West Side Stories

A Tosa resident for almost 20 years, Karen is a mom and freelance writer, addicted to playing tennis. When not on the tennis court, she spends the fall and winter in the stands at Green Bay Packer and Marquette basketball games.

Karen is the author of “Grab a Bite,” a dining out column and the former community columnist for the Wauwatosa NOW newspaper.

Mayfair Turns 50

Mayfair, Reminiscing, Tosa Business, Tosa Landmarks

What’s the secret to a successful mall? It’s simple – change or die.


When I first moved to Milwaukee, my husband and I lived just off of Brown Deer Road near Northridge Mall. Back then, 25 years ago, Northridge was THE mall. Everything in and around Northridge was thriving. We’d spend hours wandering the aisles of Northridge, window-shopping and just hanging out.


Because my first job was near Wauwatosa, we bought our first house in Milwaukee on the edge of Tosa. It was a tiny little starter home and on sunny days we’d take walks and gaze across Center Street and dream of the day we’d be able to afford a Tosa home. Eventually, our dream came true and we became true Tosans. And our new mall became Mayfair.


Back in the early ‘80s, Mayfair seemed like the quirkiest mall to me. There was an ice rink in the middle of it! How cool/weird is that?! It didn’t take long before I grew attached to Mayfair. We’d go to movies in the odd little theater in the East parking lot. We’d grab lunch at the cute little café in Marshall Field & Company.


I vividly remember a day in early 1986, standing and watching ice skaters while upstairs in the office building, my doctor was processing my first pregnancy test. That same year, they started making huge changes at Mayfair. They took out the ice rink and started building a second floor. I remember wandering the halls of Mayfair, in an around scaffolding, while I made my way to the Chocolate Factory for lunch. (Prior to the arrival of the food court.)


For many, many years, it seemed like Mayfair was on a steady diet of change. New retailers came and went. Our children have fond memories of the opening of The Disney Store on the first floor of Mayfair. They’d spend HOURS gazing at and sometimes climbing around the tower of stuffed animals in the back of the store. (That is when they weren’t begging for a new toy.) When we could lure the kids out of The Disney Store, my husband and I would drag them over to Scribner’s, where we’d buy books that came with ever-useful blue bookmarks.


To us, it almost seemed like Mayfair grew as our kids grew. When they were at just the right age to become regular movie-goers, the 18-screen theater opened. We were there on that opening weekend when they offered free movies (albeit older films) to show off the new screens. Back then, there was a dinner theater in the General Cinema Theater (now AMC) as well as birthday parties for kids.


Once the theater opened up, the mall began to group stores in the upper level based on demographics. On one end, they put Build-A-Bear and Gap Kids, on the other end, Spencer Gifts and American Eagle.


Soon there was a huge growth spurt that included Crate & Barrel, PF Changs, Maggiano’s and Cheesecake Factory. For several years, we came to expect something new every season.


Mayfair became THE mall in the Milwaukee area, while malls like Northridge, Southridge and Bayshore either folded or barely survived. Unfortunately, with success come challenges and Mayfair had its share of incidents and crime issues. But again, the mall responded in 2007 by instituting the Parental Guidance policy which seems to have been very successful.


With the exception of McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant and a few random retailers, Mayfair has been pretty quiet in the past year or so. Meanwhile, Bayshore and Brookfield Square have spent major dollars to attract shoppers to other sides of town.


Only time will tell if Mayfair and other malls will withstand the shaky economic times that have pinched everyone’s wallets. For 50 years, Mayfair has evolved and flourished. Now it’s up to us to decide if Wauwatosa’s largest taxpayer will be around for another 50 years. As Wauwatosa residents, we have a vested interest in Mayfair Mall.


So what do you think? Do you have any “Mayfair Memories” that you’d like to share? Do you like Mayfair or avoid it like the plague? What changes, if any, would you like to see at Mayfair?

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