The stretch of 13th Street between Morgan Avenue and Dakota Street isn't a part of one particular neighborhood, and yet, even though the businesses range from a boxing gym to a natural food store, it has a unified feel of its own.
According to this map, the businesses on the southern end, like Bombay Sweets, Christie's and Lincoln Music, are in a neighborhood named Morgandale which runs from Howard to Oklahoma Avenues.
All of the businesses to the north are technically in the Polonia neighborhood, but as OnMilwaukee.com's Bobby Tanzilo reported in 2003, a lot of residents aren't aware of the neighborhood's designated name.
Alderman Tony Zielinski, who represents the neighborhood, refers to the area as the "13th Street Business District."
"The strength of this area is the number of grocery stores," says Zielinski. "There are two quality Latin grocery stores and one Aldi's. People have to eat so that brings foot traffic into the area."
This stretch of 13th Street is vibrant and eclectic, featuring Latin grocery stores and restaurants, clothing stores, a music store, a Mexican art store, an iconic thrift store, an Indian restaurant, two Indo-Pak grocery stores, a popular pub and grill, adult book stores, an herb and supplement shop, a boxing gym and more.
On a Thursday afternoon, we trekked north on 13th Street, from the strip mall featuring Best Food and Bombay Sweets to Marlene's Touch of Class, and stopped in at many businesses in between to chat with employees and check out the street's offerings.
Here's a list of the most interesting shops we visited during our stroll down 13th on what was one of the only warm afternoons in Milwaukee this spring.
3405 S. 13th St., (414) 671-6986
This Indo-Pak grocery store offers a huge selection of Indian videos and DVDs, along with American grocery items, various sizes of burlap sacks filled with rice, religious goods from candles to bindis, fresh produce, fresh and frozen nan and an impressive selection of ready-to-eat, heat-and-serve Indian food.
3401 S. 13th St., (414) 383-3553
The Indian, Pakistani and Bengali restaurant, owned by Narinder Kumar and his family, is in its 13th year of operation. The casual dining area provides customers with a place to sample one of the 57 food items available, all of which are described on a large wall menu. Prices range from $4.95 to $5.99, and the confections counter features 20 different "snacks" that range from sweet to spicy. Bombay Sweets does not have a liquor license, but one sip of their mango lassi and booze seems superfluous. Seriously.
Lincoln Music House
3379 N. 13th St.
Bob Ostrenga is the current owner of Lincoln Music, a musical instrument business owned by his family since 1945. Lincoln Music offers new and used instruments for sale or rent as well as guitar, piano, drums, violin and woodwind lessons for kids and adults. They have a nice selection on-site of guitars and bass guitars, percussion instruments and occasionally used drum kits in the basement space. "Renting instruments to school-aged kids is our bread and butter," says Ostrenga.
Christie's Pub & Grill Maria's Mexican Art The Natural Food Shop Attari's Supermarket Golden Chicken El Tucanazo Ramirez Boxing Gym Marlene's Touch of Class Joe originally opened the business with his mother, Marlene, in 1986 when he was still in high school. A few years ago, he expanded the business and now sells used and rebuilt mattresses in a large space connected to the thrift shop. Plus, Marlene's serves the community as a job training site. "We hire and train people with no experience," says Joe. "We help them get something on their resumes so they can move forward."
3261 S. 13th St., (414) 672-3500
Jason Schultz, along with his mother, grandmother and girlfriend, run this small pub and eatery that serves "gourmet pub food." The menu features everything from squid to sandwiches, along with sides such as homemade mashed or au gratin potatoes. Food eaten at the bar is served on custom-made wood trays that attach to the bartop to provide a flat surface. Vintage Pabst and Schlitz memorabilia, along with family photographs, adorn the walls. Christie's is truly a hidden South Side gem.
3207 S. 13th St.
Irma Prado moved to Milwaukee a year ago from Jalisco, Mexico and opened this small shop featuring Mexican art, bags, knick knacks and candies. She also sells homemade "artistic gelatins" that are truly works of art.
3048 S. 13th St., (414) 383-4330
For 50 years, The Natural Food Shop has been a secret mecca for naturally-minded Milwaukeeans searching for a wide selection of teas, herbs (from skullcap to peony root!), supplements, flower essences, books and more. "We will look up natural remedies for any health issue, and if there's an herb you want, we'll do our best to find it if we don't have it," says employee Patty Chambers. After decades of ownership, Geneva Rice, 86, and her husband, Wally, sold the business recently to long-time customers, Jack Green and Judy Weiss. The couple plan to expand the business within the next year.
3042 S. 13th St., (414) 645-5880
Attari's features an array of Middle Eastern eats, including fresh meats like lamb, daily-baked pita, a massive selection of spices and pastry. American items are available, too, from cans of tuna to mac 'n' cheese. Attari's also sells abaya cloaks and gowns, which are traditional robe-like dresses worn by some Islamic women. Reziq Attari, who opened the shop in 2004, says with a smile, "Business is good."
3032 N. 13th St., (414) 383-7017
The 13th Street Golden Chicken is one of three locations in the Milwaukee area. It is also one of the largest contributors to the street's eclectic mix of smells. The tantalizing aroma of fried chicken permeates the street for half a block in either director of the carry-out restaurant. Golden Chicken serves chicken buckets, snacks, dinner and pieces along with fish and multiple side dishes.
2940 S. 13th St., (414) 383-3743
El Tucanaza is a small, colorful Mexican diner that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Unlike neighbor Taqueria Aranda, it has a liquor license and sells Mexican beers and margaritas. Francisco Gonzales and his wife, Tatiana, opened the business eight years ago. "Our breakfasts are our best," says Gonzales.
2922 S. 13th St., (414) 671-6300
The Ramirez gym isn't fancy, but for a person serious about boxing – or learning how to box – a well-lit room with a heavy bag, a couple speed bags, lots of jump rope and a ring are all that's needed. According to a member standing outside the gym waiting for it to open, for $50 a month a person can use the boxing ring during all hours of operation and get tips from a small staff of seasoned boxers. "It's like having your own personal trainer," he says.
2929 S. 13th St., (414) 272-2470
Before landing on 13th Street seven years ago, Marlene's Touch of Class – owned by Joe and Sandy Befus – was housed on Greenfield Avenue, two Brady Street locations (which are now Rochambo and The Dogg Haus) and Water Street in the Third Ward. Today, the business sells used clothing for 50 cents per item (shoes are $3 and bags are $1). "Nothing from us goes into a landfill. We recycle 100 percent of our clothing," says Joe. "We shred it into insulation, among other things."
Maria's Mexican Art
The Natural Food Shop
Ramirez Boxing Gym
Marlene's Touch of Class
Joe originally opened the business with his mother, Marlene, in 1986 when he was still in high school. A few years ago, he expanded the business and now sells used and rebuilt mattresses in a large space connected to the thrift shop. Plus, Marlene's serves the community as a job training site. "We hire and train people with no experience," says Joe. "We help them get something on their resumes so they can move forward."
Molly Snyder grew up on Milwaukee's East Side and today, she lives in the Walker's Point neighborhood with her partner and two sons.
As a full time senior writer, editorial manager and self-described experience junkie, Molly has written thousands of articles about Milwaukee (and a few about New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Boston and various vacation spots in Wisconsin) that range in subject from where to get the best cup of coffee to an in-depth profile on the survivors of the iconic Norman apartment building that burned down in the '90s.
She also once got a colonic just to report on it, but that's enough on that.
Always told she had a "radio voice," Molly found herself as a regular contributor on FM102, 97WMYX and 1130WISN with her childhood radio favorite, Gene Mueller.
Molly's poetry, essays and articles appeared in many publications including USA Today, The Writer, The Sun Magazine and more. She has a collection of poetry, "Topless," and is slowly writing a memoir.
In 2009, Molly won a Milwaukee Press Club Award. She served as the Narrator / writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel from 2013-2014. She is also a story slam-winning storyteller who has performed with The Moth, Ex Fabula and Risk!
When she's not writing, interviewing or mom-ing, Molly teaches tarot card classes, gardens, sits in bars drinking Miller products and dreams of being in a punk band again.