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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014

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In Marketplace

Sarah Ditzenberger and her daughter, Soren.

In Marketplace

Fischberger's housewares department.

In Marketplace

The fun toy department.

Fischberger's sizzles in Holton Street storefront


Sarah Ditzenberger chose the name "Fischberger's" for her Riverwest variety store for a couple of reasons. The quirky and memorable moniker is a blend of her married last name, Ditzenberger, and her maiden name, Fischer, and it's a nod to old-school drug stores that go by their owner's last name, like "Fitzgerald's" and "Thompson's."

"'Fischberger's' sounds like an old-timey, German name," says Ditzenberger. "I think it's a friendly name."

The shop's vibe is friendly, too. Spacious and bright, Fischberger's occupies a recently renovated storefront that, according to a neighbor, was vacant for 50 years. The 1,000-sq. ft. space is clean and simple, which makes the colorful, fun merchandise pop out from the walls and shelves.

Fischberger's features a fantastic selection of wooden, retro, tin and educational toys, including a Curious George tea set, a wooden sushi play set, jack-in-the-boxes, puzzles, tin trains and space robots, wooden instruments, cute puppets, rubber jellyfish, space guns and more. Ditzenberger says she'll eventually offer more toys for older children, like science and craft kits.

The shop boasts a small but well-picked collection of vintage clothing in near-perfect condition. Also, Ditzenberger is in the process of creating a sewing center, complete with bolts of fabric, thread and other basic sewing needs. She plans to host sewing-related events in the future, including a "make your own legwarmers" night, knitting circles, Waldorf doll making and sewing lessons.

Like the toy selection, Fischberger's housewares department is stellar. The stock is an assortment of new, retro-style stuff, as well as Asian, vintage and what Ditzenberger describes as "utilitarian, organic-y wooden" items. More paper goods are on the way, she says.

Ditzenberger, who owns the business with her husband, River, says she wanted to open a variety store that would offer neighborhood people a place to shop other than the nearby Wal-Mart.

"Riverwest needs more shops in general," she says.

In the mid-'90s, Ditzenberger owned a retro clothing store in Madison called Vitamin Q. She later helped open the Riverwest Co-op and served as the first president of the board. She moved to Riverwest nine years ago where she and River bought a home.

"Riverwest is like a small town within a city," she says. "Riverwesterners are very loyal to the community and everyone here is pretty crazy, funky, cool."

Ditzenberger is a member of the Brew City Bruisers all-girl roller derby team. She plays the jammer and blocker position under the team name "Sea Hag." She is also the mother of two children: Kyan, 6, and Soren, 2.

Although she enjoyed being a Bruiser, Ditzenberger will not return to the team after this season. Instead, she plans to volunteer at Children's Hospital where her daughter underwent heart surgery last year.

"Roller derby got me out of the house after having two kids and physically excited about myself again -- and I got to hang out with lots of fun girls -- but ever since Soren's surgery (at Children's) I have wanted to be there," she says.

Even though Ditzenberger's a pretty tough girl, some folks wonder if she feels safe operating a shop on Holton Street.

"I feel totally safe. I can't worry or be scared. It's not part of life. It's not part of faith," she says. "Plus, I assume that most everyone's a good person because I personally don't know any really awful people."


Talkbacks

whendee | Dec. 23, 2006 at 4:33 p.m. (report)

I have done a large chunk of my x mas shopping there, and even though i said yesterday that was my last trip till next year, I am stopping in a little while to buy one more gift. This store is an awesome addition to the neighborhood and the city! Good luck Sarah and River! Merry Christmas!

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CityMom | Dec. 15, 2006 at 3:06 p.m. (report)

Just went to Fischberger's yesterday. It's a charming, fun store with great little gifts. It's the perfect place to go when you don't know exactly what you want but you know it has to be cool! The space is lovely...and so is Sarah. I highly recommend this store!

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erinlinn | Dec. 13, 2006 at 3:59 p.m. (report)

Holton St is going through great changes! 3 years ago I bought a house on Holton and all I heard was blah blah blah- bad this bad that. Same thing I heard when I first moved to Riverwest on Humboldt 18 years ago! My son and I will be checking out the store ASAP!!! PS- I love the Bruisers!!! I was going to join, but because of my work schd I wasn't able....

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taylerbaby | Dec. 13, 2006 at 1:24 p.m. (report)

Is there anything about Sarah or her store that does not sound completely awesome? I can't wait to shop, and kudos for your twist on old-timey variety stores.

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alba | Dec. 13, 2006 at 11:46 a.m. (report)

Her husband's name is River? Cool.

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