In April 2004, Sage Schwarm and Becky Heck opened Luv Unlimited, 2649 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
The funky, creative shop sells, primarily, used and new vintage clothing, but also has a fab selection of sunglasses, jewelry, records albums, American Apparel items, incense, tights ... and more sunglasses.
"We have sold thousands of pairs of sunglasses," says Schwarm. "We have so many cool ones for cheap."
The broad mix of items – as opposed to focusing on a single niche – has been key to the shop’s success.
"We don’t have one thing or type of thing that would pay the bills on its own, but with all of these things together, they do well," says Schwarm. "This way we have something for everyone. If your girlfriend comes in to look at clothes, there are guys’ clothes here, too. And records. Or whatever."
Luv Unlimited will celebrate its 10-year anniversary, but how exactly has not been determined. The shop did celebrate its eight-year anniversary by raffling off a vintage, arcade-style Ms. Pac-Man game.
"A woman from Racine won it. She bought one raffle ticket for $2," says Schwarm.
Reflecting back on a decade, Schwarm has learned quite a bit about running this type of business (he and Heck opened and owned the Hi-Fi Cafe across the street for its first seven years) – particularly when choosing inventory and deciphering what works and what doesn’t.
"We’ve become better and smarter buyers and sellers. We’ve honed our craft quite a bit," he says. "When we first opened, I presumed I knew more about what people like to wear and listen to and smell than I really do. I might think something is the coolest thing in the world, but it will sit there on the shelf. And this is not a museum it’s a business. But as along as you make mistakes and learn from them, it’s OK. If you don’t, you die."
For example, in the early days, Luv sold kids’ items, but discontinued after realizing it wasn’t the right fit for them.
Schwarm says they also don’t want to offer the same stuff as other businesses on the block. "If someone stops in with handmade jewelry, we’ll send 'em to Sparrow Collective," he says.
For the record, Luv does sell handmade jewelry, but mostly items made by Heck. Schwarm also makes jewelry from melted records.
Luv Unlimited buys most of its clothing from the public; however, unlike other thrift shops, they buy by appointment only. Also, they do not buy clothing from chain stores.
"Nothing here is from Target or Old Navy," says Schwarm. "What’s the point of reselling something that was $8 to begin with?"
Schwarm says after 10 years, the business is at a place where he can work a little bit less than the 75-80 hours he was putting in. "It takes longer than you expect, but that’s just how it is when you own a business," he says.
This is important to Schwarm, in part because of his commitment to music. For the past decade, he was a member of the electro band Codebreaker and most recently has focused efforts on collaborating with rapper Kid Millions, who released his first CD last summer and is working on a second.
In both music and business, Schwarm welcomes competition.
The addition of other thrift stores in the neighborhood, such as ReThreads which opened on the block last year, has been good for Luv’s foot traffic.
"Competition is healthy," says Schwarm. "I say bring it. Let’s get 10 more in the neighborhood. It will only bring more customers here."
However, it took him a while to understand this. When Schwarm owned Hi-Fi and heard that other coffee shops were opening in the neighborhood, he panicked at first.
"When Sven’s first opened, I was really sweating. At the time I thought, ‘how can you have two coffee shops in one block?’ I thought it would split business. But it didn't. We got busier," he says. "And then Stone Creek opened, and we got even busier."
Schwarm and Heck have been together for 14 years and own a home as well as Luv Unlimited, their second business, in Bay View.
"We are very invested in the neighborhood," says Schwarm. "We’ve been on KK for a long, long time."
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.