- September 14, 2021
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From plant stores to “Terrible City” T-shirts, here are our favorite parts of shopping and services this year in MKE.
BY ANN CHRISTENSON, ARCHER PARQUETTE, CAROLE NICKSIN, CHRIS DROSNER, LINDSEY ANDERSON RIOS, ALLISON GARCIA & BRIAN ROSENWEIG
This story is part of our BEST OF MILWAUKEE feature. Get your copy of the issue, HERE.
BEST NEW PLANT SHOP
Michelle Alfaro and Mag Rodriguez started Maranta as a Walker’s Point pop-up before finding a permanent home in Bronzeville this April – the first Milwaukee plant shop owned by people of color. The greenery-filled storefront carries plants from around the country curated by the owners.
MKE THING WE LOVE
Stephen A. Smith and his fellow bad-opinion-spitting hosts on ESPN’s “First Take” managed to irritate the whole 414 this June when they casually referred to Milwaukee (and Phoenix!) as a “terrible” city while discussing the NBA Finals.
There was great anger on Twitter. The Vanguard briefly renamed its Milwaukee hot dog the Terrible City dog. Bucks President Peter Feigin joined the local legion defending our beautiful city. When he showed up for the NBA Finals, Smith walked back his criticism just a little bit by scapegoating our cold weather. But the best response of all was by local creative design agency Rev Pop, which immediately printed and sold “Loyal Citizen of Terrible City” T-shirts. In decidedly non-terrible fashion, Rev Pop donated all the profits to the Boys and Girls Club of Milwaukee – $4,220 as of late July. Smart, funny, charitable, kind and all-around awesome – sounds like Milwaukee to us. – AP
BEST COMMUNITY BOUTIQUE
JohnRae Stowers treats her business as more than just a store. While she clearly doesn’t skimp on her selection of clothing and jewelry, she also makes it a “community hub for women,” hosting a networking program that pairs local women, as well as a book club. (4307 W. Vliet St.)
BEST CREATIVE BUSINESS BUILDER
On Feb. 29, 2016, Tiffany Miller put out an open question on Facebook: Could a group of makers and creatives in Milwaukee join together to sell their goods (like her handcrafted gifts business, FlyBlooms) under one banner? Lilo Allen, who sells wearable art as Papyrus & Charms, responded that she’d been thinking the same thing. The two women started talking about their shared idea, which spiraled into a business plan.
In 2018, The African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin awarded them a spot in the Rise MKE entrepreneurship accelerator. The program ended with “Pitch Night,” in which participants present their best business ideas for the chance to win $3,000. Miller and Allen pitched the Bronzeville Collective – a storefront housing and supporting community vendors. They won first prize and invested that money into Bronzeville.
The Bronzeville Collective officially opened in October of 2018 at 339 W. North Ave. and has since grown to house over 25 vendors selling T-shirts, soaps, mugs and more. “All of our businesses benefited from increased sales and opportunities that we may not have experienced if we were on our own,” Miller says.
March 2020’s safer-at-home order knocked the collective off course, but since reopening, it has added new vendors, including candle company NaturalAnnie Essentials, and Miller says more and more vendors inquire with every passing month.
“We’re in a space where we’re thriving after the pandemic,” Miller says. “There is strength in being a collective and sharing the responsibilities and expense. But we also share this beautiful creative community. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” – AP
BEST RELAXING ESCAPE
Andy Larson, a Milwaukee native, started his career as a certified public accountant. He discovered flotation therapy the way many of his customers do – he was stressed and tired, and looking for a way to unwind. After visiting a floatation therapy center, he was inspired to start his own in Walker’s Point in 2015. The experience is entirely unique. You enter a pod filled with purified water that’s been treated with up to 900 pounds of Epsom salts. The water is heated to about 95 degrees, close to the average human body temperature. Floating in that mix is often described as feeling as though you’re floating on nothing at all. You can opt for complete blackness and silence, or turn on lights and play calming music. The final experience differs among visitors; some meditate, some report seeing dreamlike images (officially called hypnagogic hallucinations) and others just close their eyes and relax.
BEST TRAVELING BOOKSTORE
For two years, Cetonia Weston-Roy pedaled a tricycle through Milwaukee with a bright yellow bookshelf jury-rigged to the back. The foldable wooden shelves were stocked with Black literature, from children’s books to prize-winning novels and biographies. Weston-Roy’s Niche Book Bar was found at parks and festivals around Milwaukee.
What was once Wisconsin’s only Black-owned bookshop, The Reader’s Choice, closed its doors in 2017. In the years since, two others have opened physical locations in the state, and Weston-Roy, who also self-published a children’s book, The Misadventures Of Toni Macaroni In: The Mad Scientist, just added another.
After two years raising tens of thousands of dollars through a Kickstarter campaign and several grants, she won a bid for a city-owned building at 1937-1939 N. Martin Luther King Dr. in Bronzeville. The new brick-and mortar Niche Book will also offer coffee, tea and wine for customers to enjoy along with their literature. – AP
BEST CRUELTY-FREE SALON TREATMENT
This Bay View salon offers skin care and makeup services, but what sets it apart is the commitment to cruelty-free products. None of the products owner Cassandra Morello uses were tested on animals. It’s an admirable choice. But did we mention that Morello’s skill with the makeup brush will leave you looking beautiful?
BEST NEW VINTAGE SHOPS
After doing pop-ups across the Midwest for years, Bandit opened a brick-and-mortar shop in June. Founders Elizabeth Kiesling, Michelle Eigenberger and Nichole Larson stock the shelves with clothes, eyewear and accessories from the mid-20th century up to the early 2000s. (1224 E. Brady St.)
This store’s opening was a welcome bit of good news during the awful early pandemic months. Owners Natalie Gajewski and Jo Donner’s lineup of affordable threads pop with colorful options evoking the unmistakable styles of decades past. (1310 Milwaukee Ave.)
A new addition to Bay View’s lineup of quirky stores, Serpentine Salvage sells clothes, accessories and unique homeware like ceramic cats, and Hawaiian tiki glasses dating to the 1930s. The shop’s must-follow Instagram is a parade of style. (2625 S. Greeley St.)
BEST PANDEMIC PIVOTS
Planning a wedding is stressful even under the best circumstances. And a global pandemic is about as far from “the best circumstances” as possible.
I got married in July. In April, my now-husband and I still had no idea what our reception would look like or how big it’d be. Would our guests be able to mingle during cocktail hour? Would dancing be allowed? Would we be able to send out invitations to 30 of the 120 people on our original guest list? 60? 90? Fortunately, our vendors went above and beyond. All Star Rentals assured us repeatedly that they wouldn’t be fazed if we halved or doubled our chair order days before the wedding. Our caterer, Zilli Hospitality Group, didn’t bat an eye when we cut our guest count down significantly, or when we completely changed up our menu, so that all of our guests’ dishes could be individually plated.
And our experience was hardly unique. Venues like the Harley-Davidson Museum and Pfister Hotel let their clients abruptly cancel their weddings, no questions asked. Others came up with creative ways to host pandemic-proof “mini-monies.” Relics Rentals, for instance, has been putting together curated “pop-up weddings” for over a year now.
So planning a pandemic wedding was pretty terrible. But Milwaukee’s wedding vendors were just the opposite. I think they deserve a round of applause. And maybe a piece of cake and a glass of champagne, too. – LAR
BEST MEN’S CLOTHING
Whether you’re looking to rep the Bucks or get a stylish new pair of sneakers, this Third Ward store, specializing in modern streetwear and shoes, is the place to go.
BEST WOMEN’S CLOTHING
For over three decades, Faye’s has been a go-to spot for trendy fashion in Milwaukee, with top brands in a curated collection of both apparel and accessories.
Look to this 2020 Betty Award winner for retirement planning, wealth building and financial peace of mind. Wilke and her all-woman team deliver customized wealth management with a personal touch.
LOCAL CAR DETAILING
How renowned is this Downtown business? Customers come all the way from Chicago, Green Bay and Madison to get their cars looking tip-top.
This Whitefish Bay store is a paradise for kids (and for parents who want to wean them off the iPad). Check out toys, board games, puzzles, party supplies and more.
Sendik’s is known for groceries, but the one-stop shop delivers when it comes to the flowers, home goods and wedding packages in its Home wing.
LAWN & GARDEN
Originally Stein’s Garden and Gifts when it opened in 1946, this Milwaukee-based chain has since expanded to cover the needs of Wisconsin gardeners and DIY improvers alike.
Deb Fowler opened The Flower Lady in 1994, and the Tosa Village shop is still flourishing 27 years later thanks to her beautiful and creative arrangements.
Try out the latest health trend at this East Side apothecary. Kind Oasis offers CBD gummies, balms, oils and vape cartridges, plus tinctures to soothe your hyperactive pet.
A local staple since 1928, this store’s Greenfield showroom is packed with high-quality furniture at affordable prices.
Neroli has pampering down to an art. A visit starts with an aromatic towel and a beverage, and branches into a wide array of hair care services: styling, scalp treatments, extensions, coloring options and more.
With locations in Walker’s Point and on Downer Avenue, Nail Bar offers both classic and organic mani/pedis, along with “pampered princess” packages for children 10 and under.
Neroli is a two-time Readers’ Choice winner this year, nabbing this spot with their lineup of facials, peels, dermaplaning and anti-aging treatments.
This Tosa barbershop, where a beer or other beverage is included with each cut, is all about the experience. Its philosophy is simple: “We believe good things take time. A good conversation. A good drink. And a good cut and shave.”
Getting inked by one of this studio’s body artists enlists you in the “Atomic Army.” The locations on the East and North sides also offer piercings.
GYMS & FITNESS
A WAC membership comes with over 750 group fitness classes a week at eight area locations. Take it to the next level with a personal training plan.
Jaworski has been selling MKE real estate for nearly 30 years. Out of 5,000 area Realtors, she is one of only 29 to win 5 Star’s Client Satisfaction Award all 14 years it’s been awarded.
Started in 1959, this operation is now the largest landscape contractor in Wisconsin. Offering lawn care, landscape design and even holiday décor, it beautifies both homes and businesses.
This Brown Deer firm curates brands from around the world for its designs, which cover every room of the house and have been featured in Architectural Digest.
This staff covers projects ranging from a closet in need of a refresh to a full home makeover – and everything in between.
For three years running, the U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Tim O’Brien the Housing Innovation Award for crafting homes that conserve heat and electricity.
September 3, 2021
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