By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Dec 09, 2002 at 5:14 AM

Jim Searles, owner of Brady Street Pharmacy, is doing whatever it takes to keep his independent pharmacy and lunch counter in business, even if it means ripping out the entire grocery section and replacing it with a 50-seat theater.

"Food sales plummeted into oblivion. So if I can't do that, let's do some good with it," says 58-year-old Searles, who bought the Brady St. building with his now-deceased wife, Barb, in 1983. "The pharmacy is a fading dinosaur that will eventually cease to exist. Right now, we're trying to give it a reason to exist by making it a theater."

The theater, called The Astor Street Performing Arts Center, is only half-built but already has non-profit status. Seales hopes to have the space open by spring, and plans to make it available at no cost to Milwaukee groups, including the Conservatory of Music, the Milwaukee Ballet, UWM film students and anyone else who wants to stage a "PG or PG-13" performance.

Searles, who grew up in Glendale and attended Nicolet High School, graduated from Madison as a pharmacist in 1968. He was named "Man of the Year" by Henry Meier in the early '80s for his work with ESHAC and credits himself, his wife Barb and Ellen Callahan as the driving forces behind the development of The Brady Street Association.

He once ran the pharmacy inside the Knickerbocker Hotel, but was asked to leave after taking a stand against owner Oliver Plunkett. When Searles tried to move his business to a vacant and abandoned building on the corner of Brady and Astor, he couldn't find a bank to give him a loan. "Three banks turned us down. They told us Brady Street was shot and it would never come back," says Searles, who finally, on the fourth try, was granted a loan.


Owning the building has been the key to Brady Street Pharmacy's survival. Because he doesn't pay exorbitant rent and has a relatively low mortgage, he can stay in business while still keeping prices low. Also, decades of civic church work have resulted in a strong network of parishioners who are dedicated to the business.

Searles lives upstairs from the pharmacy, where another theater takes up much of his living space. "It's like nothing you've ever seen," he says happily. "10,000 square feet, 43 borrowed chairs and regular piano and voice recitals. It's from the world I grew up in that disappeared and should not have."

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.