Amy: So, how do you spend your free time in Milwaukee?
Rebecca: You know, I’m a spoiled woman because my husband is in the wine business. He’s a certified sommelier, so we – without sounding like a lush – we like to drink! We like to go out and experience new restaurants or meet up with our friends – we go to new places or go to the old staples. So, when we moved here, we lived with our parents for a while. Which was great but – it didn’t last long. (chuckles) We got a great apartment in Bay View and moved there. Just got to really know the neighborhood. We lived about a block away from Tenuta’s – which is such a good place, I love it so much. It’s one of my favorite little neighborhood places in Milwaukee. My husband was working for Groppi’s then, so he could walk to work. We really got to know that neighborhood – lived there for about two years. We decided to move, so we moved to Riverwest, and we love Riverwest.
Amy: It’s interesting that you went from Bay View to Riverwest – usually it’s the other way around.
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s what everyone tells me. (both laugh) Riverwest is great. We absolutely love it. It is a great community; very community-focused. Bay View is like that, too, but the houses are a little bit closer in Riverwest. Riverwest is very block-by-block. We love our neighbors and the community up there. Another place we can walk pretty much anywhere to. We’re in the south part of Riverwest, so we’re in close proximity to the East Side, and Lakefront Brewery is about 10 minutes. I can walk to Brady street in about 15 minutes. We like neighborhood hopping and exploring. We might move in June!
Amy: Nice! Where are you thinking?
Rebecca: The East Side! Maybe the lower East Side? There are little pockets that are so charming. The upper East Side is very charming as well, but there are a lot of residential homes there, and we aren’t looking into buying yet, so we’ll see. We have a dog, so a yard would be nice.
Amy: That’s very unique that you’re spending a couple years in every corner of Milwaukee. I guess since you have been exploring these areas more – do you have any favorite spots in Milwaukee?
Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely! We’ll start in Bay View – Odd Duck. For neighborhood corner bars, we love the Newport. You should go, it’s so fun! It’s close to the dog park. It’s got really great old-school Wisconsin corner bar vibes. It’s got a circle bar which seems to be a cool northern Midwest thing. Burnhearts is great as well.
Amy: Yes! I love Burnhearts. The new patio is so nice. I’m glad they finally did that.
Rebecca: It’s great! It’s so great. There are a few vintage shops. Alive and Fine, and Plume – they’re both female-owned which is fantastic. And they’re recently new businesses too, which is great. In Riverwest – we love Foundation; we walk there all the time. (laughs) We like Centro Café. It’s nice for a glass of wine or a quick bite. It’s really sweet and romantic and intimate. On the East Side, for breweries, we love Good City – it’s one of our favorites. We do like Lakefront. I don’t think I said anything that didn’t have to do with eating or drinking…oh! I said the vintage stores. (laughs)
Amy: So, would you say Milwaukee is one of your favorite cities?
Rebecca: Oh, absolutely. When we were deciding to move, and we were choosing between Milwaukee and Louisville. Louisville is only about an hour and a half away from Bloomington [Indiana], where we were. So it was closer to our friends. It has a great vibe – great food culture, great music culture. We chose Milwaukee because of my family, and we love being near the Great Lakes. They have really similar vibes, though. Milwaukee has this old beer culture, and Louisville has this old Bourbon culture, and a lot of their histories are revolved around that. So they’re similar but different. When you’re in Louisville, you feel like you’re in the south there, even though it’s not super southern. It’s also an older city, so there’s the difference in architecture.
So, why, Milwaukee? One, my family. We love being by the lake. Jerel [her husband] had only been here a couple of times. We just experienced really good vibes whenever we were here. I had moved away from the area when I was 18, so I didn’t really know much about Milwaukee. Thank goodness we did move here, because we absolutely love it.
Amy: Is there anything specific that makes you feel at home here, as opposed to Louisville, or where you were in college – or even in New York where you were growing up as a child?
Rebecca: Well, proximity to family has something to do with that with feeling at home. Actually, circling back to how I got involved with the Third Ward Association – when I was working at Odd Duck, which I loved, it was time to do something new. I had seen this job posting for an administrative position and had a little bit of that background and went for it, and got the interview and dazzled them. (laughs) Even though we built such a wonderful community in Bay View, working in the Ward, and living in different neighborhoods - I feel so much more home in Milwaukee just by having that well-roundedness and being around different kinds of Milwaukeeans – that’s what really makes me feel at home. What is so great about the Ward and my job is that it’s so connection-based. That’s why I loved working in hospitality – you make those connections.
The Ward has developed so much in the last two decades – even in the last five years. It’s interesting to be here now, versus what I heard it used to be like. The association is quite old – it’s one of the oldest associations in the city. It was formed in the 70’s. The powers that be wanted to turn this district into a red-light district. So, a lady who owned The Knitting Factory said, “absolutely not,” so they formed this neighborhood association to put the kibosh to that idea. Ever since then, the association has been championing the neighborhood and trying to make it thrive as this mixed-use, awesome hub.
Amy: So is your job mainly community-based, or do you do volunteer-work, or…what exactly does the Third Ward Association do for the community?
Rebecca: Oh! Big question!
Amy: Yeah, right? What don’t you do would be the better question.
Rebecca: The association is directly connected to the business improvement district – which is a taxing district. Something cool and unique about Milwaukee – it has the third highest concentration of bids in the country, behind New York and L.A.
Amy: What do you mean by that?
Rebecca: So, a business improvement district is a taxing district. Property owners pay a tax, and that tax goes towards street beautification, snow removal – you see all these what we call “Third Ward Green” (motions to street lamps outside) all of these green lights, the arches – all of that money goes into improving the neighborhood. We’re partnered with the bid. The association also does event programming. So, we run Gallery Night and Gallery Day, the Third Ward Arts Festival, Christmas in the Ward which is coming up in a few s,hort weeks – which is my biggest project of the year. It takes months to plan (chuckles) and fundraise for and gather volunteers. We’re a membership-based organization. We started more networking events because that’s what the members asked for – which is all about bringing people together. When I joined the job about 18 months ago, there was a lot of feedback saying, “We want to know our neighbors more. We want to feel more tight-knit and a solid community.” Scheduling monthly meetups is the easiest way to do that.
Amy: So, how does a business get involved with the Third Ward Association?
Rebecca: We have a process; when we know a business is moving into the neighborhood, we’ll make a point-of-contact, either e-mail or face-to-face. Show them our brochure, introduce ourselves and what we do. If they want to join, they join, and if they don’t – they don’t! It’s completely up to them.
Amy: How many businesses are part of the association?
Rebecca: We have over 200 – around 220 businesses. That’s about half. There’s a little less than 500 in the neighborhood. We also have a resident-level. There are still people that we want to come join us – we still have some work to do!