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From the June 15, 2005 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Antiques Dealers
Find a New Home

With Third Ward rents rising, shops start popping up in Walker's Point

Owner, Wally Holtz
Photo by Benny Sieu
Wally Holtz cleans furniture Tuesday in his store, 9th Street Antiques, 602 S. 9th St. Holtz is part of the exodus of antiques dealers from the Third Ward to the less costly Walkers Point.

By Tom Daykin

The business of selling old stuff once helped define the changing face of Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward, where turn-of-the-century buildings originally created for factories and warehouses began housing antiques dealers and other artsy businesses nearly 30 years ago.

By the early '90s, with the neighborhood's renaissance in full bloom, a Saturday afternoon in the Third Ward typically included browsing booth after booth of things from expensive furniture to cheap trinkets.

But a recent exodus of antiques dealers now typifies a new phase of higher-end development in the Third Ward, where boutiques, restaurants, nightclubs, condominiums and offices are filling those older buildings. It also is helping breathe new life into the Walker's Point neighborhood, south and west of the Third Ward, where several antiques dealers are surfacing.

"This used to be the antique district," says Steve Petty, co-owner of Relic Antiques, 207 E. Buffalo St. "But everybody now is in Walker's Point."

Relic may soon be the only antiques store in the Third Ward. That possibility arose with news that the building that leases space to Milwaukee Antique Center, 341 N. Milwaukee St., is being sold to a development firm, which would convert it to condominiums and upscale retail space.

Milwaukee Antique Center owner Gary Gresl declined to comment because the pending sale is not yet final.

But if the sale occurs, it seems likely that the 29-year-old business, one of the city's largest antiques dealers, will be forced out. That would come just four years after another large dealer, Water Street Antique Market Inc., shut down its Third Ward operation at 318-324 N. Water St.

The latest changes are driven by continued strong demand for housing, offices and high-end retail space in the Third Ward. Building owners are cashing in by selling their properties to developers, who often boot longtime tenants to make way for more profitable uses.

"The Third Ward has gotten so very expensive," said veteran antiques dealer Carla Johnson.

Johnson was manager at Water Street Antique when it closed because of declining sales, coupled with escalating rents. The building was later sold, and it now houses marketing firm Hanson Dodge Inc., other office tenants and street-level retail, including a soon-to-open wine shop.

The possible loss of Milwaukee Antique Center is "a shame," said Johnson. At one point, she said, the Third Ward boasted four or five major antiques stores.

Relic, which would be the sole survivor, is a smaller shop that specializes in upper-end interior furnishings. It doesn't have the wider assortment of merchandise-such as clothes, toys and tchotchkes - offered by other antiques dealers.

Most of Relic's customers are interior designers, Petty said, instead of casual browsers. For now, he'll keep the business in the Third Ward, which is bordered by I-794, the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan.

Other antiques dealers, however, are finding new locations in Walker's Point, bounded roughly by the Milwaukee River, the Kinnickinnic River, S. 1st St. and I-43/94.

The two adjacent neighborhoods both have older brick industrial buildings that are prime redevelopment targets. But space is pricier in the Third Ward.

The building that formerly housed Water Street Antique was sold in 2003 for about $40 a square foot, and is now assessed at about $53 a square foot.

Meanwhile, antiques dealer Wally Holtz bought a Walker's Point building in 2003 for about $7 a square foot. That building, at 602-614 S. 9th St., near the neighborhood's western edge, is now assessed at about $11 a square foot. It houses 9th Street Antiques, which Holtz opened in November.

9th Street Antiques is three blocks east of Blackhawk Antique Market Inc., which Jim Dieter opened last summer at 633 S. 12th St.

Dieter bought his 60,000-square-foot building in 2000. He spent four years refurbishing the former factory, doing much of the work himself. Blackhawk is just a few blocks from the I-43/94 National Ave. interchange, making it accessible to customers from both the Milwaukee and Chicago areas, said Johnson, who manages Blackhawk.

Two other large, newer antiques businesses operate in Walker's Point: Riverview Antique Market Inc., 175 S. Water St., and Fox Skylight Antiques Gallery, which is to open this week at 112-120 E. Mineral St.

Riverview, owned by former Water Street Antique dealers Dave and Kathy Ippolite, opened in December 2001. Business has increased steadily since then, Dave Ippolite said, with nearby condo residents among Riverview's customers.

Fox Skylight is being developed by Tony D'Acquisto, whose family trust bought the Mineral St. building two years ago.

D'Acquisto's partners in Fox Skylight include Joe Apollo, who operates Fox Riverwalk Antique Mall in Waukesha. Apollo approached him with the idea.

The concentration of large antiques stores in Walker's Point is creating a strong destination for visitors to Milwaukee, said Ippolite. He said Riverview draws a big share of its customers from northern Illinois.

But for Third Ward veterans, the dwindling antiques scene also evokes a sense of loss. Petty, of Relic Antiques, reminisces about a time when people came to the neighborhood on a Saturday or Sunday and spent hours browsing four or five different antiques stores.

"That's what made things kind of quaint," he said.

602 S. 9th Street • Milwaukee, WI • (414) 254-8885 cell
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(414) 254-8885 cell, 602 S. 9th Street, Milwaukee, WI