Photo by Mark Wahl
By Rick Romano
A hotbed of economic activity, the average public park is not, but not every entrepreneur is Linda Kessler. The athletic trainer, now based in a former union office in Washington Heights, started out tying nylon straps for resistance training to soccer goal posts and monkey bars in local parks. A sports and fitness fanatic for years, she’d grown tired of flying to sales calls for a company that processed and packaged nuts, a job she left in late 2012, around the time she and her then-fiancé, Rob Kessler, bought an office on West Vliet Street.
A Shorewood native, Rob worked in real estate until the housing market began to slide, and in 2006, he dusted off an old idea from college and founded NEWD in his basement. Nothing Else Will Do sells T-shirts made from high-end fabrics, of which a few are emblazoned with designs by local artists. Urban Clothing Club, an adjunct to NEWD, designs and silk-screens shirts for individuals, companies and nonprofits.
The two moved out of parks and basements in the fall of 2012 and got married a few months later. NEWD and Linda’s Transformation Room share some 5,500 square feet in the repurposed Vliet Street building, something they had no intention of doing, at first. The couple bought the former Sheet Metal Local 24 offices for $195,000, according to city assessment records, and tore down myriad office walls. Rob and Linda added fitness classes, a silk-screening workshop and a modest show area near the front entrance to display NEWD clothes. “Our businesses are different, but we’re in a good position to help each other,” Linda says. The two even exchange business advice.
Rob wants to update the aging building’s exterior “to at least past 2000 and make it more welcoming,” he says. His company’s clothes sold well at the Edge Apparel store in Wauwatosa, now closed.
Former Edge Apparel proprietor Allison Phillips says Rob “knows what’s popular and seems [to be] a step ahead of other people.”
Linda’s clients include Lauren Dehne, who wanted to get back into shape after having a baby. “You just work hard for the entire session without a lot of stopping,” Dehne says. High-intensity gyms like the CrossFit empire of affiliates are booming these days.
“I love having a home for this,” Linda says, but don’t be surprised if you see one of her classes hard at work in a park near you “when the weather gets warmer.”