Bay View in Transition, Part Two

December 30, 2017

By Sheila Julson

In part one of our series, “Bay View In Transition,” the Compass contacted several business owners who have operated in Bay View under the same proprietorship or by the same family for 20 years. The goal was to discover their take on how the neighborhood and the business climate has changed, how they’re acclimating to a new Bay View, and what they hope to see in the future.

Becky Peelen —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Becky Peelen, of Becky’s Custom Sewing & Design Shoppe, 2910 S. Delaware Ave., opened on its quaint street in December 1989 at a time when there were many empty storefronts on her street.

She offers custom-sewn clothing made from a customer’s design or pattern.

Peelen has seen a rent increase, but she said it is not because her landlord is taking advantage of Bay View’s boom and trendiness. “Our rent has increased, as we have expanded the shop,” she said, noting that due to a growth in business, she expanded her shop into the adjoining space when it became available.

Peelen said that few people sew today, so having a niche skill — sewing and alterations — has kept business steady. “The business climate for custom-made formal and wedding clothing has always been good and continues to be,” she said. “When the economy is slow, people get things remade or altered. When times are good, people have new clothes made. The demand for accessories and costuming has increased steadily over time.”

It also helps that what little competition she had in the area has vanished. “Since Hans Billerbeck retired and closed his shop after 45 years on KK Avenue, men’s clothing has become more of a demand,” she said.

The greatest change she’s observed in the neighborhood has come about gradually since the completion of the Lake Parkway (I-794). “All of the traffic that used to clog up Superior, Shore Drive, and Lake Drive is now west of Kinnickinnic and Delaware, and the area closer to the lake has become much quieter,” she said. “People are building skylights and gazebos and redecorating their properties. Young couples are especially attracted to these homes, and I’ve met and worked for many of the creative people who are doing interesting and lovely projects.”

Peelen said she has always had a diverse customer base. To appeal to new and younger customers, she has made changes that many other small businesses have made, such as providing wifi access and internet credit-card processing. Brides used to arrive with notebooks and magazines in hand; now they bring their phones to access sites like Etsy and Instagram.

Peelen believes that the old mercantile buildings, such as the one that houses her business, will prevail. “From my little corner of the world, I see a strong tradition of preservation and respect for Bay View. I don’t think that’s changing. It means a great deal to me,” she said. “Bay View is a good place to do business and make friends. The people I meet are honest, hardworking, and creative. I have never entertained the idea of setting up shop anywhere else.”

Dick Knepper —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Knepper Brothers auto repair, 2892 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., has been in business since 1952, said Richard Knepper, who started the business with his brother Herbert Knepper.

Dick Knepper lived in Bay View from 1960 to 1971 and moved back in 1988. He retired from the business in 1999, and today his son Andrew Knepper operates the shop. The shop offers auto maintenance and repair services, and tire sales.

Knepper purchased the land and building in the early 1960s. He said taxes and the property value have increased over the last decade. When he first started the business, the neighborhood had many service stations and corner bars. “Back then, there were corner bars where you could have a beer and meet your neighbors, but TV did away with a lot of that,” he observed.

For many years, Knepper Brothers had gas pumps and a convenience store before the business transitioned to an auto repair shop. Knepper still sees a demand for his family’s services, but with Bay View’s now-younger and more affluent demographic, it has changed to services of a more technical nature, due to the way vehicles have evolved over the past 65 years.

“People are bringing in newer, more expensive cars for service. People with modest means, the older generation, and retirees are being squeezed out as a result of the Bay View real estate boom, the higher property values,
and the resulting higher property taxes,” he said.

To stay competitive, invoicing and recordkeeping were converted from hard copy to digital.

“The things that have contributed to our success are our ability to communicate with our customers, being honest, and doing a good job of servicing and repairing vehicles,” he said.

Knepper acknowledged that nobody can predict the future, but he thinks that the gasoline-powered vehicle will begin to be phased out. “Gasoline is too inefficient and is contributing to global warming. New types of fuel will be developed and more sophisticated ways to power vehicles will emerge. As a result, gas stations will begin to disappear.”

Knepper is optimistic that in 20 years, Kinnickinnic Avenue will not look too much different than it does today, with its mix of modern apartments and older, vintage architecture. “Bay View is now, and always will be, a study in contrasts with buildings of every era standing side by side,” he said. “This mix of styles reflects the fact that decade after decade, Bay View has always been a desirable place to live and work. Some buildings are survivors and some aren’t. Those that aren’t are often replaced with buildings in the style of the present day, whether that be 1920 or 2020.”

As for a KK Business Association, Knepper believes a group with a mission to support and help all small businesses would be beneficial; however, the organization would need a core group of creative, committed participants who have sufficient time and are willing to expend the energy to bring their ideas to fruition. He attributed the demise of the Bay View Business Association to the attrition of the older business owners, along with the lack of participation among the younger people, who were busy opening and operating their fledgling businesses in up-and-coming Bay View.

“My family and I have been fortunate to have the privilege of operating our business in Bay View for over 65 years,” he concluded. “I really believe that Bay View has the finest people in the city of Milwaukee, and it’s the very best place to live and work.”

Phil DeMarinis with his daughters Lucia DeMarinis (left) and Anna-Maria DeMarinis. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Many longtime and newer Bay View residents have likely enjoyed a pizza at Dom & Phil DeMarinis Original Recipes, 1211 E. Conway St. DeMarinis dates back to the early 1950s, when Phil DeMarinis’ parents, Lucille and Vincenzo “Jimmy” DeMarinis opened their pizzeria on the corner of Wentworth and Potter avenues. The family also operated a supper club-style restaurant on Kinnickinnic Avenue (now Lee’s Luxury Lounge). Dom & Phil DeMarinis’ Original Recipes is a casual, family-friendly restaurant serving pizza, pasta dishes, and sandwiches. Fridays feature a fish fry and live music.

Today, Philip DeMarinis owns his restaurant with his daughters, Lucia DeMarinis and Anna-Maria DeMarinis. He and his brother, the late Dominic DeMarinis, established their restaurant in 1995. “Back then, there were few restaurants,” Phil said. “Businesses were more family owned and operated. Now they are group collaborations, from my knowledge. But our product has never changed, nor will it.” One change they have made in recent years, however, is the delivery service Postmates in order to keep up with the high demand.

Phil praised his dedicated employees such as Allan Posselt, who has worked for the family for 53 years, as well as a consistent product and a dedicated customer base for DeMarinis’ longevity. The addition of live music, an outdoor patio, a website, a Facebook page, and specials during the week were other changes they made to appeal to today’s Bay View demographic.

Changes to Bay View have brought more businesses, and with that less parking and more crime on KK, Phil noted.

“We were targeted businesses for the area from the early 1950s to the present time,” Phil said. “At times, we feel that our corner has been forgotten, but then our loyal customers remind us we are appreciated. Thank you to all of them.”

Branko Radicevic, Jr. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Three Brothers Restaurant, 2414 S. St. Clair St., has a reputation in Bay View and throughout Milwaukee as a go-to establishment for the enjoyment of Serbian food. The Radicevic family has operated the restaurant since 1953 when it was opened by Milun Radicevic. Later his son, Branko Radicevic, Sr. and his wife Patricia took over the business. Since her husband’s death, Patricia and her children Milunka Radicevic and Branko Radicevic, Jr. run the business.

Milunka said the taxes have gone up over the years on their historic building with its ornate Schlitz globe, but it has not been drastic. She grew up in Bay View. “Bay View has always been a community that has brought families here,” she said. “With the new families and popularity and interest in Bay View, we have welcomed this addition.”

She said that not only Bay View, but also Milwaukee and Wisconsin have always honored tradition, community, and family. The Radicevics are grateful for the support and encouragement they have received by those who appreciate their restaurant for those reasons.

“Bay View’s demographic has always been about family, and I don’t think that has changed,” Milunka said. “The familiarity and essence is still alive. As families grow and move on, new families move in. The dynamics are still the same.”

Three Brothers’ food and hospitality hasn’t changed during its 63 years, Milunka expressed. She loves the beautiful architecture of the city and hopes the older buildings survive and thrive. “But in life, things evolve, so I expect there will be changes,” she said.

The family is grateful to be part of a community that values family, traditions, and that extends itself to everyone. “Bay View is a jewel. I’m thrilled to be part of it,” she said.

Mark Nelson —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Nelson Tax Accounting, 2581 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., has been providing tax preparation, accounting, and payroll services since 1980. The business is owned and operated by Mark Nelson, Sr. and his wife Cathy Nelson. Mark Nelson, Jr. also works for the family business.

The Nelsons own the building, a charming Victorian home on a hill. Nelson, Jr. said that they haven’t really noticed a significant increase in property taxes since the Bay View Renaissance began around 2004. “The area wasn’t nearly as developed (then) as it is now,” he said. “We’ve certainly grown over the years, but the change in demand is probably attributable to the development in the area, as well as changes in the industry.”

Although he observed that Bay View’s demographic is getting younger, the Nelsons haven’t made any significant changes as to how they do business to accommodate a new generation of Bay View residents. Honesty and customer service are still the way to go while operating any local business. “We strive to provide exceptional customer service and provide our clients with service they know they can trust,” he said.

Nelson, Jr. said more apartment complexes will be constructed on Kinnickinnic Avenue over the coming decades, but some of the old mercantile buildings will probably survive.

George Schalk —Photo Jennifer Kresse

According to George Schalk, who has owned Frank’s Modern Barber Shop, 3459 S. Kinnickinnic, since 1971, nothing much has changed on south end of Bay View where he’s located. Nor has much changed with his business, except the taxes. He owns his building, and he remarked that his taxes have gone up considerably since 2004.

The stretch of Kinnickinnic, where Schalk’s barbershop is located, is more residential than the commerce-heavy stretch between Bay Street and Oklahoma Avenue. He said the business climate was good when he first opened, and it’s still good now. He hasn’t noticed much of a change in demand for his services, nor has he changed his business to suit a changing Bay View demographic.

“I like the old look, and my clients do, too,” he said. He attributes good service and the fair treatment of his customers as essential to longevity. “I want my business to stay as it is as long as I’m running it. I don’t want anyone changing the way I do business. It’s worked fine for years.”

Bay View’s demographic and buildings will likely keep changing, Schalk believes, but he will just keep on doing what’s he’s doing, providing barbering services for a dedicated customer base. “Buildings have been updated and people seem to think Bay View is special. It will probably keep changing, and some old buildings will survive,” he said. “I’m not really concerned with what new people do.”

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Comments

One Comment on "Bay View in Transition, Part Two"

  1. Max on Mon, 8th Jan 2018 1:09 am 

    Where is Bell Ambulance? They’ve been in Bayview since the early 80’s and employ a lot of people. I think we often forget about them.

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