By Robin Mindt   Published Jul 24, 2002 at 5:34 AM Photography: Jeff Sherman

Carmelino Capati, Jr. and his wife Connie don't just love doing business in downtown Milwaukee, they fight for it. For instance, it was Capati's prolific letter to the Bradley Foundation in the late 1970s that helped prevent the Bradley Center from being built where The Asian Mart stands today at 1125 N. Old World Third St. The Bradley Foundation instead opted for an open tract of land around the corner.

Nearly 30 years later, the Capatis are still happy downtown and getting happier by the day.

"We're seeing new faces and new customers as more condos are filled downtown," says Capati. "The Library Hill apartments bring us lots of business and we see more in the future as the residential construction finishes. All this building and development is a big plus for downtown businesses."

When Capati opened the store, it was located in the space just down the block that now holds the Spice House. The Capatis had three small children and they shared babysitting and store duties.

"It was a family environment and still is," says Capati. Right on cue, his granddaughter peeks her head around the corner to see what her grandfather is doing. "I'm babysitting right now!"

The idea for the store came easy. After moving to Milwaukee, Capati noticed that there were many Chinese food stores, but none that catered to multiple Asian cultures.

"My wife and I are Filipino," says Capati. "We didn't find what we were looking for at the Chinese stores. So, I decided to open a store to carry not only Filipino and Chinese items, but also Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Hmong, Indian and other Asian-American cultural foods."

Why downtown? "Downtown was the best location because it was most accessible by the freeways," says Capati. "We were located in the civic center and very close to many college students, a target market for The Asian Mart."


In the 1970s, the Old World Third Street neighborhood was very industrial. The Third Street Pier building across the street from the Asian Mart was a large warehouse with a rail depot. The parking lot across the street was a pick-up station for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It wasn't exactly scenic.

But with the Bradley Center and other downtown developments, the Westown neighborhood began to improve and the Asian Mart continued expanding. They moved to the African Hut building and then to their current location, gradually requiring more and more space. The combination of their location and the rare variety of their merchandise gave them a competitive edge in Milwaukee.

Today, the Asian Mart is still going strong and expects to continue.

"With the improvements in the area, I think we'll continue to do well. I see possible parking improvements with the Park East Freeway project and more customers through residential development," Capati says. "This store will be around for a long time. When I am gone, my children intend to carry on the family business."