Something is going on at the Grand Avenue these days. Actually, I think a lot of little things are going on and it's got folks walking the mall again.
For my first 17 years in Milwaukee, I was Downtown pretty much every day. Every job I held was Downtown and I spent a lot of time at Grand Avenue Mall. In fact, two of those jobs were located in the mall. But, like most Milwaukeeans, I haven't spent much of the past decade in The Shops at Grand Avenue.
On most of those visits, I've found it depressing.
So, imagine my surprise today when I wandered over to see what's up and found the mall alive with foot traffic and what appeared to be, gasp!, customers patronizing businesses.
Sure, the "glory days" of the sparkly new Grand Avenue Mall, with its long list of nationally known shops have long since ended. In the intervening years, the mall has become weighted down with a toxic reputation that has seemed to play out like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Grand Avenue has been trying lots of approaches and it looks like lately some of them are taking hold.
A number of pop-up shops have arrived, which is creating some buzz.
Some long-term tenants like TJ Maxx, Stone Creek Coffee and Brew City Beer Gear are making a go of the Grand Avenue.
A number of former retail spaces are now home to offices.
Today, the mall was downright bustling. Folks were drinking coffee and reading at Stone Creek, the Wednesday Westown indoor market found a number of vendors set up in the walkways in the "new mall" side, salons were tending to customers, browsers were eyeballing electronics in Radio Shack.
To get into the holiday spending spirit at the mall, I took a moment to enjoy my annual egg nog latte at Stone Creek and watch the passersby ... and there were indeed passersby.
The mall felt alive. Certainly, it doesn't appear to be doing 1985-era business again yet, but, I had the definite feeling today at the mall – for the first time in a long time – that it's too soon to write an obituary for The Shops of Grand Avenue.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.