Why I Love Milwaukee: Helping People Find Their ‘Smallwaukee’ Spot

“It’s comforting to know that you can go to any spot, and that’s your spot, and people will be friendly to you.”

Photo by CJ Foeckler at Bradford Beach

WHO: Barbara “Babs” Johnson, 55, is a Gopher State native, trained in the art of “Minnesota nice.” She moved to the East Side in 1987 and never plans to leave.

My favorite time to go to Bradford Beach is in the middle of winter. I like being the only one at the beach while looking for sea glass.

All summer long I’ll be at the beach, too. My husband, PJ, and I might be the oldest people down there, but we like to put our feet in the sand and just enjoy the lakefront.

When heading to work at Engine Company No. 3 – I’ve worked in so many restaurants – I’ll go out of my way to drive by the lake for my own peace of mind. Being connected to our parks and our water is so important.

As much as I enjoy my alone time, I’ve also become an ambassador for this city. When people from out of town come to the restaurant, they usually leave with a list of important things I think they should do in our city.

I know everyone else does it, too, but I love to call this city “Smallwaukee.” People are so kind and nice here. And I like to send the people I meet to the people I already know, because they’re going to continue that good kindness. That’s what keeps me going.

It’s comforting to know that you can go to any spot, and that’s your spot, and people will be friendly to you.

Being an ambassador makes me so proud.

— Babs Johnson, as told to Adam Rogan

Did you like this article? Check out our previous Why I Love Milwaukee stories.

“Helping People Find Their ‘Smallwaukee’ Spot” appears in the August 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning August 1, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan