Some places come and go, while some places become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. Join us as we revisit beloved and well-worn local staples with fresh eyes, and explore how they might figure in the city’s future.
Like much of Milwaukee in general, Brady Street is currently experiencing a great deal of change. The nine-block commercial causeway has tenants coming and going, new businesses taking root and finding success beside established neighborhood mainstays, and developers bringing luxury apartments and chain restaurants to the historic street. Though the East Side thoroughfare looks noticeably different than it did even as recently as five years ago, one building on the corner of Brady St. and Humboldt Ave. has stood the test of time and kept a dash of zaniness and old-school oddity on Milwaukee’s ever-changing East Side for more than 35 years.
Art Smart’s Dart Mart & Juggling Emporium (1695 N. Humboldt Ave., 414-273-3278) opened on April Fool’s Day in 1985. Given many of the items the long-running “novelty store” stocks, that date is quite fitting. The shop’s selection is simultaneously wide-reaching and extremely specific, strange and useful, weird and important. The building exists as a paradox that houses items that are devoted to unarguably niche interests just steps away from what’s long been considered one of the city’s most chic and hip streets.
At its root, the store with a vast selection of items that cover a wide variety of interests specializes in “gravity cheating devices.”
As the name suggests, darts and dart accessories are available.
And juggling implements have been a focal point since day one, too. Apparently, kites have been in stock for the entirety of Art Smart’s run. You can also find air toys, boomerangs, and Yo-Yos on the shelves.
However, as the turn of the century approached, Arts Smart’s management also got with the times a bit and expanded its offerings into disc golf equipment. At this point, it’s among the region’s best retailers for the sport.
In addition to the airborne and “gravity cheating” inventory, Art Smart’s has incense, pipes, and papers.
There are wild and wacky products that reside beneath the broad “novelty item” umbrella.
Gag gifts like fake vomit.
Rubber hands, artificial dog poop, and chattering teeth.
And almost anything else you can imagine. During a visit last week, we left with a Vince Lombardi mask, two discs, and an Annie Oakley action figure. Something tell us the next time we’re looking for anything ranging from funny socks to obscure candy to ultra-specific toys and anything in-between, we’ll be heading back to this little East Side shop to explore its endless selection of strange specialties.
As online platforms and chain stores continue to threaten the livelihood of local retailers, Art Smart’s Dart Mart & Juggling Emporium and its dedication to overlooked hobbies and forgotten products seems impervious to the deluge of challenges most other establishments face in an ever-changing neighborhood an ever-worsening world. This little store has helped to keep Milwaukee’s East Side weird and wonderful for more than 35 years. Here’s to (at least) 35 more!