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In This Together case study - State St.
From Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 30, 2009, by Tom Tolan
When Brandon Roethel started up his Izzy's restaurant in July 2009, the plan was to operate for about a month, then stage an official grand opening.
Two and a half weeks later came the email that put the kibosh on the grand opening - and could have imperiled bigger plans, for a thriving business that would help revitalize the struggling neighborhood.
The City of Milwaukee had designated more than $26 million in federal stimulus money for 18 street-repair projects around the city. The first three projects included one that would tear up W. State Street from N. 17th to N. 27th Streets, right in front of the fledgling business.
Two months later, the pavement was gone from the south two-thirds of State Street in front of the property, at 2613 W. State, and from most of its sidewalk. Customers had to walk through dirt to get to the door. It could have been a nightmare to someone in the often-shaky restaurant business.
But Roethel and his partner and building owner, attorney Charles Hausmann, were philosophical about the street work, which they said will improve the neighborhood in the long run and would be partly finished in November. And they said the new restaurant did okay during construction, partly because community members stepped up to patronize the place.
"I honestly thought it would be a ghost town when the work started," Roethel said. But it wasn't.
Hausmann felt that a new street was badly needed, and, in fact, their best two weeks at the restaurant happened after the street was taken out.
Part of that is because of the support of neighbors. Ald. Robert Bauman - the local alderman and the chairman of the Common Council's Public Works Committee, which approved the stimulus spending for road projects - helped get permission for Izzy's to use a city lot at N. 27th and W. State, to replace the street parking lost in the project. And Bauman has eaten at the restaurant several times.
Also among the frequent diners at Izzy's was June Moberly, executive director of the Avenues West Association, the community group that serves the area. In September, Moberly sent a catering gig Izzy's way for the Avenues West security committee, which had a lunch meeting at the nearby Penfield Children's Center. Overall that day, Roethel said, the restaurant served 55 customers, a number that satisfied him.
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