What's up on "The Downer"?
Glad to hear about the uptick on Milwaukee's Downer Avenue.
Sorry to hear about the theater that bears it's name.
The Journal/Sentinel's Tom Daykin writes this week that the neighborhood is enjoying a renaissance led by the arrival of Pizza Man and the planned renovations at Sendik's. Pizza Man, of course, was a North-and-Oakland landmark before the huge fire that took the eatery out. It reopened at Downer and Belleview. Sendik's has new owners who plan big things for the grocery store that, to me, has the feel of the kind of places my mom used to shop at back when I was a kid. That's part of the problem, and why the changes are coming. Grocery shoppers have different needs and demands, which is what Daykin says the renovation aims to fix: they'll be tweaking the inside (including the deli) and adding--wait for it--a bar, among other improvements.
Other neighborhood shops, taverns and eateries seem to be chugging along--the area rocked the summer night I stopped by for dinner, with a vibe that was a pleasant surprise. It was a night that included a stop a the Downer Theater, whose future Daykin says may be in doubt. It, too, needs work and updates. The owners say they want to stay but it's going to take cash, perhaps even city help.
The Downer always was the place for the city's finest theater popcorn and art-house films. Purists may bemoan the split that added a second screen (there's talk in Daykin's article about adding a third) but there's little like it in these parts (the Oriental?) and it would be a shame to see it go. Then again, like so many landmark businesses that suddenly close, the question always needs to be asked of those who mourn the passing: when is the last time YOU actually went there?
Like the grocery shopper, the tastes/expectations of the movie-goer morphed over time--certainly in the almost 100 years since the Downer first opened. They want paved lots full of free parking and multiple screens with plenty of options. The best films don't always get the most viewers--independent films don't usually come with huge ad budgets, so Hollywood crap with big-name stars touted in endless commercials score big at the box office while the art-house film full of plot and great acting by relative unknowns goes largely ignored.
If you haven't been to Downer Avenue lately, check it out--even in winter. It's what a big city neighborhood should be, with lots of attractions/shops/businesses that allow those who live nearby convenience while making it a quality destination for suburbanites. And, expand your horizons at the Downer Theater. See something off the beaten track at a landmark that might've slipped off your radar.
It's great to see Downer Avenue with a renewed pulse. It'd be nice to see the theater that used to be it's main draw be part of the revival.