You don’t need me to tell you that Bay View is a happening part of Milwaukee these days; just about every local and national publication has said so. And from the Kinnickinnic River in the north to St Francis in the south, KK Ave is the main thoroughfare through town. Take a stroll down this main street and you’ll pass some of the best restaurants in town, offbeat and interesting shops, and beautiful old houses and churches.
But a conspicuous eyesore in a prominent corner lot catches passerby’s eyes: a large, empty, red-brick, one-story building at 2737 S Kinnickinnc Ave and Herman St. Take a closer look, and you’ll see plastic sheeting taped haphazardly over every window, wire conduit hanging out of holes drilled into the brickwork, crumbling masonry, and a bunch of faded “Bella’s Fat Cat” restaurant signs.
As a 2014 transplant to beautiful Bay View I had to know: what is the story behind this classic Milwaukee shop front, and why is it still empty as the rest of KK barrels forward into renaissance? And what’s a “Bella Fat Cat”?
- Alvo Drug Company on the corner spot
- An “A&P” Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company grocery store
- Bay View Clothes Store, which seems pretty self-explanatory
Alvo Drug Company was involved in the community, to the point that they even advertised their KK location in the 1929 Bay View High School “Oracle” yearbook.
The corner spot proved to be the right location for a neighborhood pharmacy in the coming decades: the 1938 Bell Telephone Company yellow pages list a phone number at 2737 S KK Ave for “J.W. Pharmacy”, and an advertisement from the September 12, 1947 Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle shows the building having been taken over by north-side Brodsky Better Drug Store.
By 1974 it had turned over to the simple Bay View Pharmacy, and as far as can be found, it ended its fateful run drug dealing in the neighborhood as Gull Pharmacy in the 90’s.
In the new millennium independent neighborhood pharmacies were a thing of the past, while turkey burgers and custard were the wave of the future. Mike and Kim Schmidt decided to open their second Bella’s Fat Cat location (the first being on Brady Street), which ushered 2737 S KK into its most recent incarnation.
The family restaurant seems to have done well enough for a few years, but looks were deceiving. In 2010, both Bella’s locations were shuttered due to unpaid taxes and 2737 was repossessed by Park Bank because of an unpaid loan.
The closings must’ve moved quickly, as 7 years later there still remain signs up in the windows for Bella’s. But that was all that moved quickly for 2737. In 2012 there was promise of new life: Shirley Konopski and Tim Olson started making repairs on the slowly-dilapidating building with the hopes of leasing to a Mexican restaurant.
But Ciervo Blanco, the “upscale Mexican…with a focus on local ingredients”, never materialized. And so today the building sits, interior renovation seemingly stopped mid-stride, as viewed through the drooping plastic sheeting on a streetside window. Supposedly the building is for lease through Moore Real Estate, but there’s no information about it on their website.
Though Bay View residents and politicians discuss daily about the vibrancy of new businesses sprouting up all over town, 2737 S KK Ave still sits vacant, looming over the area’s busiest street and the annual Bay View Bash block party. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs for a building that opened its doors to local families for nearly a century, curing and causing both toothaches and smiles.