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Get back to ‘busy’ at the Grand Avenue Mall

By Keith Barber

What is happening with the Grand Avenue Mall?

Vacancies are up, and the drab appearance is taking its toll on visitors and shoppers.

Despite a five-year-old, multi-million dollar makeover, the exterior is no longer inviting. Sure, we have great new landscaping features on almost every block featuring plantings within a decorative wrought iron fence. The sidewalks have also been narrowed to create a cozy feeling. The city’s street stewards do a great job in removing litter and are constantly scraping gum off the sidewalks.

So then, what is missing?

I am convinced that window dressings would create interest and greatly improve foot traffic. Ever notice how the conventioneers from The Wisconsin Center brush quickly past the store windows on this three-block stretch of downtown?

All they see are posters clinging to most of the windows. What happened to real merchandise? Couldn’t stores from within the mall bid for a window to showcase their products in lieu of a poster?

As a young boy, I remember coming downtown with my parents and grandparents to shop and attend one of the many downtown theaters that used to be on and around Wisconsin Avenue. As I was tugged along, we collectively stopped in front of most every storefront at the mall to see the latest merchandise. After all, my grandfather was a part-time window dresser for Gimbels Department Store (now the Ivory Tusk building.) The whole family wanted to see grandpa’s “art.” Yes, the windows were jammed with goodies.

With perhaps the exception of seeing Disney’s first run and latest film “Bambi” at the Riverside Theater, downtown window shopping was one of the things I liked most about coming downtown. It was real excitement with old electric street cars creating sparks at every intersection, folks hovering around storefronts to get a glimpse of new products, and people dashing around everywhere with their purchases.

Buses were slowly taking the place of the street car at this time, and the mix of both on the street provided a certain busy, big-city feeling.

We need “busy” again.

Let’s bring back the storefront and see if that will make a difference in attracting shoppers and pedestrians.

And while we’re at it, how about changing the exterior color scheme at the Plankinton Building section of the Grand Avenue Mall?

My plan uses primary colors on the first floor of the mall. Individual red, green, yellow and blue canopies over each large window would give the avenue a new festive look.

The fact that the building is an historic structure would not allow the window trim to be changed from forest green, but that’s OK.

Let’s create some new sparks.

Keith Barber is a data reporter with The Daily Reporter. If the city of Milwaukee would like to contact him for more improvement ideas, he can be reached at (414) 225-1821.

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