When Paul and Tom Murphy rework the parking lot at a downtown property they just bought, the two brothers figure they’ll generate another dozen or so parking spots along West Milwaukee Street.
The Janesville men closed on a former funeral home property at 15 N. Jackson St. last week. One of the property’s amenities—in fact, the first amenity the Murphys plan to upgrade and use—is the parking lot at the northwest corner of West Milwaukee and North Jackson streets.
The Murphys want to reconfigure the lot and reserve about 10 spots for tenants of upstairs apartments along West Milwaukee Street.
Some of those apartment dwellers now park on West Milwaukee Street all day or overnight, filling the few parking spots left in front of retail stores.
“That will help move apartment tenants away from the storefront retailers on the street, so they won’t take away from those storefront parking spots anymore. And come wintertime, they won’t have to be moving around for snow removal on the streets,” Paul Murphy said.
Well, it’s as close to presto as you might get along West Milwaukee Street, where property redevelopment and ongoing street projects have gobbled up dozens, if not hundreds, of public and private parking spots both on street and off the street.
Murphy said he’ll start by reserving a few stalls at 15 N. Jackson St. for his apartment tenants who live in units above an active retail storefront he owns in the 200 block of West Milwaukee Street.
Eventually, Murphy will lease out a half-dozen or so additional spots in the same lot to other apartment dwellers on the street.
The city owns an adjacent portion of the North Jackson Street lot. The boundary between the city’s portion and what is now Murphy’s is in the center of the lot, and for years that divide has remained empty and unused.
Murphy said he believes that section could fit at least 15 to 20 more parking spots if he and the city work together to “reconfigure” the space.
Emily Arthur, director of the city’s downtown Business Improvement District, is part of an ad hoc parking committee, a group of mostly retail business operators that advises the city on possible parking solutions.
Murphy does not sit on the parking committee, but Arthur said members are buzzing about the prospect of using that lot as a pressure-release valve for parking congestion on West Milwaukee Street.
Call it the butterfly effect of West Milwaukee Street parking.
“It’s nice when you have a property owner who you didn’t even have to ask about the topic of parking. They were already on it,” Arthur said. “We’re slowly starting to get there in different spots throughout downtown.”
Arthur said the committee now is focused on a survey of Rock River Charter School students and staff who use parking spots on West Milwaukee Street.
The Janesville School District operates the charter school out of the Kimball Educational Center, a building at 31 W. Milwaukee St. that was given to the district. Students and staff at one time parked in a public lot north of the school, but that lot now is the home of the 53-room Cobblestone Hotel, which is set to open soon.
Arthur said some spots on West Milwaukee Street are designated as two-hour parking, which is geared to make more parking available for customers of stores and businesses.
The charter school is the only school in the district that doesn’t have on-site parking.
“It’s a high number of students and staff at that school. We’re just wanting to figure out where everybody is parking to see if there is a better opportunity for them, or is it just that people don’t realize they could park farther out. They don’t understand that it’s impacting the businesses,” Arthur said.
Arthur said the availability of parking on West Milwaukee Street is becoming increasingly important as more storefront owners begin to rehab upstairs apartments. Meanwhile, five or six new retail businesses have opened or are opening soon along the street.
One business, a specialty cheesecake maker, bought a storefront in the 100 block of West Milwaukee Street. That business opens this fall, Arthur said.
Blackhawk Community Credit Union CEO Sherri Stumpf said her credit union hopes to reopen some of the dozens of private parking spots that have been cordoned off at the former Chase Bank property.
The credit union bought the bank last month and intends to rehab it as the future location of the Legacy Center, a museum-like facility honoring union autoworkers at Janesville’s former General Motors plant.
Stumpf said the lot eventually will be for Legacy Center visitors. But in the near term, she said, people patronizing businesses downtown will be allowed to use whatever spots the credit union can make available as crews rehab the building.
Murphy believes a growing number of local residents now own properties along West Milwaukee Street. He thinks that helps matters because local owners are more likely to key on shifting trends, such as how much parking is available, because they spend more time downtown than an absentee owner.
“You approach stuff differently than an out-of-town owner or a trust. You walk around and absorb things and see things and learn things. You’ve got skin in the game,” Murphy said.
“Call it self-serving, but if you’ve got a mortgage to pay on the building and you want to keep retail tenants and make sure they succeed, you’ve got to do things like acquire some parking and figure out how to use it so people can actually get into the storefronts.”
Before there was Potato Head, there was Mr. Potato Head, Mr. Cucumber Head and Mr. Carrot Head.
I know this because all three of them are sitting on my desk, along with Mr. Green Pepper Head and a Parker Pen store display.
The appearance of plastic vegetables with interchangeable parts is an unmistakable sign: Someone has been to the Elkhorn Flea Market. Held four times a year at the Walworth County Fairgrounds, the event has been around for almost four decades. Vendors and buyers come from all over to shop and sell, with the majority of them coming from Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota.
Locals who know about the event might be inclined to keep it under their hat—or, in Mr. Cucumber’s case, his bowler. One woman, who declined to be named, acted as though it was a state secret. She doesn’t tell her family members about it because she wants to “get at the good stuff first.” With more than 500 booths, it’s difficult to imagine how a couple more sisters could make a dent in the shopping experience.
Nona Knapp helped start the flea market in 1982. She and her then-husband enjoyed hunting around for antiques. As a teacher, she had summers off and started small.
It took about 12 years to take off, but when it did, it became the go-to place for dealers and customers.
“Back then, I was competing with a bunch of other flea markets,” Knapp said. “Now they have to compete with me.”
Knapp said raising the bar helped the business thrive.
“We control the type of stuff that comes in,” Knapp said. “It can only be old; it can only be antiques.”
So no dealers with sunglasses, T-shirts, belt buckles or any other newish goods. A handful of vegetable vendors are the exception to the rule.
Knapp’s manager asks vendors what they plan to bring, and crafters are turned away.
Knapp and her husband Skip Knapp make the rounds to all the booths. They don’t mind one or two modern items, but the rest of the booth should be vintage and antique.
And if they’re not?
“Then maybe they won’t get a space next time,” Knapp said.
Another surprising element of their success? Tables.
A number of years ago, Skip Knapp and his son made a number of wooden tables. Designed with the best hardware to withstand tipping and other flea market hazards, the tables allowed dealers to put more stuff in their trailers.
While a few dealers specialized in items such as tools, postcards or vintage jewelry, the majority of booths were a mix of whatever could fit into those trailers.
A quick run through of the grounds took more than an hour. Items for sale included 10-gallon lard buckets, fine bone china tea cups with matching saucers, cottage cheese containers, window screens, church pews, pulpits, headboards, tools, a sign advising that parking was for “McDonalds customers only,” phonographs, record players, costume jewelry, antique furniture, 25-cent buckles, records, old toys, ancient toys, dial phones, toy sewing machines and mid-century modern everything.
Antique and vintage shopping trends wax and wane, Knapp said.
Now, “anything advertising” such as signs and display cases are a big deal.
A couple years ago it was furniture, she said.
Skip Knapp said he saw a hall tree with a bench at its base that would have been worth $2,400 a couple of years ago. On Sunday, it was selling for $395.
As for Mr. Cucumber Head and his pals, let’s just say that their monetary price was reasonable. I mean, when else are you going to get so many hats, hands and noses hands for $15?
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