Bay View In Transition

December 2, 2017

By Sheila Julson

Longtime business owners reflect on a changing community

Many long-time Bay View residents might remember businesses that dotted the neighborhood from the mid-century through the 1990s, such as Avalon Travel, Video Attractions, Tri-Mart, Skip’s Carpet & Vinyl, Bay View Sheet Metal, Denise’s Dance Corner, Lee & Dottie’s tavern, Animal Hut, and two grocery stores, Hintz and Majdecki’s.

Throughout the decades, mom-and-pop establishments like those served their neighbors and helped the community thrive.

While all of those businesses closed before the most recent “Bay View renaissance” that began about 2004, there are stalwarts that have been operating for at least two decades and are navigating change.

The Compass is surveying local business owners Bay View for a series that takes a look at Bay View in transition.

We began by contacting business owners who have operated for at least 20 years, to gather their observations about the rapid changes in Bay View’s business district. This is part one of the series.

Stacy and Debbie Leszczynski own and operate Excel Printing Inc.,
3374 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. They opened their business Aug. 9, 1989. —Jennifer Kresse

Stacy and Debbie Leszczynski own and operate Excel Printing  Inc., 3374 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. They opened their business Aug. 9, 1989. They offer a variety of services including digital and offset multicolor printing, typesetting, and design. They print letterhead, envelopes, business cards, raffle tickets, carbonless forms, brochures, newsletters, custom wedding invitations, and menus. They also own a complete bindery, offer black/white and full color photocopying, and fax service.

The Leszczynskis are also long-time Bay View residents. Debbie has lived in Bay View since 1976 and Stacy since 1982. The couple owns the property that houses Excel Printing. Stacy said they have seen a slight increase in taxes around 2004.

Commenting on the business climate in 1989, Stacy said, “When we opened, it was many small businesses. Some are still here, just with new owners, but a lot were short-term in existence.”

He said Bay View’s demographic is changing as younger professionals move in, replacing retirees.

The couple has made some changes to how they operate to appeal to the new demographic in Bay View, such as implementing better and faster equipment and new forms of communication. But Stacy believes old-fashioned customer service, such as a smile, a handshake, knowing customers by name, producing quality products, and knowledge of their industry are key to staying viable as Bay View changes. He said that offering money-saving specials is another strategy that has been successful.

Stacy is not an advocate of new attempts to form a business association or booster organization. He said business associations were tried before and after 1989, but failed.

In addition to changing demographics, Kinnickinnic’s streetscape is changing as luxury apartments and mixed-use developments replace the old mercantile buildings. Stacy hopes some of the older buildings survive. “I hope the mix of old and new is still around in 20 years,” he said. “The old buildings add character to the new and (other) existing properties.”

Owner Michael Ranic established Price Right Gifts, 2664 S. Kinnickinnic, in 1980, and he purchased the building in 1996. —Jennifer Kresse

Price Right Gifts, 2664 S. Kinnickinnic, sells candy, soda, cigarettes, and general merchandise, including original 1980s heavy-metal band posters.

Owner Michael Ranic started the business in 1980, and he purchased the building in 1996. He also operates Wisconsin Rummage-O-Rama, LLC, the flea market, held one weekend per month from October through April at State Fair Park, in West Allis.

He’s noticed a restaurant boom in Bay View since he first opened, keeping pace with the changing demographics in the neighborhood. He’s changed his inventory over the years to meet the needs of area residents and acclimate to a changing business climate.

Ranic feels that his long-time presence in Bay View is an advantage. Despite how the landscape continues to change in Bay View and how it may change over the coming decades, he’s optimistic. “Most people in Bay View know me,” he said. “My store will survive. I cater to what the neighborhood wants, and my prices are right.”

Few businesses in Bay View can boast of operating and being owned by the same individual for 47 years, but Bay View Styling Salon 2631 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., owned by Suzanne, has survived for nearly half a century. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

Few businesses in Bay View can boast of operating for 47 years, but Bay View Styling Salon, 2631 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., has survived for nearly half a century. Owner Suzanne requested that her last name be withheld so that people can’t find her home number and call her with “hair emergencies” during her time off.

Suzanne attributes the longevity of her salon to solid customer service. Many of her clients have been with her for 30 years or more.

Bay View Styling Salon offers haircuts, color, perms, waxing, skin care, and facials, plus a boutique with clothing, accessories, ceramics, and gifts. Suzanne said the business climate in the neighborhood has been changing continually; thus, she needs to keep up with new services, products, and retail items.

She said longer hours and continuing education have allowed her to stay current with Bay View’s new demographic.

She hopes Bay View can still retain the charm of generations past that initially helped make the neighborhood a draw to the current set of up-and-comers. “We don’t want to be like the East Side,” she said. “What’s wrong with being just Bay View?”

What does Suzanne think Kinnickinnic Avenue will look like in 20 years? Will the historic urban ambiance survive? “I love Bay View, (but) it’s losing its intimate feel. The neighborhoods are changing. People don’t even know their neighbors anymore,” she said.

She is not in favor of a business association or similar organization.

Shelly La Londe, owner of South Shore Gallery & Framing, 2627 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., has had a presence in Bay View since 1996, when she bought the business. Her dog Theo is popular with her customers. —Photo Shelly LaLonde

Today, Bay View is an artist’s haven, but Shelly La Londe, owner of South Shore Gallery & Framing, 2627 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., has had a presence in Bay View since 1996, when she bought the business. She has lived in Bay View for 21 years. La Londe offers custom framing for artwork and a gallery that features the work of her daughter, artist Indie La Londe.

La Londe initially faced some skeptics when she ventured into an art gallery and framing business in Bay View. When she opened, the owner of a neighboring business bet she would be out of business in six months. “It’s been 22 years,” said La Londe, “so I win!”

She said today’s Bay View community is super supportive. “My business has definitely benefited from the new wave of people in the area,” she said. “Business has been better in this past year than in recent times.”

She tries to make the experience at South Shore Gallery & Framing unintimidating, and she said it’s more of an art workshop than an upscale framing gallery. “My daughter has set up her business here (selling her artwork) and it is doing very well, too,” La Londe said.

La Londe rents her storefront and said her “rent is definitely going up.”

While changing Bay View demographics have been a business boon, La Londe has some concerns about the accompanying development boom, with modern buildings replacing the historic structures. “The area is changing, and with that there are good things and bad,” she said. “We love the quaint ol’ Bay View and the older buildings with character. The new buildings look prefab and won’t stand the test of time.”

She hopes the old buildings survive. “It matters that the people with the money and the power to make the decisions about buildings and infrastructure keep in mind the aesthetics, which are important here in Bay View. Part of that is the charm of older buildings,” she said.

La Londe would like to see the formation of a solid business association. “I feel that it would be a definite benefit to the area businesses,” she said. “One of the benefits would be advertising the many places that offer services and provide information about businesses.”

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