Old market lives on in Oak Creek
Market Place Village artisan mall, once a hubbub of activity, still shows its wares
Oak Creek — There was a time when blacksmiths, bakers, potters, antique collectors, artists and jewelers overlapped in one outdoor mall, called Market Place Village, at South Chicago and East Puetz roads.
The private development was one of the first of its kind in the city and drew ample crowds to shop through its cobblestone walkways on Sunday afternoons, weekends and holidays. That was in the late 1970s, its heyday.
The business model was progressive.
At home with businesses
Artists would rent or purchase a duplex and live above their stores, which was usually on the first floor. The Market Place became a family to the proprietors who would watch each others' kids grow up in the shopping center and help supervise each others' stores. Today, the same model is still followed, even if many of the residential apartments are leased out to non-businesses owners.
"It was a brand new concept. There was nothing like it in the area. You could walk here at any given time and there would be buses, and people taking tours of the shops," said Rick Cartwright, co-owner of Potters Field Stoneware.
Cartwright opened his business, then called the Pioneer Potter, in Market Place in 1978. He started in one corner of the development and has since acquired the entire building with his wife, Lisa Weber, who is also a potter.
"It was a mini version of Drexel Town Square in many ways," said Doug Seymour, director of community development. "It was an early forerunner to all mixed-use development where you live and work in the same place."
Drexel Town Square, the new downtown being constructed for the city, includes luxury apartment towers for residents.
But the history of Market Place hardly matches its present.
While the mall features shops such as Sweet Music, Decorative Touch floral gift shop, C3 custom jewelry design, Udana Yoga and more, walkways are nearly vacant. Foot traffic is sparse and stores run irregular hours. One antique shop stays permanently closed and only opens by appointment. There are even retail vacancies seeking new tenants.
"You can't compare what it is now to what it was. In its heyday it was just so beautiful," said Ellen Kiery, office manager of Market Place Dental, one of the development's flagship service providers. Kiery started working at the dental office in 1978. She said local shop owners used to transform the entire mall during Christmas and Halloween time. "It looked like a winter wonderland."
"The Market Place is like Oak Creek's hidden secret. You try to do your best to hang in there," said Linda Dlugi, owner of Decorative Touch floral gift shop.
Jan Massie, a fiber artist who moved to Market Place in 2006 after retiring from MillerCoors to open her store, Just 4 Ewe, sells hand-spun yarn, custom paintings and wearable art, and wishes others also realized the opportunity.
"I love it here; this place is my dream. I just wish we'd get more retail because then we'd get more people," said Massie.
Like many other Market Place artisans, Massie relies on trade shoes, craft and art fairs for sales. She said only 5 percent of her sales come from in-store purchases at Market Place. At Potters Field, 10 percent of sales come from in-store purchases.
But the setting does have its drawbacks, she acknowedges. The average driver on South Chicago Road is prone to drive right past Market Place Village, where the garages of the duplexes face the street. One landmark sign stands in the corner, but no additional signage can be added. (Developments like Market Place are governed by their own set of sign restrictions, said Seymour.)
"A lot of people drive by here and have no idea we're here. We have all tried advertising," said Massie.
But there is some cause for hope.
New life has been pumped into Market Place, such as Sweet Music opening in 2012 and Indigo Creative Arts Studio opened in June.
Eric and Garett Kucifer opened Kucifer Realty, Inc. in Market Place 2 1/2 years ago for the family atmosphere to raise their daughter.
"They say it takes a Village to raise a family," joked Garett.
Cartright of Potters Field is also maintaining optimism. "I think there's a great potential here especially with the way Oak Creek is developing. Sometimes you have to remember there's no place like home. I think we're very fortunate to be here."
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