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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014

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Readers Blog: BeautyBee

Remembering Downtown Milwaukee. Those were the days.


For those of us born and raised in Milwaukee, there are many places, people and things that at the mere mention, make us smile and bring back memories.

For a majority of my life, Downtown Milwaukee was my life. If I close my eyes I can still see the red swivel stools that outlined the grill which was in the middle of the Woolworth's on Wisconsin Avenue. I can hear the hustle and bustle of hundreds of shoppers and women tripping over themselves to make it to the basement where all the real bargains were.

The same goes for Gimbel's.

Gimbel's was the place to be year round, but especially during the holiday seasons. Gimbels was to little ol' Milwaukee, what Macy's is to New York. We looked forward to seeing what the window displays would be for Christmas. (I know, we now live in a time when I am suppose to use the term Holiday - as to appear generic - but for this moment in time allow me to be politically incorrect)  They were always spectacular! Gimbel's Bargain Basement. Who can forget was so much fun.  All of downtown Milwaukee was fun back then. The movie theater - the Grand Avenue - started out on a high note and was the  place for teens to gather on Saturday nights. Gang fights and guns weren't even on the horizon. No indeed, the most trouble teens created back then was ruckus over someone trying to sneak in to see a movie for free.

Downtown Milwaukee use to be the place where sailors from the U.S. Navy would roam the streets on leave each weekend. Many a young woman to this day swoons over a man in uniform thanks to the sight of all those handsome men walking the streets of downtown Milwaukee. With their white caps and navy blue uniforms, they were a sight to behold. The streets were flooded with them. I guess I was never pretty enough, none of them ever hit on me, but I wished and prayed they would.

Pill n' Puff....who remembers Pill n' Puff. They were always located in the most small storefronts of dowtown. Narrow ailse filled to the brim with bargains. But the sales....oh the sales....they use to put out flyers each week filled with coupons that made you wonder how they could stay in business given the huge discounts. Maybe I was on to something given they are now closed.

If you wanted to stay in a hotel that would be impressive, you had two choices. The Marc Plaza or the Pfister. Both were considered the creme de'la creme of hotels and restaurants. They were the places that the rich (or pretending to be) would meet and mingle. We "little people" could only look through the windows and fantasize about being on the inside one day.  Funny how life changes. I'm in and out of these hotels and venues on an almost monthly basis for lunch, meetings or sometimes for a drink with a friend.  The great Wizard of Oz truly isn't that scary or intimidating once you pull back the curtain.

My bank - The bank - in downtown Milwaukee was The First Wisconsin.  I might be giving my age away when I say this, but back when First Wisconsin was around, you had a passbook. When you deposited or withdrew money the teller would run your bankbook through a machine that recorded your transactions. Receipts? Nope, your passbook was your receipt.

I miss downtown Milwaukee and all that it use to be. I live and work smack dab in the middle of downtown and it sickens me to see how it has changed. I live in one of the mall's Loft Apartment buildings (if you can even call it a mall) and it saddens me to see all the stores that have fled to the suburbs. Replaced my small start up businesses that open on Monday and are out of business by Friday. Walk into the only anchor store left which is Boston Store on a Saturday afternoon and you will see first hand how pathetic a draw of customers the Grand Avenue has.

Given that I live in the mall apartments, work downtown and (I guess) I have that look about me that makes people feel comfortable talking to me, I am constantly being stopped by visitors and asked where the mall is.  The look on their faces is priceless as I say "You're standing in front of it" For indeed it isn't a mall, I don't know what it is, but it doesn't qualify as being a mall. Mayfair Mall is a mall. Brookfield Square is a mall. The Grand Avenue is a mall on life support. Hanging in there on its last gasp of life. Just waiting for someone to pull the plug and put it out of its misery.

I have shared my opinions with Ald. Baumann and suffice to say he doesn't care. I've shared my concerns many times with the Mayor's office to no avail. It seems (for those of us that love downtown Milwaukee) we must settle for pockets of reasons to celebrate. A new hotel here. A new condo there. A new clothing store, or coffee shop or night club.

But will it ever be the busy, crazy, hectic and fun place of the past?

As I say to those that go to Potawatomi....Don't bet on it. 

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btd720 | Nov. 27, 2012 at 3:36 p.m. (report)

I think your one comment says it all, "I've shared my opinion with Ald. Baumann and suffice to say, he doesn't care". That's at the heart of the problem. As long as our local politicians can get enough votes to get re-elected, they've done enough (in their opinion). You long for downtown Milwaukee like it used to be, I long for elected officials that actually want to make this a better place for all of us. I can only imagine your frustration at having your well thought out and well intentioned opinions fall on deaf (and dumb) ears...

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