I think shoppers would pack the place; possibly even some suburban ones, too. Alas, Ashkenazy has already said that they don’t want to go that route.

  56. This mall needs new owernship and ‘fast’. I have to agree CoryTJ. With all those things in place…….access to attractions, housing around and WITHIN the mall, plenty of office spaces, hotel rooms, convention space….. The Grand Ave has MUCH more going for it today than it did when it opened in 1982, and they STILL can’t get this place back to its former glory.

    Would it be too farfetched to write this mall off as a dead horse?

    It’s a shame too. Maybe if they would have thrown a real anchor into that eastern end TEN years ago that would’ve take advantage of the mall’s skywalk access, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

  57. At this point, the mall is stuck with the weirdo floor plan. Regardless of who the tenants might be, we have two big box store spaces encased in plexi-glass. This set up is a merchandising nightmare! It’s like a giant plastic aquarium where passers-by are looking down onto the tops of dusty fixtures. It is too odd to describe accurately. Anyone who walks into the mall for the first time usually stops dead in their tracks as if to evaluate whether or not what is before them is a figment of their imagination.

    In addition, the former Marshall Field’s space is now a giant Borders and a hotel. Unfortunately we do not have a time machine that can turn this oddly segregated space back into an anchor. You’d have to visit to know what I mean. Unlike when a Barnes and Noble moves into a mall, this arrangement has such an odd configuration that the Borders doesn’t feel at all like part of the mall. You have to take all sorts of contorted turns to get there, and even then you get lost. The skywalk that connects to Borders is confusing and UGLY. It runs into dead end walls with no signage or markings. You have to find an elevator in this white hall that looks like it is straight out of Clockwork Orange, to get down to Borders.

    What they should do in my opinion is bulldoze the parking structures behind the mall that piss so many people off. Create a third and forth anchor space in each of these two locations, one on the New Arcade side, and one on the Plankinton Arcade side. Open the mall directly into these anchors. This would require some reworking.

    Get rid of the shops on the southern side of the New Arcade half of the mall, where the anchor would adjoin. Similarly, on the Plankinton side of the mall, get rid of one of the big box stores ( Linens will soon be gone anyway) and use that southern wall to connect to another major anchor. Re-create the northern wall in the Plankinton Arcade to house TJ Maxx. That is, shove TJ Maxx onto one entire “side” of the Plankinton Arcade, rather than on “half” of the Plankinton Arcade. This would mitigate the need for the plexiglass border upstairs. It would also get all fixtures out of the terrazo-floored hallway, and restore the building to it’s glory. Stores do not belong in hallways! It looks hokey!

    It would open the Grand staircase back up as a means to travel between the two floors. This misuse of the Grand staircase has annoyed me since the hideous design was put into place. It would also give the mall its hallway back. On the southern wall of the Plankinton Arcade on the quadrant where the new anchor doesn’t connect, re-establish this space for individual shops again since the framework is luckily still intact. This would require very little effort.

    This open air concept would create a much better traffic pattern, and mitigate the effects of the now barbell-shaped mall which has such a dichotomy with its incohesive two halves. TJ Max would serve as the mini anchor of the mall. The other two new anchors would balance the mall in the north-south direction, so that it looks more like a traditional mall.

    Parking could be reconfigured to go under the two new anchors, as was done with the Boston Store a few years ago. In addition, parking could be relegated to the tops of the anchors. The small former Gimbels parking structure could be leveled to create a much more efficient and larger parking space. Do away with the leased parking arrangement. I guess everyone has an idea.

  58. I think the most important thing to consider here is the fact that enclosed malls, as they were, are mostly a thing of the past. Think about the enclosed malls that have remained successful over the past decade or so. Most of them have reinvented through extensive remodeling, building an ‘outdoor’ wing, dramatically upscaling (or downscaling), or other very noticeable, radical things. Downtown Milwaukee doesn’t need any of this. Sure, there are more people living down there than there were before, but it’s probably still not enough to support a mall. When this mall was successful in the 1980s and early 1990s it was because malls in general were a “very big deal” – and the “If you build it, they will come” still hold true about malls in general. This is NOT the case anymore, and malls need a new gimmick. There aren’t even (m)any new enclosed malls being constructed, at least in this country. (Asia, Europe, and the rest of the world seem to be in a period of puppy-love fascination with malls, as we were from the 50s-80s…) But I digress. And from what you guys have been saying it sounds like management is pretty crappy too and really doesn’t know what they’re doing. Could be the case, but they have quite a bit of a challenge trying to present a downtown enclosed mall to people who don’t want it, and would prefer going up to the new Bayshore or over to Mayfair, the last two uber-successful malls in the Milwaukee area, with Southridge barely holding its own as a middle of the road offering.

  59. To be clear Prange Way, despite my concerns with Southridge, it has its own niche. It’s a suburban mall to the southsiders in Greendale and Greenfield, and these people will typically not venture to Mayfair or Bayshore. I would compare it to Hawthorne Center in Illinois. It’s regional. I didn’t mean to offer the impression that it is “just hanging on”. Simon just needs to spend some time developing the one anchor and updating the mall. Like you said, it needs a “hook” of sorts. If it is ignored, I could see things degrading quickly.

    Mayfair and Brookfield Square, the previous dogs, are now the city’s busiest and most developed centers. But they are very stylized, which I think will forever tie them to this decade. The neighborhoods are the saving graces for these centers. Bayshore is a novelty right now, but it has not been as well received as developers would have hoped. My concern with all this lifestyle center stuff is that we are in Wisconsin. Somewhere along the line, someone is going to say, “hey, my butt is getting chaffed in this Wisconsin cold”. And the condos above Bayshore are not filling up. It’s just an unusual space to live; not very attractive to the Milwaukean. I don’t think North America’s love affair with the outdoor mall is going to last. Isn’t that why we went to enclosed malls in the first place? Tenants in Bayshore are starting to complain already. This is not a good indication.

    About Grand Ave. I have to disagree with you on some points. I think that anything other than an enclosed center will not work downtown. I do agree with you though, that there must be something different about this particular center. I don’t think that people downtown don’t want an enclosed mall; rather, I think they don’t want the “local flavor” of the tenant mix that has been forced upon them. The stores don’t appeal to us. A wig shop? A hip hop clothing store? A pleather handbag joint? Get the picture. We are a tightass crowd here in downtown Milwaukee, and diversity is not cool with the locals. Walgreen’s, Office Maxx, and TJ Maxx are all stores that make sense to the urban shopper. They serve a utilitarian purpose. The concept was just not developed enough. A hybrid store like Wegman’s might offer the utility of a downtown grocery selection downtowners are looking for, along with the department store flair that is attractive. And it is my firm belief that this particular mall needs a knockout anchor. An exclusive. Our other malls, even the beloved Mayfair and Brookfield Square and Bayshore have the same damn anchors: Boston Store, JCPenney, Sears, and Kohl’s. Boring. The tenant mix in this mall needs to look a little different….something so strange that it differentiates itself from the competition. It will never be a Mayfair and it shouldn’t strive to be “the same”. Centers like that will be facing the same problems of trying to reinvent themselves in another decade or so. Grand Ave offers a unique perk: you can literally walk almost anywhere in downtown via the maze of skywalks. And the location can’t be beat….BUT….

    …… if you ask a local, they will tell you that the biggest gripe they have with Grand Avenue and downtown in general is the congested and limited parking…AND the COST. They don’t feel they should pay for parking. Our demographic is very conservative and frugal, as mentioned above. This needs to be addressed.

    Milwaukee has been very vocal about what they want downtown. Developers have just not listened very well.

  60. The scary thing about GAM is that Ashkenazy owns a mall in Texas called Rivercenter Mall. Although I haven’t been to it, I own a map, and have seen the exterior. Apparently, one of the main anchors, Dillard’s, is being kicked out so that the historic Joske’s could be “redeveloped” to its original state. Sadly, while normally I would cheer for a fine effort, but that leaves only one anchor (Macy’s, a former Foley’s) left and Ashkenazy’s abuse of GAM leaves the whole situation highly suspect.

  61. Jonah,

    Exactly my point. You cannot have a viable mall with only one anchor: Boston Store. And they reduced the store from six floors plus a basement, to just two floors. That’s a lot of compacting.

    This is one mall that has everything going for it in terms of location and potential foot traffic. With some effort, it could become a viable hot spot once again. It just needs to be reworked. I posted some ideas above. I really believe that with Linens gone, NOW would be the time to move TJ Maxx to one “side” of the Plankinton Arcade, instead of one “half ” of the Arcade. The the store would be fully contained under the soffits, and there would be no need to sprawl into the hallway. Add another anchor opening into each arcade and develop around them. With the right “utilitarian” tenant mix, this mall could work wonderfully.

  62. This biggest problem here is that it is a downtown mall. Nearly every suburban style mall built in an urban core has failed. St. Louis, New Orleans, Tampa, Rochester, Salt Lake City have all tried this concept and all have failed. Water Tower Place in Chicago and Circle City in Indy are about the only mall I know that are still doing well.

  63. Ritz Camera now packed up shop and left the mall. They were there since inception first as Brown’s Photography, then Black’s Photography, then Ritz Photography, then Wolf’s Photography, and finally back to Ritz.

    I also learned that Boston Store’s agreement to remain open in Grand Avenue terminates in 2010.

    Keppler’s lease on Brew City Bear Gear runs out at the end of 2008.

    Ashkenazy has got to really hustle if they are going to save this center!

    There are plans under way right now for the corner of 4th St. between Wisconsin and Michigan Avenues, and Ashkenazy did lease out the 211 W. Wisconsin mixed condo/retail space to two up-and-coming restaurant concepts apparently. There is talk of major revitalization. I just hope they set it into motion soon. The clock is ticking!

  64. The latest edition of Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express has a medium-length article on redeveloping Grand Avenue. The points made are all sound, but nothing especially new. However, the article does seem to confirm that they’re close to signing a new tenant for the soon-to-be-vacant Linens ‘n Things space. We can only hope.

    Here’s hoping also that the city and the mall’s management move heaven and earth to persuade (viz. TIF?) Bon-Ton to keep the Boston Store and their headquarters operations open when the lease expires in less than two years. If that department store closes, it’s the end of the mall, and a serious blow to downtown development in general.

    One thing that would help would be for the Barrett administration to use the power of eminent domain and force the owners of some of the vacant or underutilized buildings directly across from the mall on Wisconsin avenue to either improve (or lose) their properties. With the exception of the Hampton Inn and Suites in the old Security Bank building, most of the structures look downright seedy. Considering the avenue is Milwaukee’s main street, it’s almost shameful. Unfortunately, Barrett seems like too nice a guy to do anything so drastic. (I honestly feel that if Norquist were still mayor, he would have done this; he spoke about it in print more than once.)

  65. Let’s hope that the new tenant for Linen’s isn’t a Burlington Coat Factory. That would be inconsistent with Ashkenazy’s stance against this mall becoming an outlet mall.

    This is pure speculation and conjecture, but I have a hunch it will be something like BB & B or Cost Plus World Market. I would love it if it were a Great Indoors location. I would love it even more if they would just reconfigure that entire first level in the Plankinton Arcade and go vertically instead of horizontally with the stores -and- get everything out of the hallway. Damn that’s ugly; at least to me, anyway.

    CEW, a question for you. Does the article make it sound like they are planning on another anchor store as part of the new development on 4th street? They also spoke of a Target store south of the mall. I can only think they mean that it would occupy the parcel of land that the Gimbels Parking Structure/Irwin Credit Union is on. I don’t see this materializing, since there is a Target located on Chase Avenue, not too far from Grand Avenue.

  66. I agree; the refurbished Plankinton Arcade is ugly and rather demeaning. I’ve heard that T.J. Max and Linens ‘n Things insisted on the the plastic barriers on the second floor as a prerequisite to opening their first-floor stores when they were in lease negotiations. The good (?) thing is that it all looks so slapped together that it could probably be taken down pretty quickly. Then, too, the Plankinton building is on the National Register of Historic Places, which limits what can be done architecturally and/or structurally.

    If memory serves, some Chicago developers bought the parking lot immediately north of the mall, so that is a possibility in terms of expansion. Also, if the Ghazi/Catalyst project on 4th and Wisconsin falls through, I’m betting Ashkenazy will bid on that lot. They’ve already expressed interest in it.

    The last credible rumor I heard about Target was that they were focused on the Park East. But that rumor is at least a year old, so take it for what it is worth. I do believe that we’ll have a downtown Target long before a Kohl’s department store, which is kind of sad considering we’re essentially their home town.

    Von Maur is one higher end Midwestern department store that would like to expand into Wisconsin, but they’ll probably head to Bayshore (perhaps in the Sears space) or Brookfield Square, if they come here at all.

    I wish Milwaukee would get more aggressive — even just a little — with TIF money. When one considers that Indianapolis TIFed Circle Center to the tune of $150 million (in pre-1995 dollars!), Milwaukee’s efforts seem miniscule. The city doesn’t like to use TIF for retail projects, but the mall will never be profitable without better stores, and the only way to induce them to locate there is with TIF.

  67. Oops — my bad. I meant to say “the parking lot immediately SOUTH of the mall.”

  68. The sad thing is, I don’t see The Grand Avenue getting any credible national chains of any caliber. I say this because many merchants have tried to re-enter Grand Avenue, only to get burned AGAIN.

    Let me offer some examples: H20 Plus opened a beautiful store and left. Then a couple years later they reopened it, only to have it fail. No one shopped it until everything went to 75%- 90% off. Then they came back yet another time after a few hotels and the convention center opened, in hopes of promised increased traffic. They sent out postcards to former customers touting the re-opened store. The traffic did not materialize, and once again they liquidated.

    The Limited pulled the plug on its Limited, Victoria’s Secret, and its then-owned Lane Bryant concepts. In an attempt to have some presence at Grand Ave., they converted the huge big box Limited store to a Limited Express (later just Express) store. It failed.

    Murphy’s Pub closed and re-opened three seperate occasions over the years. Finally they gave up. Now its this new place, Tomato Destination, a local vendor. Sadly, it doesn’t look hopeful for our new Tomato loving proprietor.

    GAP pulled out when their 20 year lease expired. They had previously cut the cord early on Banana Republic and just paid their lease term after closing. Same with Gap Kids and Baby Gap. In 2005/2006 they returned with an Old Navy in the Plankinton Arcade, when the mall was reinvented with TJ Maxx and Linens. With that side of the mall virtually empty again, they are not doing well. Burned again.

    The fact of the matter is, Grand Avenue has a captive audience, but downtown employees just refuse to shop there. I can attest to this personally. It was frustrating as hell. While I was liquidating my last venture in Grand Avenue, which was inline for only two months after being in a kiosk for years, I had people stop in and say, “Ohmigod! You’re closing. I’m so sad, because I LOVE this store.” I’d reply with something like, “I’m flattered to hear that. Well, now you have the chance to pick up some items at 75% off or more”. I’d get, “I’ll think about it. I’ll stop by next week.” Hello, I’m not going to be here next week, I thought to myself. I talked to managers at national chains who were continually chastised by their district managers for not making sales figures. If they wanted to fire a manager, trust me, they transfered them to Grand Avenue where they were destined to fail. Then they would close the Grand Avenue location and not have to worry about placing a good employee at another location.

    So, at BEST, I think that…
    Instead of a Von Maur, Grand Ave. might get a Kohl’s
    Instead of a Crate & Barrel, Grand Ave. might get A Great Indoors or BB&B…
    Instead of a Target, Grand Ave. could hope for a Shopko
    …You get the idea. And this is only if miracles are being handed out.

    The most recent article to which you referred, CEW, noted that retail downtown was overbuilt ahead of its time…it preceded a housing boom downtown instead of following it. Can this change with all these new condos downtown? I really don’t know. But it will take something major to draw people to the mall since it has such a stigma of blandness. Most of the good ideas I’ve heard have come from other developers, not the owners fo the mall. Hmmmmm. That is not a good indication. I also thought the response from Ashkenazy’s Director of Marketing and Leasing was rather, well, “bubblegum”. The quote was something like, “We have really, really big plans for this space. We’re aware of the space that needs to be filled and we’re really, really excited about it.” My favorite was her cliche about not being able to announce the new tenant because “the ink isn’t dry yet.” I pictured that she was chewing gum or a Lemonhead candy while saying these things. I’d say that I’d have a better chance of painting the world a rainbow and catching a flying star to work, rather than seeing anything major happen at Grand Ave. anytime soon. What do you think?

  69. Oh, I agree that the Grand’s leasing manager is sugar-coating things (as is Marcoux). But then, they have to. It’s a part of their job. When she says that the “ink isn’t dry yet,” my first thought was, “but is the pen even out?”

    I think if the mall had a better general manager there would be a lot less tenant/mall management issues, which I do realize occur at every shopping center to some degree. The Grand’s seem to be worse than average, based on all the feedback I’ve heard from many different store managers. Though I don’t know much about Nan Schwartz, the previous manager under Rouse/NML, she was at least from Milwaukee and had some understanding of the retail market here. The Ashkenazy group doesn’t, in my opinion, seem to “get” Milwaukee or the Grand or downtown. They seem to be operating under the impression that it’s just like any other suburban mall except that it’s located downtown. I know that Ashkenazy’s upper management took a tour of Bayshore within the past year or so, to see why that center was able to lease space relatively easily and the Grand wasn’t. Ashkenazy could, of course, prove me wrong by changing their strategy — but they seem to be stubbornly sticking with it. Perhaps they don’t want the mall at all; perhaps it’s only the land they’re interested in developing. They “say” they have no intention of redeveloping the space into offices or housing.

    Future tenants? I’ll admit, things don’t look promising. I think Best Buy might be persuaded to locate there. Steve & Barry’s? Maybe at one time but now that they’re in Chapter 11, they’re out of contention. A couple of years ago there was an unsubstantiated rumor that an IHOP was going in the mall. That’s something I really wish had happened. There’s a dearth of breakfast options downtown, and has been since Le Peep closed a few years ago. It’s also something I hear many convention-goers remark on. (Yes, I know there’s George Webb, but most people would like something a little nicer.)

    I do know this: if the city keeps messing around with TIF on the order of $10 million or some similar amount, the only tenants they’ll attract will be on the order of DOTS or Fashion Bug. Call me crazy, call me foolish, but a city as large as MIlwaukee — we’re #22 in terms of population — deserves something better.

  70. As far as I see it, the middle-tier players like your DOTS, Catherines, Fashion Bug, and even our beloved Kohl’s are getting squeezed out. The retailers that are making an honest margin seem to be those at either end of the extreme: the upper eschelon like Nieman Marcus, or the bottom feeders like Walmart. I can’t think of a damn thing that is unique to Kohl’s. And don’t say Vera Wang bedding. If Vera Wang actually designed that stuff, then I’m Mary Queen of Scotts.

    Grand Avenue needs to decide what its identity is. It cannot continue to waffle on the fence (no pun with regard to your IHOP reference).
    I had to laugh out loud at your comment about the pen not even being out. I had the same thought. Your observation is correct: Ashkanazy is just not in touch with this market. Smith’s team really had a feel for what needed to happen downtown. George Watts alluded to Smith when he ran for public office.

    A few key stores AND the elimination of the parking fees would do the trick. That is, along with an extensive campaign promoting the new stores unique to Grand Ave. The wig shops and foolish array of local flavor need to go. Local stores are great if they are professionally run; like Goldi for example. I just have a feeling that the new tenant for Linens is going to be a huge disappointment. Any bets on what it will be? I say a Burlington Coat Factory, or even worse, an Anna’s Linens.

  71. Well, the mall is looking very dismal with Linens-N-Things, Ritz Camera, Piercing Pagoda, the Newstand, and now Van’s all gone.

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Shopko is looking at the lot across from Grand Avenue as the site of one of their new prototype 80,000 square foot formats, that look more like Kohl’s to me than the traditional Shopko’s of the past.

  72. Check out the online version of the Business Journal from last week for three medium-length articles about the Grand. (They’re viewable in their entirety even without being a paid subscriber.) The most interesting piece, in my mind, was the interview w/the Ashkenazy people on their plans for the mall. Basically they’re arguing that with the current downturn in retail, they’ve been stymied at redevelopment and bringing in new stores. True — so far as it goes. But — it doesn’t really absolve them of responsibility for keeping (or not keeping) their existing tenants.

    The Journal article on Shopko caught me by surprise. I hadn’t considered them as being at all interested in a downtown location. Not sure how well they would fit downtown, though any new retail is probably better than none.

    The Ghazi proposal sure seems less likely at this time. First they said there would be no office component. Then they said there would be. Then they said there would be no condo component (not surprising, given the housing market). Now they’re down to just the hotel and retail complex. Whatever they do, obtaining the financing will be difficult in the current environment. They deserve props for trying, though.

  73. i was very mag when i vistited that mall, i thiught milwaukee was much better than what it is. i live in chicago and i figured milwaukee would be like a smaller version of that. downtown milwaukee is a ghost town all day and their are no chain bussinesses like Mcdonalds, or stores. i am very upset and hope things get better at leat while im in college cause i definatly leave when im done.

  74. We visited this mall for the first time over Thanksgiving weekend, 2008. I was eager to see what it was like based on what I had read here. Even though we got some good buys at TJ Maxx and Boston Store, I was sad when I left. It reminded me SO MUCH of Park Plaza (Oshkosh) and Port Plaza (Green Bay) in their dying days. It was sad to see all the vacant stores. Just looking at the architecture and general configuration of the mall, it is clear that this was, at some point in time, an absolute treasure. It was also disappointing to see that Boston Store closed at 6:00PM (Saturday 11/30/08). Walking the mall with my family made it clear to me that I would never let my children alone at this mall if we lived in the Milwaukee area. Clearly the food court does a booming business with all of the downtown workers.

    The nicest part of the visit was taking the $1.00 jingle bus tour through downtown. We walked to the mall from our hotel so I cannot comment on the parking. Thank you.

  75. The Plankinton Arcade has a mere 4 stores left: TJ Maxx, Old Navy, Lane Bryant, and Daly’s Pen Shop. It also has a tailor, and one restaurant, The Chocolate Factory.

    Now the New Arcade is emptying out. The latest to leave: Carlton Cards, one of the original stores in the mall sine it’s inception. Occupancy in the New Arcade is now dipping below 50%, and the remaining stores are embarrassing wig shops, ethnic clothing (purple suits and mustard crocodile shoes), and an incense shop (stinky off brand bulk incense).

    Ashkenazy Acquisitions still continues to deny that the mall is dying. Where are these fabulous new tenants they promised. They don’t seem to have materialized. Oh, that’s right. They can’t say because “the ink isn’t dry yet”.

  76. Saw this on another bulletin board. Very interesting if true:

    “…I work in management at TSO Grand Ave, and the mall is close to announcing the retailer that will take over 12,000 sq ft of the old Linen’s and Things space. The street access was a huge seller to the retailer, who only has 2-3 major national competitors.

    The retailer will be announced after they have officially signed the lease. But they’ve already had representatives visit and plan the space…”

    Frankly, with the state of retail and commercial real estate in general, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ashkenazy group goes bankrupt, though I don’t know how well capitalized they actually are. At that point, I suppose the city might be forced to take ownership of the mall. That did, in fact, happen with City Center in Columbus.

  77. I really hope that something DOESN’T take over the Linens N Things, and that it is converted into in-line space.

    1. TJMaxx moves to another chunk of this in-line space, the mall is restored to its former glory (any “layers” covering up the decor?).

    2. More security is needed, and a new team of tenants need to come in. (In fact, the mall kind of reminds me of The Galleria, which used to have plenty of neat stores in it, more on that later).

    3. Borders should be moved to the mall, and with that, maybe a grocery store or discount store of some sort, and definitely some mixed-use, but not condos. Is there enough people downtown to make a magnet school?

    4. I’d also raze the parking garage and build some surface lots while adding parking to the rooftop.

    Well, that’s my plan…
    what’s yours, CoryTJ?

  78. For #3, Jonah, I think Shopko should consider opening their discount store inside of Grand Avenue Mall, instead of outside of it in a separate building. I think Shopko would be perfect for Grand Avenue, since Shopko is a well-known retailer in Wisconsin. Also, they should consider opening a branch of the local community college inside the mall, as well as a fitness center, like Curves or Gold’s Gym.

  79. I’ve spent about a half an hour reading this blog and have to leave. I will return later to read the rest. I can remember shopping with my parents at Grand Avenue for Christmas presents as a child. I remember going there to see Santa, stopping to eat at the PACKED food court, laughing at that tightrope bear on a bike. I also remember how clean the place was; the janitorial staff was constantly buffing the gold railings. I remember the businessmen getting their shoes shined. I remember walking through the Boston Store skywalk into the big blue building which seemed so mystical at night when all the workers left, then into the Hyatt. These are some great memories invoked by this blog!!

    The place still looks great, except it’s bare bones, a shell. Boston Store is keeping the place alive. Perhaps Greenstreet and UWM could help out with the planning. This is too good of a location to do this badly.

    Is the mall being helped or hurt by even allowing the ‘Thug Clothing Stores’ a spot? Is the tipped hat, marijuana-smelling, baggy-pant-sporting the clientele they wish to attract? The rent money from these two stores aren’t worth the negative perception created by their presence. Leisure suits and airbrushed Al Pacino shirts invoke visions of urban blight, payless shoes, and trash lined sidewalks. Their existence there is plain and simply alienating (to anyone with any sense of class and quality).

    This “urban” type of store keeps deep-pocketed clients like retired tourists or trust-funded hipsters out of the mall; the same people who might actually buy a pen from the pen store. The Grand Avenue needs to dump the bottom feeders, and follow it by having security kick out anyone with a tipped hat–like they used to do. Or are things so desperate that they need any money they can get (is this even a question)?

    I would like to thank CoryTJ for the excellent information and insight. He is definitely an excellent source of information and perspective that urban planners need. He should copy and paste his messages to those running the mall. He sounds like he could follow in the footsteps of Steve Smith. I think people like him provide some sort of hope for the mall, there’s still a community desire for upscale downtown shopping. He has seen the good, as well as the bad, and can definitely provide future developers the valuable historical perspective he’s providing the readers of this blog. Wow I have to leave now!!

  80. WOW, CoryTJ, your knowledge of the Grand Avenue Mall is simply amazing! I haven’t had a chance to read all of your posts, but I will be going back and reading them in detail to understand more of the history of this once classy and incredible mall.

    I was fortunate enough to have shopped at the Grand Ave. several times in the mid to late 80’s and was able to experience it in its heyday–I remember it as a beautiful and bustling mall. At that time it was by far the best mall in the Milwaukee area–Northridge was already starting its decline, Mayfair was old and dumpy, Bayshore was much smaller, and both Southridge and Broofield Square were quite a hike if you lived on the north or east sides of the Milwaukee metro area.

    I was in Milwaukee this past August and just walking past the mall along Wisconsin Avenue was immensely depressing. It was so sad to see this former place to “see and be seen” reduced to what appeared to be no more than a collection of bargain retailers. I couldn’t even bring myself to enter the building. Despite the failure of so many downtown malls, it would be wonderful if the owners and the city of Milwaukee could find a way to capitalize on the vitality of area where the mall is located.

  81. Old Navy is leaving the mall May 5th as reported in the journal sentinel.

  82. cew, I don’t think AAC is going bankrupt anytime soon, they did one of the biggest deals of last year with a $700m purchase of a Madison Avenue retail/office space. They appear to be well capitalized and stick with properties through the down cycle, I can’t remember them ever selling a property in recent times.

  83. Well, just what Grand Avenue needed…possibly the final nail in its coffin: a shooting outside the main mall entrance on 3rd and Wisconsin.

    The mall is currently in the worst position since the “renovation” (and I use the word loosely). The occupancy rate is horrific. Ashkenazy Acquisitions said upon Old Navy’s departure that they had a tenant lined up to take over the space. Of course, this did not come to fruition. They typically do not dump properties, but when are they going to pump some money into this dead center? Boston Store’s commitment to Grand Avenue is up January 1, 2010. Are they waiting for them to leave in hopes of filling the space with another anchor that is not represented anywhere else in the Milwaukee area?

    This is my only thought, since they’ve done absolutely nothing to fill space in the mall. I figured they would use their leverage with potential tenants to open a store in Grand Avenue as part of a package deal for a more desirable spot in some of Ashkenazy’s more lucrative centers.

    Does anyone have any new information on what’s happening with Grand Avenue?

  84. Biggie: It is true that Ashkenazy typically does not buy and dump properties, “typically” being the operative word there. They did, in fact, purchase one shopping center and unload it a couple of years later. It’s name escapes me at the moment, but it did happen.

    The problem with private corporations like this is that there’s no way to look at their balance sheet and see how much cash on hand they have and how much long-term debt. I certainly hope they’ve got deep pockets, because the commercial real estate market is more overleveraged than residential. Put another way, that means a lot of stores and shopping centers are going to go under in the next few years. A figure of 25% or so would not surprise me.

    CoryTJ: The only rumor I’ve heard lately, and it is just that, is that Dave & Buster’s was to be the new tenant taking over the Linens ‘n Things space. Obviously, that didn’t happen, though it’s somewhat credible since it seems to be easier to recruit restaurants for downtown than general merchandise retailers.

  85. The problem with Grand Avenue is that it just isn’t practical, nor does it serve the needs of its originally targeted consumer base. I think they need to reconfigure the mall and open up the Plankinton Arcade again by taking down the hideous plexiglass walls around the second floor. That would involve moving TJ Maxx to a new location so that the Grand Staircase could once again function.

    If Ashkenazy did such, they could also reopen the former Gimbel’s/Marshall Field’s Bridge Restaurant space as an internet cafe/FedExOffice location.

    They could relocate the parking structure across the street by tearing down the former Gimbels ramp (ridiculously small) and occupying the entire block for a much larger structure. The extra space created by relocating the current parking ramp could be used to add a second and third anchor, which the center desperately needs if it ever hopes to be viable again. The south wall of the Plankinton Arcade could serve as entrances to the new Anchors.

    One of the anchors could be a local popular grocery chain, Sendik’s, to serve the downtown population. This might create some much needed traffic for Grand Avenue. Edit out the produce department from Sendik’s and incorporate the current produce vendor (which is owned by Tropic Banana, a large produce wholesaler located just blocks away) expand and operate as a separate entity within the Sendik’s. The other anchor would be the relocated TJ Maxx.

    Also, in the New Arcade, Walgreen’s could be expanded, and the line of Footlocker and Foot Action stores could be relocated upstairs. Next to Walgreen’s current location, is the “retail stall area”, which is a remnant of a formerly successful kiosk program that has not worked in Grand Avenue since 1993. These could be removed and in their space and the adjacent vacant first floor of the newly renovated building (former bank building) could serve as a counter for the Post Office.

    With the larger, more effective parking structure to the south of the mall, the parking garages in the New Arcade could also be removed to provide room for another anchor store absent from the downtown: a discount retailer like Target. Stores currently located on the south wall of the new arcade could be relocated upstairs. This would effectively serve to fill the vacant space while providing businesses and services that would better serve the downtown clientele.

    Once a pattern of traffic is established, Ashkenazy could target specialty vendors not yet represented in current surrounding malls to take up space in Grand Avenue as part of a package lease program with more attractive Ashkenazy properties elsewhere in the country.

    Security a problem? You’ve got the police department located a few blocks from the mall. Put a satellite station in the currently vacant basement of the Grand Avenue in the Plankinton Arcade to establish a presence in the mall. (It formerly served as a location for Patricia Stevens Career College.) Trust me, thugs that have warrants will not want to patronize Grand Ave. Talk about built in mall security. Butter up Mayor McCheese (Barrett) to get this to happen. He loves to be in the spotlight.

    More than anything, these changes would instill a sense of activity and utility to the currently DEAD space.

  86. Great to see the place hanging on. My first entry into the Grand Avenue Mall was when it was not even closed in yet. Roof sections had just been installed, and it still resembled the back alley it once was. I worked there for 1 1/2 years on a bunch of stores, and other contracts to help with the mall facility itself.

    Rouse Development had been selling an urban renewal bill of goods to many city councils nationwide at that time. Grand Avenue was welcome work in a declining economy, and I scurried the back hallways and underground tunnels like a rat chasing cheese. It was my home away from home, and was an amusing place to work before and after it opened.

    The panes of glass in the main atrium skylights are strong enough to walk on. Standing out in the center of them and looking through my feet at the bustling shoppers below was quite an experience!

    It will be interesting to see how this mall holds up. With current declines taking place nationally, it appears that Grand Avenue is at least holding it’s own in some form or fashion. In my opinion, the suggestion that the MPD might occupy the former Patricia Stevens space is a good one. Shady characters seeking victims quickly tried to move into the mall as soon as it opened, and keeping it safe and crime free will always be an issue.

  87. Grand Avenue Updates:

    The Grand Avenue has apparently leased out the space that used to house the First Bank. The original facade and building was gutted to form a new office/condo mixed use building on the corner of Wisconsin and 2nd Streets. The tenant is interesting: Kaplan University.

    I was glad to see Kaplan coming into the center because many professionals, myself included, must take continuing education credits and classes for various professional designations. Kaplan will draw these potential consumers to the mall and generate some traffic. This is so convenient for me personally, because now I don’t have to travel out to Brookfield, New Berlin, or Wauwatosa to take my classes. The new Kaplan is right by my office downtown.

    Now having said that, I have to say I am baffled by Grand Avenue to this day. I have named it THE TEFLON MALL, because despite having all the advantages working for it, nothing sticks!!!!

    The new convention center was supposed to bolster traffic in the mall. When the beautiful new center opened, nothing happened. Then it was said that the center didn’t get convention bookings for lack of hotels downtown. So new hotels were built, two of which conveniently connect to the the mall. Still, nothing happened. The conventions came. The mall traffic didn’t. Then the mall added an OfficeMaxx that was supposed to draw revenue from downtown business needing their product offerings and services. On any given day you will find two people, maybe, in this huge store. You could bowl down any aisle and not hit anyone. The mall also houses the corporate offices for Bon Ton, which includes all the buyers. Still nothing happened. Then came TJ Maxx. Still nothing happened. The mall has coffee shops, two banks, an office supply store, a Walgreens for local downtown patrons, an anchor store, and condos right on top of the damn thing, parking garages, the YMCA and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Annex in the upper levels of the Plankinton building. And still nothing!!!! The mall is surrounding by fine dining like Capital Grille. Still nothing!!!! Festivals at the lakefront. Nope. Developments in the neighboring third and fifth wards. Nope. Nada. Nothing.

    The configuration of the mall HAS TO CHANGE. It is obsolete, as I’ve pointed out in past postings.

    The other update I have is news of the free one years rent and advertising package offered by Ashkenazy in its “Retail Therapy” contest. I’ve actually thought about entering the contest if I can find a concept that will allow me to form alliances with vendors willing to rotate stock on a revolving basis, and take merchandise back that doesn’t sell. Even with free rent, Grand Ave is a losing proposition. I speak from experience.

  88. OK…suppose if the basement became a police sub-station, the first floor was restored, and Shopko managed to get in the mall? And what if Gimbels was gutted again and Borders moved in?

    Would the mall still be kind of bad?

  89. Jonah,

    1. Borders already occupies part of the old Gimbels space. Were you thinking that Borders could be relocated in the mall, making the space available for another anchor?

    2. My personal opinion regarding Shopko is that it would not be a great fit for Grand Ave. From what I’ve observed, their merchandise mix is not creative like Target’s, their shelves are minimally stocked, and most importantly their prices are much higher than the big three discounters. In short, I can’t think of a damn thing Shopko offers. It’s merchandise assortment lacks such depth and scale that it would not serve the downtown population well.

    The mall could use:

    a. One of the big three discounters, with Target’s model being the best fit.

    b. another mid-tier retailer, other than Kohl’s because their product assortment goes head-to-head with Boston Store. JC Penney would be a nice compliment since they do some things like draperies and domestics far better than any mid-tier. They also offer their own private label hosewares and tabeltop, offering a nice replacement for the Linen’s and Things. And finally they have done much to revamp their offerings in clothing and other soft goods.

    c. The police satellite location in the basement.

    d. a grocery store to serve the growing population of condo dwellers downtown. Want to keep them downtown? Stop giving them reasons to venture out of the area.

    e. Move services like the Post Office, Time Warner, DMP EXPRESS Registration, and Payment Centers for Utilities to the mall. Again, it must serve its consumer base.

    3. If the other changes I mentioned previously took place, the mall could work. Like I said, it needs to be reconfigured with the downtown population in mind. The parking garages need to be leveled and relocated across the street to allow these changes to take place. The mall has long been misunderstood by its owners and has suffered.

  90. Yes. The Borders, in this plan, would be moved to a normal, accessible, in-line location.

    Target would move into the old Gimbels/Marshall Field’s. The parking garages would be razed for a third anchor (JCPenney).

  91. @Jonah Norason (Pseudo3D),

    Would the Target in your plan be a Greatland, an Urban format or a Super Target. If it’s the latter, you could solve the grocery store issue downtown.

  92. The downtown business improvement district recently hired a retail strategist/consultant in the hopes of eventually attracting some improved shopping. The first report released, while not focusing solely on the mall, does make some interesting points. One is that any tangible results will take time — five years or so (nothing new there). The other, more interestingly, is to steer away from targeting big-box retailers such as Best Buy, on the grounds that they’re a poor fit in an urban environment and offer nothing that can’t be found in the suburbs.

    To read more, go to the following URL and click on the retail stragegy link:

    CoryTJ: Your idea of putting a police substation in the mall is one of the most interesting I’ve read, and worthy of passing along to AAC.

  93. Does anyone remember Kitty Lockridge that was at Apricot Annie’s in the Grand Avenue Mall.

  94. @TLock, yes I do she is my aunt!!!!

  95. @buckosis & TLock,
    I worked under Kitty at Midway Management Group back in the mid 80’s. I was fresh out of college, and Kitty took me under her wing. She taught me the good, the bad, and the ugly of corporate america. She also showed me that being successful and happy in life has nothing to do with how much money you make. It’s about working hard and absolutely loving what you do. Jobs come and go, but you always remember the people that touched your life in a profound way. Kitty was an amazing human being.

    Many, many, many great memories of sheepshead parties, great food, good wine, tons of laughs, deep conversations about the meaning of life, and even a few middle of the night capers to retrieve the wooden indian statue.

    She is no longer with us, but I think of her often. I can still see her glowing smile and hear that girlish laugh of hers.

  96. CORYtj,

    Thanks for all of this awesome info. I was recently transferred to my company’s Grand Ave location and as a 29yr old whose mother would take me and my brother Christmas shopping (she’d buy what we picked out for our family members) once a year in the late 80s/ early 90s Ive been struggling with the sad state of the current version of this mall vs the one I fondly remember. I went their often as my uncle worked in the salon at Gimbel’s and than MF’s. I decided a few days ago to do some research about all the fuzzy spots (which their were plenty of) and stumbling across this thread has been more than I could ever hoped for.

    Thanks for that!

  97. Kaplan University’s facility, occupying a high-profile corner location in Grand Avenue really gives the space a lot of life. It gives the appearance of activity, and it has brought some traffic to the mall, as I had anticipated.

    I noticed that Panda Express re-opened it’s restaurant space in the food court on the third level.

    Perhaps Ashkenazy could build some momentum by leasing the large Linen’s and Things and Old Navy spaces, and by signing even just a few novel, solid, national chains.

    I’ve also noticed a trend: near the Grand Avenue in the third and fifth wards, stores are opening at street level, really proliferating those areas to support the condo dwellers. Most recently a Quality Candy/Buddy Squirrel opened a beautiful store on Water Street, just south of Grand Avenue. (Hopefully, this doesn’t signal them pulling out of Grand Avenue.) Similarly, the Public Market has new tenants and a fresh new look inside. National chains like Anthropologie, Design Within Reach, and Urban Outfitters have opened new stores downtown. And the local retailers have stepped up their game, opening beautiful boutiques like Cranston, and some high-end designer clothing stores. If ever Grand Ave had a chance to do something, it is now.

  98. CoryTJ: Did you by any chance send your suggestion of having a police substation in the Grand Avenue to the chief of police? Perhaps he’s been reading this narrative.

    The idea of having a career camp day school in the Plankinton arcade is interesting and deserves a look. But it’s going to be hard to refit that space; the arcade is a historic place and that limits (greatly) the type of renovations that can be done. Even if it does happen, it’s three to five years away, minimum.

    Shopping at Boston Store at the Grand Avenue tonight was something of a depressing experience. A lot of the higher-end menswear (e.g., Hilfiger) has been replaced with the cheaper house brand of clothes (RBM, or whatever Bon-Ton is calling it now). I do realize that Hilfiger signed an exclusive agreement with Macy’s, so this isn’t really Bon-Ton’s fault. But it does mean that the general level of merchandise continues to decline. And the store at the Grand no longer carries a great deal of basic things. For example, they carry no men’s umbrellas, and no overshoes, even in the winter. No pajamas. No robes. The clerk mentioned that for a short time around Christmas they will have pajamas and robes, but that customers constantly ask for them the rest of the year. Even though Bon-Ton is keeping jewelry departments at their other WI stores, characteristically, it’s being phased out permanently at the Grand.

    Maybe it would even be a good thing if Bon-Ton did close the downtown location, if it would mean that a FULL-service store (e.g., JCPenney) could take its place. And it might force Ashkenazy to finally get serious about the mall. Judging by the state of the place, they’re certainly not very engaged right now.

  99. CEW, I didn’t submit my suggestion regarding the police substation to the Chief of Police, but I did submit several ideas, including that one, to Ashkenazy. I have yet to even get a response via telephone or email, but it doesn’t surprise me. The apathy is just a reflection of Ashkenazy as a whole.

    If Boston Store left, it would signal complete defeat of the center, although I agree with your position in theory.

    Grand Avenue was once a barbell shaped mall. When they decided to truncate the flow of traffic by making the one end a Marriott Residence Inn and Borders Bookstore, in my opinion, did the mall a disservice. The TJ Maxx occupancy of the first floor looks aesthetically ridiculous, with the plexi glass “shield” around the perimeter of the upper floor, and the plexi wall sealing off the once regal Grand Staircase.

    At this point there is no turning back, but there is the opportunity to revitalize the mall with a complete design makeover. I’ve posited these ideas before, but I’ll reiterate so that people don’t have to scroll to find them:

    1. A police satellite substation in the basement.

    2. Move the mall offices to the second level of the
    Plankinton Arcade, occupying what are now vacant store fronts next to Chocolate Factory. This space is dead and forgotten

    3. Tear down both current parking structures that reside behind the mall. Move parking to the mega block across the street. (South of the mall).

    4. Update the Boston Store parking structure with a structural theme reminiscent of an era. The buildings in the area like the newly renovated bus/Amtrek terminal sport a post modern or art deco look. Tie everything together with the Grand Avenue for a more cohesive downtown. Signage and overall fit and finish could be key in a visual renaissance of the area.

    5. Tie in a supermarket with the Boston Store parking ramp renovation. There is the rest of the block next to the ramp between 4th and 5th streets.

    6. Make the above mentioned supermarket a multi-level structure with a theatre on top. Borrow the marquis and other period features from the defunct Grand Theatre across the street from the mall, and remove that old eyesore from existence. It looks very “Detroit Urban Decay” . This would provide the mall with a theatre which seems to serve other malls quite well (see Mayfair and Bayshore), but without being directly attached to the mall. This would serve to alleviate many of the problems associated with load teens in the center. Furthermore, with the building being located just east of the Hilton Hotel and across from the convention center, if orchestrated and marketed correctly, could convey an extension of sophistication that would carry over from those surrounding structures. Add vigilant security from the beginning! This means AT THE DOOR, VISUALLY PRESENT security.

    7. Move TJ Maxx where the parking structure used to be in back of the New Arcade. Make it two levels with an escalator. Make it a primarily glass structure like Kaplan Univesity’s new home on the corner of Wisconsin and Second (very attractive and it faces outward rather than inward).

    8. Fashion the TJ Maxx space to tie in with the look of Kaplan University and another space I’ll talk about below in 9. Accent the building with art deco/vintage uniform signage and decor. In a novel approach, make the retailer conform to the visual integrity and style of the structure, rather than the other way around. This cohesiveness could differentiate or fabulous downtown area. And if one retailer moves out and another takes it’s place, it won’t matter much to the integrity of the mall. Retailers become interchangeable, and an exiting retailer doesn’t strike the feeling of failure. The mall will look not like a hodge podge of crap vendors, but an upscale center regardless of how low brow the initial string of retailers may be.

    9. Create a sister building to the one mentioned in 8. CEW correctly identified, in my opinion, the limitations of the Plankinton Arcade. Rather than stumble over the historic limitations of this building, leverage them as an asset. Occupy this second structure with a JC Penny ( a perfect fit for a mall that is not ready to go upscale, and may never arrive at that point). If one of these two retailers tanks (and nothing is out of the question these days), another retailer like Crate and Barrel could move right in with little effort.

    10. WIth TJ Maxx reclocated, all stores spaces along the south side of the Plankinton building would be restructured to face outward. Give them a uniform facade with glass fonts and art deco adornments. The backs of the stores would open up into the Plankinton Arcade.

    11. Create a “street” for pedestrians facing the new JC Penny, complete with lamp posts, etc. But do not make it look like a tired, old copy of the “fake villages” seen elsewhere like Bayshore. Be unique. Glass. Art deco marquis. Wild oversized torchiere lighting. Arced overhangs. Coordination graphics. Stained glass accent panels.

    12. Duplicate the look on the New Arcade/TJ Maxx side .

    13. Expand Walgreens. Sine it already faces outward toward WI Avenue and the buildings next to it would obstruct the possibility of facing the Footlocker Kids, US Cellular, Fanfare, Lids and Foot Action stores outward, have walgreens expand to fill the space that is visually obstructed from the street. It would still maintain its street entrance that has a visual impact. Move the affected stores to

    14. In the Plankinton Arcade, take the storefront space facing Wisconsin Avenue and fill it 100% with restaurant venues that have entrances form the street, but that have glass backs and empty into the Plankinton Arcade.

    15. In conjunction with 14, create a “garden” inside the Plankinton Arcade. Install several large, high-impact, visually appealing tiled planters along the center of the arcade on both sides of the Rotunda Staircase/Fountain. This would be a good spot for specialty food vendors, confectionaries, and fruit markets (like the Peddler Jim’s that exists in the Plankinton Arcade now) to occupy.

    16. Then there is the issue of all the stores on the second level. Have them reconfigure their stores so that stock rooms were on the “side” of their stores, perhaps flanked by the “cash wrap stations” on the sales floor. This would allow for large windows to be installed in the back of each of these stores so that one could see through the stores and onto the newly created environment below, and the new anchor locations. The only exception to this plan would be those stores in the New Arcade second level above Walgreen’s, because they are obstructed by buildings on the outside. Great places for destinations like a salon or service business. This space has limited use.

    17. Then there is that dead space that used to house the Bridge Restaurant connecting the Plankinton Arcade with Gimbels on the second level. It is now all boarded up, drywalled, and painted white. It looks like a psych ward. This should be reopened and converted to house a Post Office counter, since they will be closing the post office counter downtown. This would generate some foot traffic and create some activity. It could also be paired up to house a FedEx Office.

    18. The mall also needs some noise now that they removed the fountain. I don’t care if they have to pipe in white noise. Anything is better than nothing. Start playing music in the mall again.

    19. Last: CHANGE THE NAME. Do NOT rename it to contain the words GRAND or AVENUE or any form or combination of those words.

  100. I’m posting this here, because there isn’t a spot for Milwaukee’s dead (closed) Northridge Mall. Northridge, which has been sitting empty like Rolling Acres for the past six years, was just purchased by Chinese Investors that plan on re-opening the mall with 200 new Chinese companies, representing brands not currently available in the U.S. It is supposed to be the first mall of its kind, and is expected to open in August, 2010. The stores will sell everything from clothing to high end furniture, according to local news sources. I hope it works. Now, if this investor is willing to pour all this money into a complete rehaul of Northridge, inside and out, including landscaping, why can’t Ashkenazy get its act together and bring back Grand Ave?

  101. @CoryTJ,

    I heard about that bit of news, I plan to visit the place once I hear of an opening time. Just to walk that mall again will get the old memory jogged, and should they get that place 100% leased, would make it a unique destination for this state.

    There are other Asian-themed malls in the U.S., but this will be the first here. Hopefully they pull it off. The mall needs some serious work I’m sure. The structure is still sound, but I’d imagine they’ll be doing needed renovations to get rid of junk (like mold) and just freshen up the place.

  102. @Jonah Norason,

    Adding to Cory’s answer below. The Plankinton Arcade was built in the twenties as a two story shopping arcade. It had skylights over the open two-story hallway. Offices were built above the building and eventually the building became an office retail condominium. By the time Rouse had decided they could connect the two department stores, this arcade was no longer drawing quality tenants.

    The rehab of the Plankinton helped keep costs down for Rouse’s 1982 project. Because Boston Store and Gimbels mostly did their own rehab work, staying separate from the project but connecting to it, the biggest expenses were the skywalks and the new arcade between the Plankinton and Boston Store.

    The western arcade of Grand Avenue echoed the design touches of the Plankinton, but was clearly more modern in design.

  103. Stores continue to leave Grand Avenue. The latest to add to the count: Arby’s, Famous Footwear, and National City Bank. All three of these businesses are located in the New Arcade (West side of the mall). The Plankinton Arcade (East side of the mall) is already emptied out, left with only: TJ Maxx, Lane Bryant, Guaranty Bank, Daly’s Pen Shop, Tailor Shop, Peddler Jim’s Fruit Stand, and The Chocolate Factory.

    So, it looks like the other half of the malls is now following suit. Famous Footwear took up a large space on the second floor, and was part of the “rejuvenation wave” that took place when the mall was supposed to be transformed by the addition of TJ Maxx and Linen’s-N-Things (now gone).

    An article surfaced last month in the Milwaukee Biz Journal that featured an interview with the mall’s manager promising a return of the mall to its glory days, but Ashkenazy Acquisitions has done such a pathetic job with leasing this property it is hard to take them seriously. This NY-based firm talked about huge sweeping changes since they bought the mall a few years ago, and nothing has happened except for another mass exodus of tenants that were part of the “last ditch effort” renovation of the mall back in 2005.

    Folks, I predict another Rolling Acres situation.

  104. @Matt from WI, that’s AWESOME!

    Prange Way ought to link that from the original post (as well as a brief update on the mall’s current condition).

  105. Ashkenazy is an absolute garbage manager of malls. For example, in Northland Center, they want to sell “naming rights” of the mall to a corporation! And in Rivercenter, it was anchored by a Dillard’s which occupied a relatively small space of the original Joske’s which occupied it. Ashkenazy forced out the Dillard’s for a project that would restore an older facade of the building with new shops and dining…but that is yet to happen.

  106. @Pseudo3D,

    Yeah I was rather excited when I found that too. Best part about it isn’t just the old ads for some of the local and national tenants within the mall, but a full-blown August 1982 directory / map. Way up in the comments a few folks were confused as to the layout of the mall and how all the skywalks connected it together. Well, there you go…..the article / insert section I found clears that up.

    It’s terrible what’s happened to that mall. Where’s the mall’s original general manager, or Steve Smith (whom succeeded him) when you need ’em?

    I found information and ads on other old Wisconsin malls in the meanwhile as well. Southgate / Point Loomis (opened mid 1950s), Brookfield Square (opened 1968), and articles and info on smaller malls that once occupied smaller towns around Milwaukee, including (but not limited to) Washington Mall (West Bend WI, opened 1979, developed/owned by Renaissance Group of Madison WI, leased by Livesey Commercial also of Madison) and County Faire Mall (Grafton WI, known better and for longer [circa 1982-2008], as Manchester Mlal)

    Another couple tidbits about Grand Avenue’s early years I found out.

    – The arcade, a Bally’s Great Escape, lasted but a year. This became a Petland store in late 1983-early 1984. The reason it only lasted a year:…….troubles with kids. Just shows, some things NEVER have changed. Just as now, you had delinquent kids back in those days as well. (I cite the incidents at other malls in the city in more recent years, Northridge and Mayfair specifically.)

    – Marc’s Big Boy jumped to space #6, Street Level, New Arcade, just off the 3rd St entrance to the mall. Their former space on the lower Plankinton Level became Gap’s then-new concept…..Banana Republic, in 1983.

    – Puzzlebox (a game / novelty store) and Square One (a gift store that skews higher-end than a Hallmark’s various knick-knacks and stuff) were both Madison WI-based stores, and both had locations at HIlldale in the 1980s. Square One would be open at Hilldale until as recently as 2003, prior to that mall’s complete makeover.

    – Milwaukee-based stores included:
    — Brills Menswear (Shuttered in 1989, switched to Baskin (Chicago-based clothier), but shut 2 years later.
    — Cast of Characters (became Toonville)
    — Discover Milwaukee
    — Hair Care Harmony (Milwaukee division of OH-based chain, had several locations throughout the metro area. All bought out by Regis Salons in 1997. Strip center locations became Cost Cutters or Mastercuts, mall salons became Regis)
    — Foto Fast (Photo processing, owned by Mike Crivello’s)
    — Lizzie B. (While I only found this location signed in this manner at Milwaukee’s Grand Ave, the store exterior looked just like the exterior of Forest Mall’s (my hometown mall) Marianne / Marianne Plus. Ironically, this location became Marianne in 1992…..and a Pluz store opened in the Plankinton building (1st level) in the mid 1980s.)

    That’s just scratching the surface. Lots of national names located at the mall as well, as can be told by the directory.

  107. @Matt from WI,
    I worked in the original First Wisconsin Nat’l Bank (later it became Firststar) just before it moved to the new 40 story building in the early 70’s. The original bank was beautiful inside. The bathrooms had gold handles on the faucets and we had a dining room that looked like a very nice restaurant with carpeting and atmosphere. We were given a tour of the new building before it was finished. We were taken all the way to the top with our hard hats on.

  108. @Jimmy Gimbels,
    I remember the old Gimbels so clearly. My sister worked in Tasty Town as a teen and I worked in the toy department right out of high school for a Christmas season. The bakery had the BEST cheese cake! The budget basement was my favorite place to buy nylons, 4 pair for a $1 when they had a sale. I have so many good memories of going to “Downtown Day” with my mother.

  109. Death Sprial Alert:

    Lane Bryant, National City Bank, and Time Square have now left the building.

    The Plankinton Arcade literally consists of:
    TJ Maxx, Chocolate Factory, Daly’s Pen Shop, Guaranty Bank, and One Stop Alterations. There is also a produce cart called Peddler Jim’s.

    The New Arcade boasts: Radio Shack, Walgreen’s, Foot Locker, Lady Footlocker, Footlocker Kids, Foot Action, Lids, Gold N’ Jewels, Game Stop, GNC, Wild Flour Bakery, Quality Candy, Blue Kiss Photo, Rainbow Fashions, Beauty Lux Nails, Lazor Jewelers, Trade Secret, Children’s Palace, Payless Shoes, Office Max,Village Imports, Tess’s Wig Shop, Boston Store, and Applebee’s.

    The food court is dwindling as Arby’s just left. It is rumored that Qdoba’s lease is coming up, and they want to leave.

    Ashkenazy continues to not deliver.

    This article was posted in the biz journal:

  110. Another one bites the dust! Today, Quality Candy shuttered it’s store that has been in the mall since inception.

    Now that the Plankinton Arcade is all but empty, the New Arcade is emptying out as well.

    I speculate more store closures will occur in the near future as leases come up for renewal in the coming weeks.

  111. The mall management at Grand Avenue is now turning the air conditioning on at 11 a.m. in the morning as a cost cutting measure, according to some of the tenants.

    with the glass ceiling in the place, it is hot in there in the morning.

    Quality Candy recently left. They were complaining that the chocolate was melting in the display cases. I wonder if that lead to their departure.

  112. Just take a gander at my linked directory. (I should really copy and crop that PDF down to just the mall map)

    Quality Candy / Buddy Squirrel has been at the Grand since its opening. To my mind, that’s a rather huge loss, but not surprising.

    What is up with management there? Really, management of a shopping center should be left to folks who are in it for the long haul, and see it as a possible ‘positive’ for the area, not to ‘holding companies’ (ie: banks, real estate investors, etc) who just collect rent / lease money.

    The Grand Ave. could be reformed to some of its former glory once again, if in the right hands.

    Where’s Steve Smith where you need ’em? He was head honcho at the Grand when I made my first visit in 1988.

    Oh that’s right, he’s at Mayfair. Whoops! You dropped the ball, Rouse.

    Really a shame what’s happening.

  113. @Matt from WI, * to just D’oh. Typo there.

  114. There are rumours circulating amongst the merchants that Ashkenazy is meeting with city of Milwaukee officials about closing the Grand Avenue Mall!

    I will keep you posted.

  115. I visited Ashkenazy Acquisitions website, and under press releases where there was previously a link labeled: Ashkenazy Acquires The Shops of Grand Avenue, it’s been replaced with a link that says Ashkenazy Acquires The Shops of Grand Central.

    How bizarre. So I clicked on the link.

    The link is the only one I could find on Ashkenazy’s press releas page that doesn’t work.

    HMMMM. What’s up with that?

  116. CoryTJ: Thanks for the update. The link you found on AAC’s website was active not too long ago. I remember clicking on it ‘cuz I was amused that they got the name of the mall wrong.

    Reading between the lines, and based on what little the AAC people will say about the mall, I think you’re at least partially correct. I think AAC is going to do what the marketplace has effectively done for them: shut down large parts of the mall, possibly reconfigure the space for some other use, and — maybe — retain some of the street level retail. Commercial real estate is not exactly in a strong place right now, and I think AAC is probably close to bankruptcy. So even if they wanted to do something with Grand Avenue — and they probably don’t at this point — they couldn’t. They don’t have the capital, and they’re not going to be able to raise any anytime soon.

    I’m more interested in what Bon-Ton might do with Boston Store in the mall now, because their agreement to keep the store open until 2010 is close to ending. Heard anything?

  117. CEW,

    I’ll know more tonight. I know someone who manages one of the few remaning large chain stores in the mall (not hard to guess which one). Yesterday he was told that the company “needed to talk to him”. It was supposed to be his last day there before being swapped with management from a different store. If Grand Ave closes, someone will be out of a job.

    While trying to find out if there was any buzz in print about the closing, I stumbled upon this link (it’s an interesting and quite UGLY rendering of what the latest renovation of Grand Ave was supposed to look like):

    As far as Bon-Ton is concerned, there has been no press release or any insider buzz that I’ve heard about. Their agreement does expire at the end of this year. But who knows what bribes changed hands to keep them there even that long.

  118. The Shops of Grand Avenue is now on Facebook.

    ***Visit them on Facebook and click on the Review tab***

    Add your comments. You’ll see my review there next to my ugly mug. lol.

  119. @CoryTJ, I just read your comment on Facebook, Cory, and that you were spot-on with your critique. I strolled through Shops of Grand Avenue last week, and my heart sank.

  120. @CoryTJ, Woops! I meant to say I THOUGHT you were spot-on.

  121. @Dave,

    I hope you added your own assessment of the mall to Grand Avenue’s facebook page. I hope MANY people will join that bandwagon. Ashkenazy has some balls posting a facebook page, and filling it with pictures that misleadingly make it look like a viable mall.

    It’s like they hired six people at a time to gather in the center court to have their picture taken. For example, look at the “employee appreciation” photos. Who are these people, and where do they work? They certainly don’t work in Grand Ave, and I seriously doubt they shop there.

  122. Three more down (or soon to be down): Trade Secret (as reported by the Journal) on the second floor level immediately east of Boston Store closed about a month ago. Torrence’s House of Threads, the urban menswear store on the second floor, is also closed. And Charcoal Gallery, a kiosk operator, has a sign up that they’re closing.

    Ironically, the food court people I’ve spoken with report reasonably good business for the past couple of months. Perhaps it’s conventioneers.

  123. Ha! The Shops of Grand Avenue didn’t like the review I wrote on their Facebook page, so they deleted the review area. (I was the only one that bothered to write one, so that tells you how many people shop at Grand Avenue.)

    I think they should start advertising the mall on Maybe it would drum up some business for, I don’t know, their wig shop, Walgreen’s, or one of the urban clothing stores left in the mall.

  124. @Dave,

    Finally Ashkenazy defaulted on part of their mortgage. Now perhaps Milwaukee can rid themselves of this Ahkenazy, ummm I mean Albatross, around its neck.

    I don’t forsee anyone coming to Grand Avenue’s rescue, in terms of making it a shopping destination. The new owner will most likely parcel it out for office space. Too bad.

    They should open up third street and face shops all the way around the outside, and de-mall the behmouth. The trend is to return downtown areas to their original concept wtih on-street parking, and successfully branded stores. The only problem is that they would now have to “go around” the Mariott Hotel that they built a few years ago in an effort to feed traffic into the center. It was a great idea, but wtih lack of hotels to serve the convention center, they just didn’t do it BIG enough. They could create a round about and central shopping corridor leading up to the hotel. And perhaps a sunken level with dining, much like NY’s Rockefeller center. just a thought.

    I still think a police station satellite location in the basement would be ideal. And a post office counter and DMV express would be smart additions to drive traffic. For the public to “buy in” to this center again, they must create traffic.

  125. Nothing you’re saying in your post makes any sense. TJ MAXX does very well in the mall and is not an “ignorant” use of space, but rather a clever one. The Plankinton building is on the register of historic places and thus can not be altered in many ways. The Grand Ave is off the Milwaukee river which divides the city N,S,E and W so not sure how you’re saying it’s closer to the West side when the river starts the East side. I’ve lived downtown Milwaukee 12 years and NEVER had a problem w/ safety although for some time I worked out at Mayfair which over the years had a sniper on it’s roof, a gun falling in the mall from an upper level, fist fights, guys snapping photos of women in unisex restooms and tons of kids rocking/tipping buses while on layovers. I was always scared waiting there, but never downtown. And as far as the comment on Bayshore being a dying mall, again….couldn’t be further from the truth. Figures indicate this is one of the most successful malls in the country right now. Not sure what “electonics” store you are looking for in a mall as Radio Shack is the only mall electronics store that probably exists anywhere. If you need a Best Buy there is one right down Port Washington Road. The “concept” of the Bayshore Towne Center (not mall) was to build on the old ideas of a downtown and a community center, thus they have the restaurant, theater, bowling and apartments/condos. Pretty much the only thing you got right was the comment about people complaining about not getting the close metered street parking spots while there are tons of spots in the free ramps that they’re scared to try and figure out. But, hell, that’s Milwaukee——slow to change…..

  126. @CoryTJ, and most of those former stores don’t exist anywhere anymore so not really fair to blame the mall….Auntie Anne’s was never in the mall—–there was once a Pretzelmaker franchise

  127. @Prange Way, I think you did a great job with the photos and a summary of the mall!

  128. Yet another interesting development in the saga of The Grand Avenue Mall…Bank of America has taken control of the mall from Ashkenazy.

    From the

    “For the short term, Grand Avenue will remain a half-empty mall under control of the Bank of America. A bank affiliate, which held the primary debt on Grand Avenue, took ownership of the mall from an affiliate of New York-based Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., which had operated the mall since 2005.

    It’s apparently a deed in lieu of foreclosure: Bank of America obtains the property, and the Ashkenazy affiliate that bought the mall five years ago is released from paying back its loan, which was in default.”

  129. More store closings include:
    Lady Footlocker
    Children’s Place
    Trade Secret
    Borders (closing next month)

    In the Old (Plankinton) Arcade only TJ Maxx, Guaranty Bank, One Stop Alterations, The Chocolate Factory and Daly’s Pen Shop remain. That’s five stores where 56 stores and one anchor used to be!

    The New Aracade is emptying out fast too, now.

    This mall is on Rolling Acres alert!

  130. @CoryTJ, I too am a Grand fanatic, I started hanging out there as a kid about 1984-on. I go to lunch at the food court and always pain my companion with my pointing out what each store USED to be! The one I can never figure out is a tiny store that still has what looks like jewelry counters in it with a metal gate ( a pull to the side one) between bentleys and laura ashley. I was pissed when they stripped the old H20 plus and other stores to make way for linens and things…. lots of stores left sineage, fixtures etc behind. I would have loved to score H20’s counters and cool glass wave shelving!!!!! not to mention their bubbling waterwall! Oh and the bear on the tight rope, WTF happened to him? His disappearance is a mystery. I seem to remember him as an A&W root beer bear and I think AW was also in the food court. I noticed they left the white tiled bar height counter area directly overlooking 3rd street in the food court.. however the new portion juts out at such an angle you cant see anything but sage green metal roofing! … and the high bar chairs have all disappeared! Im guessing there is some giant storage area with alot of these missing items I’d love to take a peek in. I saw they brought back the metal ice cream tables and haphazardly placed them around the mall. I believe people are wanting this mall to die in order to free it up for more real estate development (non retail that is). Ps. the railings were painted blue on the “new” side and green on the Plank side.. you can see through the chipped paint lol.. Also I seem to remember a Gumby store on the new side also.

  131. @MGM,

    I can solve some of the mysteries for you. The small store with the metal gate circa the Laura Ashley and Bentleys locations used to be Sunglass Hut. Sunglass Hut was moved over to the New Arcade, second floor, in the 90’s (into the space that was originally The Athlete’s Foot). When Sunglass Hut closed, that store became the new home for Trade Secret when it moved from the first floor of the Plankinton side.

    The store you remember as the Gumby Store was located on the New Arcade side, second foor. It was called Astors, and they carried novelties, stationery, wrapping paper, and nifty gifts.

    The bear on the tightrope was actually a fox. Many people don’t realize this. The fox had a monacle (eyeglass). Remember?

    There was never an A&W in the mall. There was an Arlo’s A & W across the street from the Grand Ave where the convention center is now.

    The original food court vendors were:
    Saz’s (now where Qdoba is)
    Chi Chi’s El Pronto (later Taco John’s, now Qdoba)
    Popeye’s Chicken (later Chickadilly Circus)
    Ollie’s Ovens
    Grecian Garden (still there)
    Hot Sam’s (later Jerry’s Subs, now Subway)
    Boardwalk Fries (now Panda Garden)
    One Potato Two (Recently Arby’s)
    Wong’s Wok (Now Cajun Grill)
    Rocky Rococo’s (expanded, still there)
    Betsey’s Brownies (then Turkey Gobbler, now part of Rocky Rococo)
    Murphy’s Bar (now Tomoato Destination)
    BoJangles (later Arby’s, now Culvers)
    Orange Julius (now Sakio Japan)
    Hagen Dasz (then Salad Lovers)
    Columbo’s Dacquiri Shack (now Villa Pizza)

    Downstairs corner that is now Wildflower Bakery used to originally be Michelle’s Baguette (then Au ban Pain, then Via de France).

    The New Arcade lanterns, the old green cast iron clock, the fox and tightrope, and several benches and chairs are stored in vacant stores. They still exist!

    Any other history questions regarding grand ave? Just ask.


  132. @CoryTJ,

    No questions, just more thorough history and question-answering for me. Thank you. 🙂 I had a recent dream (like, within the last few nights) about the Grand’s heydays of the 1980s.

    That mall had a lot of turnover between 1988 (when I went my first time) and 1992, circa the time Steve Smith (current manager of Mayfair Mall) ruled the roost…..really the mall’s twilight phase was in full swing during his reign, but he kept it going until the mid 1990s at least.. The first (and big) one was Brills Menswear (for you modern readers, think Jos. A Bank, but local-based). It was their relocation to downtown Milwaukee after having moving out to the suburban malls prior to the Grand’s opening. They were ultimately bought out by Baskin, but ultimately shut down entirely. The Grand’s location shut upon Baskin’s takeover. Their location became a larger location for a Grand Ave. charter tenant, Merry Go Round.

    Also, Cory, are you sure it was Au Bon Pain, before Vie De France? My memory vividly puts Vie de France before the more national Au Bon Pain in there. I VIVIDLY remember coming down that elevator from the Skywalk (New Arcade) level down to the Street level, and it was the first tenant I recall seeing vividly. I could be wrong, but who knows. That was back in October 1988 when i went to this mall. Vie de France had a location at Woodfield Mall as well, well into the 1990s long after the Grand’s location closed.

    The food court was originally called “The Speisegarten” (it’s German or Polish for some term….I forget), I do recall Daiquiri Shack…malls were able to serve alcohol back then….it’s a rarity nowadays.. Lots of smaller malls here in WI had Diamond Dave’s Taco Co. locations, which all served beer. Houlihans, The Bridge, and Apricot Anne’s also did alcohol serving. I can’t say for sure with Marc’s Big Boy.

    I still to this day, say it’s a shame what’s happened to the Grand. To my silly 9-yr old mind. that mall really was ‘grand’ in all aspects. Just a then-horrible location. Probably still today……no one outside of downtown wants TO go downtown.

  133. The second downturn is pretty significant and I was surprised, once I stumble upon this site, to find the article so severely out-of-date.

    I live 4 blocks to the north of Grand Avenue and I rarely ever even remember that it’s there… which has got to tell you something. The fact that the Borders, Linens ‘n’ Things and a handful of other stores closed their doors have greatly impacted the mall.

    I think the design of the mall is very interesting and somewhat like MC Escher’s “Crazy Stairs” (I know that’s not the actual name) and that’s mostly why I feel bad about its decline.

    I’ll have to remember to go down there from time to time since it’s so incredibly close and (briefly looking at the directory) I see that it still has a few stores that I feel might be worthwhile for me to visit.

  134. Hey CoryTJ!

    Dunno if you’re still around, but I have a question about the mall: what buildings were incorporated/demolished in the building of the center?

    It seems one building had a skylight added to it.

  135. @CoryTJ, Ollie’s Ovens was not an original location; it was only there for a few months in the mid ’90s.

  136. @RBarber,

    This is a long shot but would like to learn more of your thoughts of Kitty. I was her boyfriend at Purdue and just learned of her passing in April 2012. Found your comments after Google search. Thx …Mark

  137. Pseudo3D,

    I arrived in Milwaukee in 1986/87 to attend Marquette University. I can tell you virtually anything about the mall after that date, including past and present tenants, their locations in the mall, when stores opened and departed, and who owned them.

    Unfortunately, I was not in Milwaukee to see what “used to be” before the incarnation of the mall, which is now a mere corpse of what it used to be.

    By the way, the mall is in foreclosure, and is set to hit the auction block on October 22 in a Sheriff’s auction.

    If an investor steps forward, I hope they have the sense to tear it apart, and restore 3rd St. as a thoroughfare. The mall needs to, in essence, be turned inside out. Tremendous things are developing downtown on Milwaukee Street and in the Third and Fifth Wards. The city could be revitalized if would return to its original downtown urban format.

  138. @CoryTJ, Do you have any idea what happened to Edel’s Faces? This is the only thing I can find about the store, I know Edel was a model who started her own cosmetics line; thanks

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  140. @CoryTJ, I remember Arcadia . They had a lot of interesting things in that store. I think its where I bought my Arsenio Hall tshirt. Also, was Door County Confectionary the name of the Victorian looking candy store with the big claw foot tub filled with salt water taffy? Reading some of the store names brings a tear to the eye. Great Memories!

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