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Primarily independent: Village has features to help businesses establish, flourish

Aug. 14, 2008

Shorewood’s business district could best be described as a mix of old-world charm and modern sensibilities.

Architecturally, most of the shopping area is a throwback to yesteryear with storefronts conjoined in the downtown style that was common a century ago.

At the same time, the village is home to an assortment of hip and trendy retailers, some that have adopted environmentally friendly practices and others that have become Wi-Fi hotspots to serve those who have laptops in tow.

"I've found that Shorewood really embraces the independent business owner, from the people who start out first, to those who've been here 60 years," Barb Caprile, who handles marketing for the Shorewood Business Improvement District, said. "There's that small-town feel, which is very gratifying in this day and age where you're just a number."

There are more than 150 retail and service operations, not including professional and medical offices, in the village.

A core group of entrepreneurs - some newcomers, others longstanding - make up about 75 percent of Shorewood's retail and service business community along Oakland Avenue and Capitol Drive.

While a few nationwide businesses, such as Blockbuster Video and Starbucks, have located in Shorewood, the overwhelming majority are independent retailers or local chains, such as the Harry W. Schwartz bookshop and City Market.

Community leaders cite several reasons for the proliferation of independent retailers in Shorewood. Among them: a lack of space for big-box chains, affordable rent and an active BID.

Rent, number of vacancies

Jim Plaisted, executive director of Shorewood's BID, said many landlords offer affordable rent to shopkeepers because "the buildings have long been paid for." The scenario, he said, makes it possible for first-time business owners to set up shop in the village.

In Whitefish Bay, rents have been reported at about $25 per square foot.

Plaisted said rents are about $10 per square foot to the low $20 range in Shorewood.

About a half-dozen storefronts have been sitting empty since earlier this year.

"Retail space gets gobbled up pretty quickly in Shorewood," Caprile said. "It's a rare occasion when street storefronts aren't filled."

Still, there are several factors that determine when spaces are filled.

"There are too many variables to each space to quantify how long they remain vacant," Plaisted said.

In Whitefish Bay, one property has been vacant two years and two that have been filled were vacant a about a year and a half. However, spaces are normally filled in a matter of months.

No place for big-box stores

Because there is no available land zoned for retail, big-box chains would not be able to locate in Shorewood, Village Manager Chris Swartz said.

"Many smaller, national firms are also not interested because they want a lot of parking spaces; we don't have that," Swartz said. "No one at the corporate level understands pedestrian traffic, which we have a lot of."

While parking might deter big-box stores from locating in the village, there is a sense of optimism with the streetscaping project complete.

"There's plenty of parking, especially with the side streets," Caprile said. "Everything here is within walking distance. If you went to Mayfair Mall, you'd have to walk a lot farther to get to the store."

Improvements, networking

While each store operates independently, the entire business community is bound together by the village's BID. The taxing entity collects funds from shop owners and in turn puts that money into infrastructure improvements and events, like the Shorewood Criterium bicycle race, designed to draw shoppers.

Caprile likens it to a support system that provides such resources as networking seminars to shopkeepers.

Shop owners frequently view other retailers more as colleagues and less as competitors. Caroline Kreitlow, owner of Luxe: The Salon, which opened last fall, agreed.

"I had other salon owners coming in and wishing me luck," she said. "They said there's enough business to go around. There's quite a bit of synergy around here."

Caprile is charged with spreading the word about Shorewood and its walkable landscape

"You can walk in Shorewood and purchase just about anything you need," Caprile said.

Kreitlow bought a home in Shorewood near Luxe and walks to work regularly, sometimes with her son.

"I have a family and my family is my priority," Kreitlow said.

Shop local, but one exception

Local resident Jennifer Anderson said she loves to patronize Shorewood's businesses and views them as an asset to the village.

"We're lucky to have people who are so good at their craft," she said. "But there's also accountability. Being such a small community, word of mouth can either make you or break you."

Liz LeBlanc, with the help of her mom and co-owner, Mary LeBlanc, opened SHOP, a women's clothing and accessories boutique, last fall.

"We were looking at Brookfield and Mequon, but we decided on Shorewood," Liz LeBlanc said. "We had lived here many years, so we were familiar with the location and neighborhood."

With a variety of shopping opportunities in the village, there is one exception.

"The only thing we're missing is a hardware store," Caprile said.

Dave Fidlin can be reached at (262) 446-6603.

Sampling of specialties

Art studios and galleries

• Atrium Gallery, 2107 E. Capitol Drive

• Lakeshore Gallery, 4401 N. Oakland Ave.

• Oxford Glass Art Studio, 4322 N. Oakland Ave.

Asian apparel

• World Community, 1922 E. Capitol Drive

Homemade handbags

• Trendy Bagz, 4316 N. Oakland Ave.

Independent pharmacies

• Hayek's Pharmacy, 4001 N. Downer Ave.

• Thompsons Serv-U Pharmacy, 1421 E. Capitol Drive

Russian, European retailers

• International Food, 1920 E. Capitol Drive

• Little Europe, 4517 N. Oakland Ave.

• Russian Gallery, 3557 N. Oakland Ave.

• Russian Store, 3817 N. Oakland Ave.

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