Can You Identify Milwaukee’s Notables in These Downtown Displays?

Downtown Milwaukee is decorating vacant storefronts to draw attention to availability and raise foot traffic.

Vacant Downtown storefronts have come alive with holiday themed displays that feature the likenesses of local celebrities with illustrations of the some of the city’s classic architecture serving as a backdrop.

The dazzling displays, designed by Milwaukee’s Retailworks Inc., are designed to attract tenants to ground-level space in Downtown’s east end while generating foot traffic to benefit existing merchants.

The Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District #21 wanted the displays to showcase the types of businesses consumers have expressed an interest in having in the heart of the business district – a deli, bakery, florist, apothecary and apparel shops.

“We thought it would be a fun way to elevate visibility of some of the available prime street-level retail spaces and get people thinking about walking into that space, maybe as a bakery or a gift store,” Milwaukee Downtown CEO Beth Weirick said. 

Photo by Rich Rovito
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Anything that we can do to generate some footfall downtown to help support our retailers and our restaurateurs who are already in place is also another benefit of doing an installation like this.”

The BID hopes to attract even more attention to the spaces by featuring cutouts of some of the city’s most notable residents in the displays. 

“Through all of their connections and their relationship through social media, it takes it to another level,” Weirick said.  

Clever window displays can drive interest in empty storefronts while showcasing Downtown’s brand, Retailworks President Lyn Falk said. 

“We are always looking for ways to enhance the look or appearance of storefronts,” she said. “Why not turn them into really fun stages of display.”

Photo by Rich Rovito

The displays are designed to be mobile and can installed in other storefronts if existing spaces become leased, Falk said.

Milwaukee Downtown and Retailworks teamed up in 2017 during the Holiday Lights Festival to design window displays that featured merchandise from local e-commerce businesses. 

Local celebrities can help spread the word about available Downtown storefronts through social media interactions, like snapping selfies with their cutouts in the window displays, Falk said.

“Maybe we will continue this and do more storefronts in the future and bring in more characters and have even more fun,” she said. “We feel like there are a lot of legs.”

Here’s a rundown of the local celebrities featured in the displays:

  • Ian Abston, Light the Hoan co-founder
  • Rebecca Sue Button, creative programs coordinator, Historic Third Ward Association
  • DJ Shawna Nicols, Milwaukee Bucks official in-game disc jockey (and daughter of Weirick, who is also featured in the display) 
  • Omar Shaikh, long-time Milwaukee restaurateur and operator of Downtown steakhouse, Carnevor 
  • Milwaukee Municipal Court Judge Derek Mosley 
  • OnMilwaukee co-founder Jeff Sherman, his wife, Stephanie, and the couple’s two children.  
  • Tracy Johnson, President and CEO of the Commercial Association of REALTORS® Wisconsin.
  • Artist and muralist Mauricio Ramirez
  • David Lee, CEO of Imagine MKE  
  • Musician Sarah Fierek, formerly of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee 
  • Corry Joe Biddle, executive director of FUEL Milwaukee and Vice-President of Community Affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce 
  • Alex Lasry, senior vice president of the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Jennifer Posh, content manager at Visit Milwaukee
  • Jen O’Hara, owner of Dogs of MKE
  • Vivian King, author and former community relations executive and television reporter
  • Emily Phillips, financial advisor who is active in various charitable causes
  • Sandra Dempsey, content creator and vlogger at Estamos Unidos US  

The displays feature holiday decor. Colorful lights and Santa hats are prominent, but those pieces can be removed and replaced with other props, Falk noted.

“We wanted to make this more long-term than just a holiday theme,” she said.

The displays make a difference in Downtown’s streetscape, Falk added.

“When you see darkness, people drive by faster and walk by faster. You bring life to them and it’s really remarkable the difference that it makes,” she said.

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.