Longtime Retail Tenant John’s Appliance Booted From Bay Plaza Building

April 2, 2018

By Sheila Julson

John Steffen grew up in the appliance business. His father Gene Steffen began selling home appliances in 1967. —Photo Jennifer Kresse

After the Bay Plaza Apartments, a retail and apartment building changed ownership in 2016, long-time retail tenants such as Cousins Subs and John’s Appliance Service & Sales relocated. The building is located at 2863-2867 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Anthony Brzezinski, doing business as 2867 S. KK, LLC, owned the building from 1984 until 2016, when he said he sold it to Enigma Properties. When reached at his home in the Stevens Point, Wis. area, Brzezinski expressed surprise that John’s Appliance and Cousins Subs were no longer tenants. “I told the new owner that John’s Appliance is very useful to the building,” Brzezinski said. “All we had to do was go downstairs and he would come and repair all of the appliances. We also bought appliances from him.”

From 1989 through June 2017, John Steffen, owner of John’s Appliance Service & Sales, repaired, refurbished, and sold dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, ovens, ranges, refrigerators, and parts, from the basement at the north end of the Bay Plaza Apartment building. He still operates the business but from an office in his home in St. Francis. No longer selling appliances and parts, he trimmed his business, limiting it to appliance repair services.

Steffen grew up in the appliance business. His father Gene Steffen began selling home appliances in 1967. He owned Gene’s Hide-A-Way Appliance & TV Store in West Allis.

Steffen said he received a notice around mid-May 2017 that he was to vacate his space on the Bay Plaza premises within 45 days. “The new owner didn’t even talk to us,” Steffen said. “He had his lawyer send a notice that we had to be out. We were overwhelmed trying to get rid of everything.” Steffen said he was not given a reason why he had to leave.

Eric Higgins of Enigma Properties confirmed that Enigma owns the building, but he refused to comment about the ousting of either John’s Appliance or Cousins or Enigma’s plans for the ground story storefront units. There are currently “For Lease” signs in the windows of the storefront units.

Steffen said he donated much of his showroom appliance inventory to Habitat for Humanity and scrapped the remainder. “[Habitat] was happy to get the stuff,” said Steffen. “We told them we were in a crunch to get out and they came with a crew and some trucks to load the stuff out,” he said.

Jodee Benavides, in-kind donations manager for Habitat for Humanity, said that the organization received about two truckloads of appliances, or about 150 pieces, including washers, dryers, refrigerators, and ranges. Habitat for Humanity procures donations of furniture, appliances, and cabinetry that it sells at a discount to the general public in its ReStore locations. All proceeds support Habitat for Humanity’s mission to build simple, decent, affordable housing, in partnership with people in need. Benavides said most of the appliances donated by John’s Appliance sold quickly.

Steffen said that despite his efforts to clear out his inventory, some appliances and parts were left behind. “We worked until midnight of the very last day that we had to be out of there,” Steffen said. He closed permanently at the end of June 2017. He posted a notice that John’s Appliance alerted would-be appliance customers that, “As of June 30, 2017, John’s Appliance Service will only be doing in home service, we will not be selling appliances.”

Although John’s Appliance is still operating, the biggest and most difficult aspect of the downsizing was that he let go four employees. “As soon as I found out (that we had to leave), I let them know what was going on so they’d have time to find other opportunities. I also let them take whatever appliances they wanted,” Steffen said. “Some people stayed until the very end. I had good employees.”

Steffen now employs two technicians and an office assistant who helps with scheduling. His son, Peter Steffen, also works for him.

“We loved that location,” Steffen said. “Bay View was always great to us. The year when we first moved in, we set up a trailer during the [South Shore Frolic] parade and gave away hot dogs and chips to the kids and the people who were there. I just loved the neighborhood.”

He also praised Brzezinski, as well as the Patel family who owned the Cousins Subs franchise, his former neighbors in the building. Steffen had no intentions of moving from the Kinnickinnic Avenue space, and he expressed concern that other long-running family businesses might also be driven out of Bay View due to more development or rapidly rising rents. “There are lots of great people in Bay View, and people came by and said they were sorry to see us move out of the area,” Steffen said.

The Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions lists Patel of Jog Maya, LLC as registered agents of the former Cousins Subs at 2967 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Attempts to locate or contact Patel for comment were unsuccessful.

Chelsea Schwabe, PR and Communications Manager for Cousins Subs said, “For the last 40 years, Cousins Subs has had the joy of serving the Bay View community. As with all lease renewals, terms and conditions are carefully evaluated to ensure they remain mutually beneficial for all parties involved, and ultimately the vision for the space did not align. Cousins Subs is continuing work on its downtown development strategy to better serve its guests from Bay View to the business district.”

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