Back when Walmart and other big-box stores were shaking up the retail landscape, business owners banded together to broadcast a “shop local” message. Now, in the fiscal fallout of the pandemic, that message is back, with a new urgency.
According to Dan Nowak, the board president of Local First Milwaukee, a business alliance dedicated to supporting and promoting Wisconsin-owned small businesses, “spending money at a locally owned, independent store, restaurant, boutique, keeps almost twice the amount of money in the local and state economy versus a national chain store.”
Patronizing local businesses has a ripple effect, according to Claire Koenig, communications manager at Visit Milwaukee. “It raises the profile of not just the individual creator but the other creators they might sell. And ultimately, that raises the profile of our city as a place that supports local makers and helps foster an environment where they can be successful,” she says.
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One of the unique shops in our area is the Bronzeville Collective, a collaborative storefront selling handmade goods predominantly created by people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals from the Milwaukee area. Their wares include jewelry, home décor, clothing and much more. Co-founder Lilo Allen started the Bronzeville Collective to create a platform for the marginalized makers of Milwaukee.
“Every season, there’s a short window to be a vendor and sell your wares at all these different festivals, and for a lot of crafters it’s just summer. So we wanted to be able to provide the things that we create year-round, and also give space and visibility to have other creators of color in our community,” says Allen.
Within the sphere of shopping local, it’s crucial to support minority-owned businesses, says Allen. “I think it’s especially important to support people of color and Black folks as we’re doing creative work because we don’t necessarily get the visibility and the spaces that non-people-of-color do in this city. So when you have the opportunity to support Black, buy Black, please take the opportunity to do so because you’re really directly impacting somebody’s livelihood.” Nowak agrees that bolstering marginalized small-business owners is particularly urgent.
“If more of those types of opportunities are given to minority business owners, it’s kind of like the old saying of a rising tide raises all ships. I think that, especially now with our current climate, it’s our job to make sure that we’re including all different businesses.” According to Koenig, Milwaukee residents can lend a hand in the city’s regrowth by prioritizing small, locally owned businesses. “It is going to be Milwaukeeans who play a huge part in the city’s economic recovery,” she says. “We just hope everyone is thinking in that ‘shop local’ mindset to help us weather the storm.”
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Milwaukee has local alternatives for nearly every product you might need or want.
If you pick up your groceries at Whole Foods or Walmart …
Try Outpost Natural Foods (100 E. Capitol Dr., as well as Mequon, Tosa and Bay View), a one-stop shop for organic products. Or G. Groppi Market (1441 E. Russell Ave.), a long-time Bay View purveyor of quality Italian goods. And El Rey, with four South Side locations, offers Mexican food and beverages with an impressive deli.
If you find your beach reads at Barnes & Noble …
Try Boswell Book Co. (2559 N. Downer Ave.), Milwaukee’s beloved book shop, staffed by the city’s best literature nerds, who are more than willing to help you find the next read that’s perfect for you. Or head west to Wauwatosa Village and pick up a book at The Little Read Book (7603 W. State St.), a full-service store “dedicated to the fine art of browsing.”
If your kicks are fresh from Aldo …
Try (shoo) (241 N. Broadway), owned by sibling team Pat and Kate Blake, who stock the shelves with bountiful styles from casual to luxury. Or check out Stan’s (17155 W. Bluemound Rd., Brookfield), a Milwaukee footwear staple since 1950 with locations in Glendale and Greenfield. And a sure shot for footwear is Rogan’s Shoes (4350 S. 76th St., Greenfield), a family-owned chain headquartered in Racine with locations across the state.
If you get your Spandex on at Dick’s Sporting Goods …
Try Performance Running Outfitters, a Milwaukee chain with locations in the Third Ward, Shorewood, Oak Creek and more to get you everything you need, whether you’re just a morning jogger or a full-blown marathon hero. Burghardt Sporting Goods (14660 W. Capitol Dr., Brookfield) has been doing business in southeastern Wisconsin since 1881, when tossing the pigskin around was meant literally, and now has locations in Brookfield and Fox Point.
If you get your diamonds at Kay Jewelers …
Try Kloiber Jewelers (777 E. Wisconsin Ave.), a local full-service jewelry store that’s been selling high-quality, hand-selected jewelry since 1926. Or A Trio (215 N. Water St.), a fifth-generation design studio, where you’ll find one-of-a-kind custom-made pieces as well as popular collections. And Paloma Wilder offers unique, handcrafted gold pieces made in her Riverwest studio.
If you order all your pet supplies on Chewy.com …
Try Bark N Scratch Outpost (5835 W. Bluemound Rd.), a local, affordable supplier of quality, nutritious pet food and supplies. Or head to the East Side to Pets on Brady (1217 E. Brady St.), where you’ll find a selection of toys, treats and more for your pet.