12 October 2013

Lost City: Milwaukee Edition: The Signs of Downer Avenue

Downer Avenue, a bit to the north of downtown Milwaukee, goes on for some length, but only about two blocks of it are devoted to commerce. But what a two blocks they are.

Despite the presence of a Starbuck's, much of the street is dedicated to businesses that have been there a good spell. And old businesses means old signs. Above is the marquee to the Downer Theatre, which has been in business for a century and is the oldest operating movie theatre in Milwaukee. It's the anchor of the area.

I don't know how old Downer Hardware is, but I'd guess the 1950s. Like the saw-shaped side sign.

Sendik's, a family-run grocery concern that began with pushcarts, has been around since 1928; the Downer building since 1949. It's actually owned by the Balistreri family, who came from Sicily. Tells the company website:
The name Sendik’s is derived from a simple misunderstanding. As new immigrants to America, the family needed to acquire many household items. While attempting to purchase a stove, Great Grandpa Balistreri, through broken English and a thick Italian accent, asked the sales clerk to “send it” to him. To the salesman, it sounded like Great Grandpa was saying “Sendik” which is the name that was written on the order. When the stove arrived, the delivery person asked some neighbors where he could find “Mr. Sendik.” They pointed him in Great Grandpa’s direction because they knew he was expecting a stove. Great Grandpa became known as Mr. Sendik and the rest is history.

Sounds like a tall tale to me. But it's a sweet one. There are many Sendik's locations around Milwaukee, but this is the oldest. 

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