THE FORMER GRAFTON Antiques Mall has become a hub of activity for local artists, thanks to Judy and Brian Preising, owners of Picture Perfect Custom Framing (top photo). Harley-Davidson motorcyles dominate the display of artist David Uhl and MEN at ART (lower left). The newly reopened building already displays the works of some 20 artists, as well as a variety of collectibles. Photos by Mark Jaeger
Picture Perfect owners bring new attitude to neglected retail location
Brian Preising admits he had a pretty good run in downtown Milwaukee, first as a restaurateur and then as the operator of a custom picture frame business.
“They used to call him the Mayor of Water Street,” his wife Judy said.
“I was downtown for 13 of the 26 years in the framing business,” Preising said. It started as a nice little community, where everyone worked together. I did a lot of custom framing jobs for corporate clients, and had lots of repeat orders.”
“Over time, however, things began to change. People just seemed to get more mean. When we moved up to Grafton, we noticed the change immediately. People were actually happy here.”
Since last October, the Preisings have operated Picture Perfect Custom Framing at 994 Ulao Rd., in the building that formerly housed the Grafton Antiques Mall.
They are renting the building from Roger and Phyllis Chase, who also own the nearby Ghost Town restaurant.
“The antiques mall closed about five years ago, and pretty much nothing was touched inside since then,” Judy Preising said.
“We ended up moving the inventory that had been left in the building to the second floor and did a lot of cleaning — including cleaning up after a raccoon that found its way into the building.”
The building has had a colorful history. It was once a railroad station, and the rear of the building was a lumber mill. The framing stock is cut there now.
In addition to their framing business, the Preisings are managing an emergening artists’ community in the building.
The mall approach provides flexible gallery space on a short-term basis to artists who either are not ready to strike out on their own or don’t want to be bothered with running their own retail space.
The former mall have proven ideal for that purpose, because it is divided into a covey of small rooms, giving each tenant their own display space.
More than a dozen artists have retail space in the building, and when they are not present the Preisings handle the transactions.
The evolving gallery space includes watercolors by Dave Sorgel; photography Bill Lang, Donna Strong and Carl Corey; abstracts by Jennifer Lockwood and Josh Clark; wildlife works by Tim Leonardelli; wearable art by Uhl Studios and pottery by Carmen Lane.
Judy Preising also sells leather goods, a skill she perfected while working as a designer at Amity Leather in West Bend.
Her husband sells acrylic abstracts he creates under the pseudonym B. Rush.
The gallery space is filled with surprises.
Bruce Schrimpf, a retired Milwaukee attorney, sells model railroad supplies and train paraphernalia from one brightly lit room.
“Bruce has been involved with model trains for a long time and was looking for something to do in his retirement. When we showed him the space we had available, he pulled out his checkbook and asked, ‘How much?’” Brian Preising said.
The setting is called Grandpa’s Train Room.
There is also a discount room called Klaus’ Back Room in honor of the gallery mascot, a docile German short-hair pointer.
“He points the way to savings,” Judy Preising said, sounding a little bit like a commercial.
For customers who work their way to the second floor, there are even more unexpected discoveries.
In addition to deeply discounted antiques left over from the building’s previous incarnation in the Picker’s Paradise, a store called Magic Tricks LTD offers magicians’ goods and gambling supplies in a separate room. Proprietor Scott Lane also
schedules magic shows for parties and gives magic lessons.
The eclectic mix of vendors is just the blend the Preisings were hoping for.
“Because artists aren’t tied to long-term leases, there should always be a lot of changes happening,” Judy Preising said.
The couple hope to make the mall a hub for artistic events, including outdoor demonstrations and activities when the weather turns nice.
The Preisings said they are looking for a new name for the building to better reflects the diversity inside.
“We toyed with the name Picture Perfect Mercantile, but that doesn’t seem to really reflect what we are all about,” Judy Preising said.