A New Children’s Bookstore is Coming to Vliet Street

Rooted MKE will feature stories written by, illustrated by and depicting people of color.

Last summer, Ashley Valentine was touring a storefront on West Vliet Street for an out-of-town friend, who was considering leasing the space. The owner took her on a tour, and she thought of features to report back, but as she saw more of the space, she started to envision another use for it. 

“I’ve always wanted to open a children’s bookstore,” Valentine, who is from Milwaukee, says. “At the same time, I wanted it to have additional offerings aside from a traditional bookstore … academic support and literacy training, exploring stories through [visual] art.”

Until now, the idea have lived in notebooks and Pinterest boards, but now she saw a way for it to come to life.

Her friend passed on the space, so Valentine decided she was going to lease it.


 

 

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That was far from the end of her work. She had to secure funding for her new children’s bookstore. She pitched the idea to several Chambers of Commerce and eventually got a business loan from the Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce. At the same time, she applied for multiple grants, including Wisconsin Tomorrow’s Main Street Bounceback.

“Figuring out all those financial pieces was definitely the most challenging part,” Valentine says.

Once she had secured those grants and loans, she had what she needed to sign the lease and open the store.

Last week, nearly a year after Valentine first saw the space, her bookstore, Rooted MKE, had its official opening at 5312 W. Vliet St. The children’s bookstore stocks books written by, illustrated by or depicting people of color, ranging from books for toddlers to young adults.

“It is critical that urban youth both see themselves in the pages of books and read varied narratives of what it means to be a Black, or brown protagonist,” Valentine wrote. “There are not many spaces in Milwaukee for Black and brown youth to experience literacy. I want to change that.”

The store includes an art studio, where local artists will work with children. And Valentine is offering academic support services for children, including literacy training, Spanish, math, science and test-taking skills. Valentine holds a Master’s of Education from UW-Milwaukee and previously taught bilingual special education at Milwaukee Public Schools.

“Kids come in two to four times a week,” she says. “We create academic goals for them after an initial consultation.”

Valentine also plans to continue to expand tutoring offerings and hold community events in the store, including classes.

“In five years, I want our space to still be very busy and activated, with people choosing Rooted as a gathering place,” Valentine says. “I would like to expand to satellite location to provide tutoring support in different areas of the city so that we can have a wider reach for BIPOC students.”

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.