There’s never been a more important, opportune time in Milwaukee to be there for one another. With both the global COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement—along with countless other globe-shifting events (WTF?!?!)—making giant impacts on the world, Milwaukee businesses are swooping in to help those who are affected.
Change occurs every day; over time, even the smallest changes can make a deep impact. Let’s keep the momentum going and play our part as both business owners and consumers. Here are just a few local companies doing good for the community, as well as their staff and customers. Be sure to support these businesses and continue to encourage others to contribute time, money, and energy to make a difference.
The Bay View-based vintage clothing and accessories shop (2652 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) is donating proceeds to a wide variety of nonprofits and businesses. Ashley Smith, the shop’s founder, has been using the store’s Instagram page to sell items for curbside pickup. “Since I closed after quarantine, I wanted to give something back,” Smith says. “Each week, I choose a local business or nonprofit to feature and a portion of sales goes to that organization.” Currently, Smith has been choosing both national and local establishments that are aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement. If you’re on the hunt for a unique piece of clothing or home décor, look no further than Alive and Fine.
The Spanish and Portuguese eatery (315 E. Wisconsin Ave.) is paying it forward by raising funds via merch sales and other initiatives to help small independent restaurants stay afloat. Amilinda’s website states: “We truly want to thank our guests for all the support given to us and the overwhelming interest that has been shown to help others. Going forward you can purchase a gift card and with those funds we will provide meals to those affected by the COVID-19 shutdown in the hospitality/service industry.” As one very wise man once said, “Look for the helpers.”
After Gg Collections Boutique was broken into, a workout studio two doors down felt compelled to help in its recovery. Christina Zarnowski, owner of Barre Milwaukee (5211 W. North Ave.), leveraged the studio’s Instagram page to raise $2,500 from generous followers in just 24 hours. This amount helped cover the cost of destroyed mannequins and other damaged goods, including jewelry handmade by store owner Deborah Render. “In a true Barre Milwaukee fashion, we raised money to help our community out,” says Emily Wulfkuhle, a loyal studio member. “One of the missions of Barre Milwaukee is to always give back to the community and this is just one way that the studio has instilled this in their clients.” Now that’s what we call a good neighbor.
Local coffee roaster Colectivo recently introduced its “Unity” coffee, a southern Ethiopian blend from which the company is donating 100% of all proceeds to the NAACP. According to an Instagram post, Colectivo is giving $43,000 to the local NAACP chapters of Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago, “bringing immediate dollars to help drive and underwrite the NAACP’s important work.” Colectivo also celebrated Pride Month in June with its specialty Pride Blend. For every bag of Pride Blend sold, $1 will be donated to Fair Wisconsin and Equality Illinois, two organizations committed to educating the public about civil rights. Costa Rica, the origin for Pride Blend, recently legalized same-sex marriage.
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When the pandemic hit, Hawthorne Coffee Roasters (4177 S. Howell Ave.) started a program called “Solidarity Coffee,” through which customers purchased half pounds of joe that were then donated to laid-off service industry workers and front line healthcare workers. Hawthorne has also been working hard to with keep its staff and customers safe. Co-owner Steve Hawthorne explains: “Though we are legally allowed to re-open in a traditional manner, we’ve chosen to remain focused on carryout and curbside pickup while offering minimum outdoor seating on our patio. While we would love to have our customers back inside our space, recommendations from health officials just don’t support that path at this time.” Hawthorne Coffee is also a huge backer of the current BLM movement. “We’ve been incredibly moved by Black Lives Matter events around the country and wanted to do our part to support the African-American community here in Milwaukee,” Steve Hawthorne says. Hawthorne donated 10% of its June profits to MKE Black—just over $2,400. These funds will help support Black-owned business with startup costs, updates and repairs, web development, marketing, and sponsorship.
Delicious beer for mega-powerful causes? Cheers to that! “Lakefront Brewery has a long history of connecting with and helping out our community,” says Lakefront brand manager Michael Stodola. “From environmental projects like our annual Milwaukee river clean-up to our large investment in solar power to donating our used sorghum barrels to organizations that provide assistance to third world countries to creating our own rain garden. We’re also founding members of Local First Milwaukee. We partner with and sponsor WMSE and their two largest fundraising events each year.” Just recently, when customers bought any of Lakefront’s 18 drafts in a special edition Black Lives Matter crowler, 100% of the sales (around $8,000) went to Urban Underground, an organization that develops programs, partnerships, and youth-lead civic engagement campaigns in education, health, public safety, and community justice. Lakefront also donates its proceeds from beers sales to causes needing assistance on a regular basis. “We’ve donated to the Australian Bush Fires Relief and the Drink Local, Think Global Clean Water movement in the past year,” Stodola says. “We’ve also handed out over 3,000 six packs of Riverwest Stein to healthcare workers to thank them for their hard work during the pandemic.”
The Bay View bar (2301 S. Logan Ave.) has been working hard to help and make a change. They have been raising supplies for single parents in the service industry, have dispensed supplies to children as far away as Chicago, and continue to donate to the Casa Maria shelter here in Milwaukee. “We are constantly asking our peers to be and do better,” says Ricky Ramirez, founder and owner. “We closed before the mandate, quarantined for two weeks, and basically from there we asked, ‘How do we help the community?'” To keep business moving, the bar is serving beer and cocktails to thirsty customers from its takeout window. It’s also selling treats and eats from various Milwaukee food vendors, including Maya Ophelia’s, a vegan pop-up.
The Tandem not only makes some of the best fried chicken in the city, but the restaurant also does a good job at, well, simply doing the right thing. When COVID shook the world in mid-March and forced businesses to close their doors indefinitely, The Tandem shifted gears—they cut back their menu significantly and became a soup kitchen, serving hungry folks who needed meals. On March 18, Caitlin Cullen, founder and owner, and her staff, made 85 meals from ingredients they already had in their kitchen. Within an hour, word got out and the social media post was shared by over 1,000 people. The next day, it was 150 meals. A fan even set up a PayPal donation site so the community could chip in. The Tandem also partnered with World Central Kitchen, an organization run by chef Jose Andres. Throughout the duration of the partnership, The Tandem distributed nearly 40,000 free meals to community members, as well as paid over $380,000 to 46 Milwaukee restaurants. Even though the future of the restaurant biz is uncertain, “This is our new reality; we’re just trying to make the most of it,” Cullen says.
The East Side gift shop and retail gallery (1800 E. North Ave.) features handmade goods from hundreds of small artisan businesses across the nation. When the shop was forced to shut down in March due to COVID and owner Steph Davies had to lay off her entire staff, she started listing items online that could be sold to support them. For example, on the Give Back section of the website, customers can purchase items such as unique prints and thank you cards for medical staff who are on the front lines of COVID. Now, as the nation is also focusing on injustice, every two weeks, a portion of sales are donated to various groups and causes that help support the Black community. “We continue to do what we can to post about Black artists and makers,” says Steph Davies, shop owner. “Giving back has always been an important part of the shop’s platform, now more than ever.”