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Jerry Lewis, the 79-year-old former co-owner of Goldmann’s Department Store on Milwaukee’s Mitchell Street, is returning to the popular neighborhood commercial strip with a menswear store in the old Kunzelman-Esser furniture space.

Lewis said he agreed to close Goldmann’s eight months ago because his business partner, Milt Pivar, wanted to retire. However, Lewis wanted to remain in business and immediately began contemplating his next retail venture, which will be known as Mitchell Street Menswear and open Sept. 1.

“I really just got bored being retired,” said Lewis, who is a widower. “I have to do something and this is the only thing I know.”

Lewis and Pivar’s affiliation with Goldmann’s lasted 50 years, and started by running the men’s department under a sublease. They bought the entire store at 930 W. Mitchell St. in 1988 and sold it last year to DK USA Development Co, which is renovating the building into a collection of smaller shops.

One of Goldmann’s best-known departments was menswear that featured styles appealing primarily to African-American and Hispanic men at modest prices with suits to sizes from 36 to 72.

Lewis will resume his specialty in urban0-appeal menswear with product lines including Stacy Adams. The store will include shoe and hat departments with a larger inventory than was available Goldmann’s.

The new store also will feature one element of the old Goldmann’s—the old store’s candy counter with favorites such as candy raisin.

The 8,000 –square-foot store will be decorated in a 1940s and 1950s retail scheme with photos of the old Goldman’s , historic Mitchell Street and Kunzelman-Esser, which closed in 2001.

Lewis is hiring 10 full-time employees, all of them from the old Goldmann’s store. H said he’s spending about $1 million, which will include his own equity, bank loan and trade credit from suppliers.

The building’s owner, Gorman & Co., Madison, is financing leasehold improvements to accommodate Mitchell Street Menswear.
Gorman bought the eight-story building in 2002 and redeveloped the upper floors into apartments and artists’ lofts. The first floor retail space at 710 W. Mitchell Street has remained vacant.

Neighborhood Catalyst
Dan Mickelsen, of Siegel-Gallagher in Milwaukee, who handles leasing for Gorman at the site, said the new store should be a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization.

“Everyone involved with the Kunzelmann-Esser” building is very excited about the new store,” Mickelsen said. “This project will fill some of the void left on Mitchell (Street) when Goldmann’s closed.”

Lewis signed a 15-year lease and said he’s developing a succession plan to keep the store running over the long term. He has two sons, but they are not involved in the business, so the next owners are likely to be key employees.
“I’m coming back to what I want to do for the rest of my life,” he said.