A poignant goodbye letter from the Drews family still hangs forlornly on the window of the former variety store in Tosa Village, a testament to the affection between them and a couple of generations of customers for arts, crafts and thousands of other items.
The business closed at the end of 2007 after 40 years at the location, and part of it, the old crafts level, has been occupied for about seven months. But now the main building is being refurbished and has been divided for three new shops. The hope is that all will be open before June 4.
Two tenants have signed leases, and the third is nearing a conclusion, the building's owners said. Yo Mama! frozen yogurt and B. Green, which will sell housewares and toys made from sustainable materials, are ready to move in as soon as reconstruction is complete.
"We opened in September during the Village Green Street Fair," said Karen Wilman, the owner of Go Green Architecture and Supply, 7511 Harwood Ave. "It's kind of ironic, we're trying to get these opened for the next fair, which is June 4."
Wilman and co-owner Curt Wiebelhaus purchased the corner building through a development company called Sustainable Properties.
"The corner tenant is going to be Yo Mama!" Wilman said, "and the interior buildout is going to be very nice, a beautiful design space with a fireplace for lounging. It's going to be a very relaxing atmosphere."
Wilman's own business is all about sustainability, as she designs and installs spaces using a variety of conservation-based materials from soy concrete to sisal-fiber flooring.
"Yo Mama! is using sustainable and Earth-friendly materials, and B. Green is using sisal flooring, so we're very pleased about that," Wilman said. "We used the same approach to the building itself. The word we're using is 'upcycled,' which kind of takes the place of 'repurposed,' just a more modern term for finding new life in old things."
Her business partner, Wiebelhaus, said they put a strong emphasis on energy efficiency and a "high-performing building envelope – the walls, the windows, the roof, what keeps the building warm or cool."
From a business standpoint, Wiebelhaus said: "One of the important things was to open up the east elevation to Wauwatosa Avenue with entrances and windows. We're building an elevated walkway to access those entrances."
Janice Annesley, owner of B. Green, said her business will complement Welman's nicely, with a selection of sustainable goods.
"It's going to be a variety of products from natural and recycled sources," she said, including kitchenware and toys from recycled plastic, stuffed animals from organic cotton, bamboo or recycled plastic fabrics, backpacks from recycled fabrics, recycled paper wrapping paper and more.
Sounds almost like Drews.
"If I could be an eco-friendly Drews, I would be," Annesley said. "They were so loved and are so missed."
Besides being nostalgic, it's one more place the city of Wauwatosa has scratched off its list of vacant properties.
"We‘re really happy to see it developed, and the city gave them money to do it," said Tosa City Planner Tammy Szudy.
The city awarded a Community Development Block Grant of $140,000 to Sustainable Properties for the redevelopment of the property. The money was earmarked for the creation of new jobs for low- to moderate-income people, at $35,000 per new job for four employees.