Storefront renovations are latest step in effort to get business booming in Port
It’s not hard to find evidence of increased life on Franklin Street in downtown Port Washington. Just look at work on the Historical Society’s Exploreum museum and the renovated Boerner Mercantile Building, to name a few.
But there are some discouraging signs downtown as well, with a number of vacant storefronts and business closures.
It’s all part of the natural business cycle, and not a reason to panic, city leaders said.
“It can be very cyclical,” Mayor Tom Mlada said. “You’re talking about a Main Street economy, and people leaving for a variety of reasons.
“Obviously we’ve worked extremely hard to get downtown to be a healthy place. There’s a lot of excitement about what’s happening there.”
It’s not unusual for there to be a great deal of turnover in a downtown, said Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development.
“It’s not a situation where a number of shops have left because there’s a new store that’s set up on the edge of town,” he noted. “There are some new businesses coming in, some others leaving. You have to look at the reasons why they leave.
“There’s going to be some short-term turnover.”
For some, he said, the last couple years have been difficult and the long, cold winter may have been the last straw.
Retirements forced other shop owners to close their doors, while other businesses are changing, reducing the need for a storefront, Tetzlaff said. Fireworks Popcorn left downtown because it didn’t require a retail outlet and instead needed a more industrial space, he noted.
And in one case, a business left because it needed more space than it had. ZuZu Pedals left a storefront on the east side of Franklin Street for another, larger space kitty-corner from its previous home.
In that case, Tetzlaff said, building owner Wayne Houpt has told the city he’s not worried about filling the former bike shop’s storefront. “He’s got some prospects,” Tetzlaff said.
ZuZu Pedals now occupies more than half the first floor of the Boerner Mercantile Building at 211 N. Franklin St., but the other half of the first floor is vacant.
Building owner Daniel Ewig said he is forming a new bakery to take over the space formerly occupied by Sweetheart Cakes, which closed in May. The bakery is expected to open in early fall.
“We are really excited about the future of our downtown,” Ewig said. “The last two years have seen tremendous progress in terms of new businesses, as well as building and infrastructure upgrades.
“We expect this trend to continue.”
The former Brown’s Floral building at 115 N. Franklin St. is one of those getting a facelift, and La Tulipe, an upscale flower shop that’s been operating in the North Shore for the past 11 years, is expected to open there this summer.
“We’re very excited to be coming to Port Washington,” La Tulipe proprietor Vicki Kunz said recently. “We see great things happening, and we’re eager to be part of it.”
Her shop, she said, is a European-style floral store that “is going to be unlike many other flower stores. It’s going to be a place people are going to seek out.”
The building at 318 N. Franklin St. that houses the Laura Burke Insurance Agency is getting a facelift and the former Wilson House restaurant at the corner of Franklin and Main streets is being renovated as a community center by building owner Port Washington State Bank.
Work on the Port Washington Historical Society’s Exploreum at 118 N. Franklin St. is continuing, with the museum expected to open next spring, and developer Gertjan van den Broek is moving ahead with his plans to convert the former M&I Bank at 122 N. Franklin St. and the neighboring Harry’s Restaurant building into a multi-million-dollar retail and luxury residential development.
But, at the same time, there are still a number of vacancies on the city’s main street. Pretty Paws Pet Grooming at 309 N. Franklin St., Grand Photo and Design at 224 N. Franklin and Harbor Temptations at 215 N. Franklin St. have closed their doors.
But each closed door is also an opportunity for a new shop, Mlada said.
With the city looking at the possibility of divesting itself of some parking lots, in the process creating more space for development in downtown, the opportunities will continue to grow, Mlada said.
“I think you’re going to find more and more people are looking at Port,” he said. “There’s a greater awareness of the potential for investment in downtown now than before.
“You’ve got all this good stuff happening, and if we make sure we have the right vision for our downtown, with right-scale development, we’re going to come out of this where we want to be.”
Image information:THE CHANGING FACE of downtown Port was reflected in the front windows at La Tulipe, a new florist shop that will open this summer in the former Brown’s Floral building at 115 N. Franklin St. In addition to getting a new tenant, the building is also getting an updated facade. THE FACADE of the building at 318 N. Franklin St. that houses the Laura Burke Insurance Agency is getting an update as well. Matt Schmit and Preston Yahr worked on the project. Photo by Sam ArendtPhoto by Sam Arendt