Mention the Cesar E. Chavez Drive commercial district, and it’s likely the iconic Mercado El Rey grocery store comes to mind, along with restaurants featuring south-of-the-border flavors.
Now think again.
Walk between West National and Greenfield Avenues on the Near South Side, and you will see a vibrant fashion destination, with at least half a dozen locally owned clothing stores that sell styles not found anywhere else.
Just ask Appleton resident Dulce Goiz, who recently drove to Milwaukee to shop at El Rey but decided to explore other stores nearby.
Drawn into Sayury’s Clothing by the trendy women’s styles in the window, Goiz said she was looking for boots in a particular shade of blue. There are only two stores in Appleton that appeal to her preference for the feminine, sexy clothing in colors she would find in Mexico, she said.
Owner Luis Gamboa, his ex-wife and daughters Amy, 23, and Bernice, 21, operate the store at 826 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr. Sayury’s specializes in affordable, stylish club and casual wear, shoes and accessories for women brought in from New York and Los Angeles.
Farther down the street, Alejandro Rivera sells traditional western/cowboy-style clothing at 1002 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr. Rivera and his wife, Teresa, offer a wide selection of Mexican-made leather boots for men and women as well as classic cowboy hats, shirts, belts and jewelry at Rivera’s Western Wear.
Rivera’s draws customers from all over Wisconsin, northern Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan.
El Tianguis VIP, 1230 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr., also sells western or cowboy styles but with a modern, urban edge, said co-owner Elias Lopez.
Lopez said his customers like Duranguense, Banda and Corridos, genres of regional Mexican music created in the 1990s and popularized in the 2000s.
"It’s not really like traditional cowboy; it’s more like a modern or urban cowboy," he said.
Recently, he noted, El Tianguis’ merchandise has become a fusion of urban cowboy and casual wear.
Lopez’ grandparents founded a clothing business that sold denim jeans, shirts and T-shirts near Mexico City, he said. Twenty-five years ago, Ismael Lopez, Elias’s father, started El Tianguis, which means "flea market," near 7 Mile Fair in Caledonia, Wisconsin. Elias and his older brother David joined their father in the business 15 years ago.
A focus on economic development
Since the Cesar Chavez Business Improvement District was established in 2009 and residents working through the Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative created a Quality of Life Plan for the neighorhood, the initiative and the BID have partnered to prioritize economic development along Chavez Drive, said Ian Bautista, the initiative’s director.
One of the initiative’s efforts, the Farm Project, seeks to make Chavez Drive a destination by focusing on arts and culture. Some of the Farm Project’s additions include a bronze statue of Latino labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, an artist-in-residence program and a renovated space for pop-up businesses with an art or cultural focus.
Since 2016, the city has invested almost $83,000 in storefront improvements and public art on the Cesar E. Chavez commercial corridor. An additional $410,000 in private investments brings the total to almost $500,000, according to Natanael Martinez, commercial corridor manager at the City of Milwaukee Department of City Development. He anticipates that an additional $28,000 will be invested in storefronts by the end of the year.
The latest round of Chavez Drive pop-up entrepreneurs will be introduced at Ciclovia. See details below.
Other clothing stores on Chavez Drive:
- One Stop Outlet, 809 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr., sells men’s and women’s jeans, jackets and accessories.
- Envisions, 1328 S. Cesar E. Chavez Dr., sells men’s streetwear, sneakers and sports logo hats and jerseys.
- ICON, 1577 W. Greenfield Ave., is a high-end designer boutique.
When: From 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14
Where: Meet at the corner of South Chavez Drive and West Greenfield Avenue.
Why: Don’t miss the chance to experience the culture of Chavez Drive. For the fifth summer, residents and visitors will take to the streets using any mode of transportation that isn’t motor-driven – walking, biking, running, dancing, rolling. The goal of the free open streets celebration is to promote social, health, environmental and economic growth and connect Milwaukee’s diverse Near South Side neighborhoods.
Andrea Waxman is a staff reporter at the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. A professional writer, she is completing a graduate certificate in Digital Storytelling at Marquette University's Diederich College of Communication. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor for a community newspaper and taught English and Japanese in several area middle and high schools.
Waxman has lived in Milwaukee since 1981, but spent most of her early years living in Tokyo, where her father was stationed at the American embassy. She returned to Japan in 1986 and again in 1993 when her husband was there as a Fulbright scholar.
In her free time, Waxman enjoys theater, movies, music, ethnic food, cities, travel, reading - especially the news of the day - and all kinds of people. She is interested in working for social justice and contributing to the vitality of the city.