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Shopping in Milwaukee can be a fun experience, much different than the big mall, big name chain stores. Of course, Milwaukee has that to offer as well. When you've had it with big malls, big parking lots, and big stores, you can head back into the city to do some real shopping. Tucked into our diverse neighborhoods are boutiques and shops that reflect the various cultures, tastes, and and trends of this great city.
Let's start with the big boys though. Downtown Milwaukee has a "shopping mall", the Shops of Grand Avenue. At one time, this mall was the at the top of the heap among Milwaukee malls. Sprawled throughout two buildings and four city blocks, the Grand Avenue Mall was once the ugly duckling that received the grand makeover in a renaissance. In recent years, however, the mall has gone from "fifth avenue" to "side of the highway outlet" status. Still, the architecture, both inside and out, are beautiful, and there is still some good shopping to be had. The mall is comprised of two ends - the "Boston Store End", and the Plankinton Arcade. You have to be on the second floor, and take the skywalk, to get from one end to another, or go outside. The eastern most part of this skywalk will get lead you into the old "Gimbels Building", now called the Ivory Tusk/ASQ Center, where you will find a riverside Border's book store. Bigger stores within the mall include Boston Store, Linens and Things, TJ Maxx, Famous Footwear, Dress Barn, and Office Max. There are also smaller boutiques ranging from jewelry stores to asian goods. Two "Made in Milwaukee stores" include Brew City Beer Gear, where you can get all sorts of Milwaukee and beer related merchandise, including beer and beer glasses, and Quality Candy/Buddy Squirrel Nut shop, for home-made candies and roasted nuts. There is also a great coffee shop with locally roasted beans located in the skywalk; Stone Creek Coffee sells beans by the pound or half pound, and make a great souvenir! This mall is THEE place to be for the downtown lunch hour rush, with a third floor foodcourt, an Applebees, and various other food vendors. The Courtyard by Marriott is attached to to the mall as well. The mall closes early during the week. On Wednesdays in the summer time, you will find a farmer's market in Zeidler Square, the South Side of the mall, directly across from Boston Store. In addition to farmer's produce, you will find crafts, jewelry, lunch items, and live entertainment.
Serious area shoppers know to head to Mayfair Mall, THEE premier mall in the state of Wisconsin. Home to national chains such as Marshall Fields, J Crew, Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor, Restoration Hardware, Banana Republic, and J Jill. Just outside the mall is the state's first Crate and Barrel. The second level of this mall contains plenty of stores geared towards teenagers and children, including the super popular Build a Bear shop. In addition, there is a 16 screen movie theater on this level. Also outside the mall are plenty of family style national restaurants, such as The Cheesecake Factory, P.F. Changs, and Maggiano's Little Italy. Mayfair Mall is a 15 minute drive west of downtown Milwaukee. Taxis or buses can get you there.
You've seen one mall, you've seen them all right? Two other malls in the Greater Milwaukee Area include Southridge, just southwest of Milwaukee in the town of Greendale. Just outside of this mall is the state's second Cost Plus World Market. Further west of the city is Brookfield Square. Bayshore Mall (soon to be Bayshore Town Center), a few minutes north of MIlwaukee, is currently (summer of 2006) undergoing millions of dollars of renovations, and is signing national tenants left and right, including the state's first Gold's Gym, Trader Joe's, and California Pizza Kitchen.
Once you're "malled" out, head into the depths of Milwaukee's great neighborhoods for some unique finds. There are a few unique shops and galleries in the North Avenue District, including hip clothier Moxy, world jeweler the Village Bazaar, nature loving finds at Beans and Barley's store, skateboard shops, and plenty of restaurants and pubs. The Village in Wauwatosa offers more than 100 businesses and restaurants in a European setting about halfway between downtown Milwaukee and Mayfair Mall.
Heading down the one-way Farwell Street, be sure to stop in my favorite tiny shop, The City Gardener, for unique and exotic plants, bamboo, bonsai, and gifts. Once you hit Brady Street, park the car and prepare to spend at least a few hours browsing the shops. This is the place for fun and funky clothes, jewelry, and home goods. Hit my favorite for vintage finds and unique items - Dragonfly. Also stop in Sciortino's bakery and Glorioso's for an authentic Italian food shopping experience!
Follow Brady street to Water Street and head south into The Third Ward, which is fast becoming the trendiest downtown shopping area. Once home to mostly antique stores (and a few are still found here), the Third Ward is now speeding up as the fashion district. Home to boutiques such as Lela, Hers, J. Bird Boutique, Sprout, and the newly opened Fred - which hosts martini nights while you shop! Here you will also find art galleries, upscale home decor, and a newly opened wine store and cafe. A visit to Artasia will make you wonder if you're in a store or a museum! With all of the condo development happening in this area, new stores are opening all the time. Be sure to also stop into the Milwaukee Public Market for a unique, old world food shopping experience.
If it's souvenirs you're shopping for, your best bets are the aformentioned Brew City Beer Gear, located in all major malls. The gift shops at our three major breweries, Miller, Sprecher, and Lakefront, also sell great beer-themed items and clothing. Since everybody knows somebody who loves a Harley, stop in the House of Harley-Davidson for your Harley gear. For baseball fans, the Fan Zone at Miller Park is open year-round. Finally, my other favorite - the Spice House. Stepping into their Old World Third Street location is like stepping back into time. Take home an Ethnic Milwaukee gift box of spices in glass jars for under $25. Makes a great gift, for yourself!
If you're lucky enough to be here in the summertime, you can find plenty of shopping in the marketplaces at the Henry Maier Summerfest grounds. Summerfest itself has many of the vendors I've mentioned here on site for their festival, including Harley, Lakefront Brewery, Sprecher, and Brew CIty Beer Gear. The ethnic festivals bring artisans and crafts from all over the nation to our lakefront.
Whip out the plastic and bring extra luggage to get all of those goods home!