Opportunity and creativity along Howell
February 1, 2012
By Michael Timm
When most think of Bay View’s business district, Kinnickinnic Avenue comes to mind. But there are enclaves of small businesses and creative entrepreneurs peppered elsewhere, including along Howell Avenue in the blocks south of Lincoln Avenue.
Before the anticipated Alterra Bakery & Café changes the complexion of the Howell/Lincoln intersection, we took a look at the storefronts along Howell Avenue for a few blocks south of Lincoln to take inventory of what’s there now. We found a number of vacant storefronts, but also many used by businesses that might not be obvious to those traveling along Howell. You know Sky High Skateboard Shop and La Carcacha Auto Repair, for instance, but did you know Howell also hosts artist studio space, a marketing company, and a recording studio?
Most of Howell’s storefronts cluster around intersections that were streetcar stops from the late 19th through the early 20th century, when many of its structures were built. Howell Avenue feels quieter and more residential than Kinnickinnic, with a lower density of mixed-use storefronts, but these facades hide a creative nucleus that counterbalances the relative hustle and bustle of KK.
Starting from Lincoln Avenue and working south to Rosedale Avenue, here are some of the opportunities for new business on Howell.
The building that houses Abil’s Heating and Air Conditioning, 2315 S. Howell Ave., had a for-sale-by-owner sign on it in January. According to Abil’s owner, Guanajuato Mexican Restaurant recently looked at the property with a view toward a possible move from the corner, but nothing is in stone. The entire property, which includes the 1,564-square-foot storefront as well as two apartments above plus a cottage behind, was last assessed at $156,600. The parcel could prove enticing to developers eager to capitalize on the nearby Alterra, whose building and parking lot are under construction across the street.
Branko Radicevic, Jr., who owns the currently empty storefronts at 2365-67 S. Howell Ave., did not immediately return a call for comment. In January, one of the windows was boarded up. The property was last assessed at $72,300. There are two small storefronts in the building, one 428 square feet and the other 612.
On the east side of the street, Mary Buddenberg owns the mixed-use building at 2368-74 S. Howell Ave. with apartments above potential storefront space. Buddenberg, who lives at 2370, has no plans to market the 1,091-square-foot storefront space on the ground floor at 2374, which she said her son currently uses for storage.
The city assessor’s website lists 1,976 square feet of the first floor of the mixed-used building at the northeast corner of Howell Avenue and Smith Street as being used for storage, with a two-bedroom apartment above. The auto garage around the corner is part of the same parcel. A call for listed property owner Jerome J. Endries was not immediately returned.
Two doors south of the Citgo station at the southwest corner of Howell and Smith is another storefront opportunity. Although listed at the city assessor’s website as a residential duplex, the first floor of this property at 2417 S. Howell Ave., owned by Jaswant Singh, has the appearance of a storefront, with a façade of windows pushed up against the sidewalk. It once housed a cell phone business, U.S. Digital Services. Singh bought the property in July and fixed it up. He said he’s had 14 or 15 showings in the last three months but nobody’s wanted to move in because the storefront is small.
For about five years a colorful hand-painted sandwich board has advertised that RJ Dohr’s mixed-use property at 2559 S. Howell Ave. is for sale or lease. “I’m trying to sell it to anybody I can,” Dohr said. “So far I haven’t had any luck.”
He attributes this to the economy. Banks are still reluctant to lend to small businesses, he said. “Right now the biggest problem, I think, is money. Borrowing money for a business is about impossible.”
His building—the one with the leaded windows—was built as a Pabst roadhouse in 1895 and later had a handset bowling alley appended to it, Dohr said. It used to be the Rose Garden tavern. Dohr bought it out of foreclosure.
Although he’d prefer to sell the property, Dohr said he’s now talking to a potential tenant who wants to open a sports bar inside. On Jan. 12 Sly Fox, Sly Star LLC applied for a new Amusement Machine Premises, New Pool Table, and new Class “B” Tavern licenses for the property.
Dohr is asking $279,000 for the property, which was most recently assessed at $183,000. The first floor is over 4,000 square feet.
The Dave’s Carpet buildings at the southwest corner of Howell and Rosedale avenues were on the market for sale or lease about a year, according to agent Jan Kadow. Kadow said the property is now under a lease agreement signed in December 2011, but in January offered no further details about the tenant.
The property consists of five apartments and three office spaces. It was last assessed at $306,000. The city assessor’s website listed the most recent owner as GM Ponto #3 LLC, whose registered agent is Milwaukee resident Gregory M. Ponto.
Business & Creativity
Between Lincoln Avenue and Smith Street, several businesses have a fairly public and longstanding presence on Howell. Guanajuato Mexican Restaurant and AK Market perch at the southwestern corner of Lincoln and Howell, in the property owned by Jesse Singh. A bit further down the block from two multi-tenant apartment buildings and on the opposite side of the street, Peace of Mind Funeral & Cremation Services remains at 2366 S. Howell Ave., though it has also added a Forest Home Avenue location.
Justin Hernandez moved his business, PC Medic, to the storefront at 2369 S. Howell Ave. last July. For three years Hernandez ran his computer repair and IT service business out of his apartment—until he was displaced by its demolition to make way for Dwell Bay View at 2452 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. He said Howell is working fine for him so far. He has plans to offer bass guitar and drum lessons.
A new artist has moved into the brick building at the northwest corner of Howell and Smith, formerly Saffron Yoga Studio and before that Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery.
Artist, printmaker, and educator Jenie Gao is leasing the space for her personal studio but also plans workshops for the community. The first is a three-hour woodcut workshop Feb. 25.
“We’re trying to use the property to support artists and people who do businesses that are not necessarily money-generating business,” said Rina Yoon, who has owned the property with a partner for 10 years.
Gao, who knew Yoon as a fellow printmaker, moved to Milwaukee a year and a half ago. She started to set up her studio last October. For more information on Gao’s work as an artist or to learn more about upcoming workshops, go to sunnyapplesilk.com.
“I’m really interested in how this area’s going to evolve,” Gao said.
The Stone tavern, an old-time tap that offered a large array of craft beers at 2422 S. Howell Ave., had its large signage removed last year, which had some wondering if it had closed. However, in January a sign outside indicated drink specials. It remains open. Shawn Leet holds a tavern license for the property under the name Stepping Stone.
Kiln glass artist Michelle Andre has operated her workshop, StudioQ, for four years at 2469 S. Howell Ave. The space is working well for her, but she doesn’t use it for retail. She sees the Howell Avenue corridor as essentially static over that time. “It’s been fairly consistent,” she said. “I don’t keep my door open to Howell Avenue.”
Andre credited Lulu Café and Bar as an important “seed” in starting the development along KK now over a decade ago, and she said she’ll be curious to see what effect Alterra has—and how it might influence Howell. “It’s not really the thoroughfare KK is,” she said. “People don’t think of it as a business district.”
Tyyon Hagans’ Scooters Unique at 2473 S. Howell Ave. is currently closed except for appointments, but she plans to reopen at the end of March for walk-ins. Since she opened in October 2010, she’s appreciated the “super friendly” Howell business community. For example, she said, the guys at La Carcacha Auto Repair, 2484 S. Howell Ave., lent her a tool she needed.
Hagans is also pleased with how business is going. She sold out of scooters in 2011. She plans to remodel her store to make it more “boutiquish,” with a grand reopening in late spring.
One of the few businesses on Howell that does count on a retail storefront presence, Jennifer Litzau’s Bay View Bean Company opened just a few months ago at 2475 S. Howell Ave. She said she’s observed a steady increase in business. Bean Co. sells cat food and artisan crafts on consignment. “I absolutely live it here,” Litzau said, “and we’re looking forward to the future.”
In January, a sign on the door of 2479 S. Howell Ave. read “Ko Ku” and “Stanley Ryan Jones.” Stanley Ryan Jones is a Milwaukee photographer and artist. Ko Ku appears to be related to the business of Nickolas Nikolic, a Milwaukee creative photographer and photojournalist. Jones could not be reached and a call to Nikolic was not immediately returned.
Aaron Polansky’s Sky High Skateboard Shop at 2501 S. Howell Ave., just south of Clarence Street and across from La Carcacha Auto Repair, is one of the most visible businesses along Howell Avenue. Polansky bought the building in 2004 and lives upstairs.
In 2010 Polansky teamed up with artist Faythe Levine, who formerly owned Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery and now curates the Sky High Gallery in the back of the store. For the first months of this year, the gallery will become a rec room as Levine focuses on a documentary project, according to the Sky High Gallery blog.
Since 2011 Levine and Polansky have sponsored a temporary mural project that features the work of different local artists on the exterior wall of Sky High facing Howell Avenue.
Shane Hochstetler likes the low profile of his unassuming Howell Avenue storefront, which contains his recording studio, Howl Street Studios.
Hochstetler, who played in the band Call Me Lightning, met the property owner Trevor Sadler when Sadler was mastering some of Hochstetler’s records. The Howl Street Studios space was formerly occupied by the recording studio Bionic. Hochstetler has been on Howell four and a half years.
Hochstetler said he works constantly and is booked months in advance. His location has the advantages of being on a bus line in a neighborhood with a lot of bands, he said, close enough to the action on KK but far enough to feel “chill.” “For me,” Hochstetler said, “it’s perfect.”
Kevin Bestul has owned and operated EDI Marketing, 2510 S. Howell Ave., for 10 years. EDI specializes in business-to-business marketing and promotional merchandise—like pens, watches, and apparel—personalized with commercial logos.
Bestul’s offices are across Homer Street from St. Augustine Catholic Church, but he and his crew spend the majority of their time out on sales calls. “We poured a lot of money into my building, redid the façade,” he said. “I think people have been pouring more money into their properties.”
Bestul said it’s great that Alterra is coming and said losing the Bay View Schwartz Bookstore was a shame. “Alterra is not going to affect me one way or another but I’m hoping retailers will reap benefits,” he said.
Kim Thomas lives in and operates her online business out of 2563 S. Howell Ave., property owned by Alvin J. Endries. Since February 2011 she’s been sewing tote bags, diaper bags, coin purses, and quilts on the third floor. Thomas sells these products and her custom vintage sewing patterns at madkdesigns.etsy.com.
In the late 1990s Thomas used to operate Kim’s Sewing Creations out of a different Howell Avenue storefront. That didn’t work out, but sewing has been her passion since she was 11 years old. Thomas also works full-time as an industrial sewer for the Comfort Company in New Berlin, where she makes cushions for wheelchairs.
A cluster of businesses round out the survey near Howell’s intersection with Russell Avenue. Bay Tex, Inc. is a longtime screen printer at 2657 S. Howell Ave. Tiny Tykes Puppies opened in 2010 at 2661 S. Howell Ave. Suminski Community Development LLC owns building next door, 2663-65 S. Howell Ave. Across the street is Bay View Service, 2642 S. Howell Ave. Jim Baker’s Bay View Printing Company has remained a stalwart business bastion at 2702 S. Howell Ave. for decades.
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