Gas Pains

Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

Otto Partz Gets A Word In Edgewise

Economic Policy, Life In Tosa, Local Government, Public Policy, Wauwatosa Politics

Years ago the Milwaukee White Pages telephone directory had a listing under: Fone Company.  Probably Wisconsin Bell's concession to those whose formative years included an emphasis on phonics and not reading.  There was also a listing under:  Otto Partz.  Perhaps a tongue in cheek entry for a concern that was in the automobile parts trade.  Or maybe someone who struggled with reading.

In case any of you missed it - there is an exceedingly long and tedious discussion thread over at the Tosa Town Square concerning the imminent invasion of an O'Reilly Auto Parts store.  I'm certainly going to be denied the last word in that discussion so I'll take a stab at getting a few words in edgewise in my own exclusive forum here.

It would seem that any number of good citizens of our fair city are alarmed over the possibility of an auto parts chain moving into the former Blockbuster Video store in East Towne Tosa.  Typical gripes include the following:  The signature colors on the building are unappealing.  The architecture is bad.  The business isn't a good fit with the master plan.  It will not be landscaped properly.  It is not what we want.  There already is an auto parts store in Milwaukee to the east. 

To be fair, if I drive around town I could point out any number of business that aren't painted in a color or landscaped in a fashion to suit my tastes.  More than a few seem out of place.  Sometimes I think - What the heck was the city thinking.  As to the subject of more than one of the same businesses - I'd ask what is wrong with more than one CPA.  Or a couple of watering holes.  Three or more groceries.  A bunch of Chinese or Mexican restaurants.  Or a couple of dry cleaners or auto parts stores in close proximity to one another?

Alderman Bobby Pantuso has opined on the subject over at  I have a great deal of respect for Pantuso. His heart is in the right place.  Since this impacts his district he deserves to speak his mind on the subject.

Yet judging from some of the commentary in the TTS, over at Patch and the Tosa East Towne Neighborhood Association Facebook page you'd think that this was nothing less than the end of Tosa's east North Avenue as we know it.  It is shrill.

Almost every morning on my way to the day job I drive past the abandoned and overgrown medical clinic on the corner of 68th and Wells.  Alterra Coffee Roasters is moving into that spot.  They even received a chunk of Community Development Block Grant money to facilitate the move.  Why a company that distributes globally through a huge multinational company like Mars is entitled to a free handout strikes me as poorly conceived.  But I suppose city government works in strange ways sometimes.  In any event, I'm glad something is happening to the empty, unkempt, abandoned building that has been festering on that corner for so many years I've lost count.  Sure, its replacement will be another chain coffee store - and there already is the quaint and charming La Tarte coffee and bakery on the opposite side of the street.  Therefore, I conclude that it's acceptable to allow two of the same businesses on the same street.  And maybe even subsidize one of them too.  Like I said - city government can work in strange ways.  The bottom line is the new Alterra is not likely to be an eyesore and a blight on the neighborhood. 

Back to the auto parts store.  Here is what I know.

In a perfect world the vision of Ald. Pantuso would stand a reasonably good chance of becoming reality. The economy would be humming along at a brisk clip.  The pool of available labor would be readily absorbed and small business lending would be easily accessed.  The demand for commercial space in an aging yet sturdy urban locale would exceed the available supply.  Furthermore, the grand and lofty plans drafted by consultants would be funded by wealthy and visionary capitalists.  In the absence of all of the foregoing there would be free money available from somewhere else to make the vision a reality.

The economic reality of the present has altered all of this.

First-off, the recovery from a balance sheet recession such as the one we've survived is measured in years.  Something on the order of 3 to 6 years.  We probably won’t see concrete evidence of a full and complete recovery until almost midway into the next presidential term.

Today's reality is one of a sputtering and nascent economy recovering from a near mortal wound.  There is a glut of labor and small businesses face a credit crunch as lending has steadily been reduced to a trickle.  There is an oversupply of commercial space and quaint, older urban locations have fallen out of favor.  The wealthy capitalists know they are in the driver's seat and their vision is to drive as hard a bargain as they can.  That is what capitalists do.  Heck, some municipalities are still giving away the store with TIF deals.  And there is no more free money as Uncle Sugar's stimulus has dried-up too.

Is this a phenomenon that is likely to reverse quickly?  I dunno.  Having spoken with the candidates for Mayor recently they're well aware of a dearth of empty storefronts, troubled small businesses and a buyer's market as far as developers and small business start-ups go. 

So where does that leave us?

If a well-capitalized auto parts company with a reputation for being a responsible corporate citizen wants to anchor that end of North Avenue I can only scratch my head and wonder why anyone would want to prevent it.  To the best of my knowledge they're not even asking for any money.

Of course, another option is you could kill the deal or make things so difficult for O'Reilly that they walk away. 

Consequences?  For sure you still have an empty commercial building.  You might get lucky and the perfect tenant will come along.  You might also be unlucky and gain a tenant that makes you wish for an auto parts store.  Or maybe the building will remain vacant for years and become an eyesore and blight on the neighborhood.  

One insightful comment from the discussion in the square stays with me - Cities evolve and perfection is the enemy of the possible.

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