When Lisa Jacobson opened Mermaid Cafe on Winnebago Street in 2005, there were no chocolate shops or microbrewery around the corner.

The Green Owl and its vegetarian menu didn’t exist, there was no Pilate Spa, and Anchor Bank still occupied the pointed corner of the historic Schenk-Huegel building. Parking meters caused headaches for merchants and their customers.

There is a vibe in the Schenk-Atwood neighborhood, and it’s not just coming from live performances at the Barrymore Theatre.

The East Side neighborhood, particularly the Schenk’s Corners area at Atwood Avenue and Winnebago Street, is booming with new restaurants, cafes, art studios and a small but growing number of retail shops. And with more developments planned for the area, the small, locally owned businesses that have invested in the neighborhood see nothing but good days and nights ahead.

“I see new faces and new customers all of the time,” said Jacobson, who tripled the size of her cafe at 1929 Winnebago St. in 2007. “I think we’re seeing a lot of urban infill, and we’re seeing what I thought would happen eight years ago when the housing bubble burst.”

Jacobson successfully lobbied for the removal earlier this year of parking meters on Winnebago Street, and in the last 14 months alone, the additions to the neighborhood have included One Barrel Brewing Co. and, further east on Atwood Avenue, Next Door Brewing Co. Advertising agency Knupp & Watson & Wallman has relocated to 2010 Eastwood Drive from its longtime West Side location, while Monona State Bank this fall will open a branch in the stone-pillared, Frank Riley-designed building constructed in 1923 at 1965 Atwood Ave.

“When we were approached this spring about this location, we couldn’t say no,” Paul Hoffmann, Monona State Bank’s CEO and president, said at the time of the announcement.

The front of the Schenk-Huegel building is also occupied after four years of vacancy. Vault Interiors & Design, 2000 Atwood Ave., opened in late August in what had been an Anchor Bank, only now the 12 foot by 14 foot safe is filled with fabric samples instead of cash and safety deposit boxes.

The bulletproof glass and steel wall that had partitioned the 2,200-square-foot main floor have been removed and the original terrazzo floor has a fresh coat of stain. Furniture, throw pillows, candles, picture frames and other decorative accessories have brought retail back to the corner where past businesses have included a grocery store and a Rennebohm’s Drug Store.

“I see vibrancy,” said Kevin Burditt, co-owner and general manager of Block Cleaners, 2017 Winnebago St. The business was founded in 1919 and is one of the oldest in the city. “You have people that have a vision for the area, and that says there’s a future here.”

‘Lots of opportunity’

Madison is home to several “downtown-like” areas such as Monroe, King, Williamson and State streets. The Schenk-Atwood neighborhood isn’t the oldest or largest but offers character, history, plenty of parking and a strategic location just off one of the main entrances to the central city and on a key route around the north side of Lake Monona.

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“We needed to put ourselves in a good corridor in and out of the city, and this is great space for that,” said Carrie Simpson, owner of Vault. “We were excited by this neighborhood with all the rejuvenation that’s going on and the potential of what will be happening in the future. There’s lots of opportunity.”

Simpson and her husband, Ira, a sergeant with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, began a $100,000 remodeling of the 92-year-old triangular space in April. The project also included a $25,000 facade grant from the city that has spruced up the exterior of the building, which includes 10-foot high windows that bathe the store in natural light.

Carrie Simpson, a 36-year-old Middleton native, graduated from UW-Madison with a psychology degree but went back to school at Madison Area Technical College for interior design. After almost five years at Fontaine Interior Designs on East Johnson Street, Simpson has ventured out on her own. It was at Fontaine where Simpson gained experience and met Patty Schmitz Ball, 62, who has a long history and lineage in Madison retail and is now in charge of retail at Vault.

Her grandfather, Fred Schmitz, co-founded The Hub clothing store in 1898 and she also worked for the family business in the 1990s. Schmitz Ball spent much of her career at Yost’s and spent 10 years at Zander’s Interiors on Monroe Street. Her sister is Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc.

“Carrie is very open to change and to new ideas and she’s not afraid to try things,” Schmitz Ball said. “I knew we were a good match. And I love this space.”

‘A vital place to open a business’

Behind Vault, Chocolaterian opened last fall in what had been the Schenk-Huegel uniform shop at 2004 Atwood Ave., and joins Gail Ambrosius Chocolates at 2086 Atwood Ave. Leanne Cordisco and Kim Vrubley, who founded Chocolaterian as a wholesale business in 2009, looked at 16 properties before selecting Schenk’s Corners for their retail and production facility. The shop will also supply a second 800-square-foot location at the Madison Central Library that was scheduled to open Saturday.

“When we looked in, I literally squealed because I saw the potential,” Cordisco said of the Schenk-Huegel building. “On weekend nights (in the neighborhood) you can see people hopping (from) location to location to location. I just love that these are truly community-supported storefronts. Five years from now we could have even more.”

Down the street, Gail and Jim Stintzi opened Catalyst, a women’s clothing store for runners and yoga enthusiasts, in 2010 in Kennedy Place at 2045 Atwood Ave. Gail and Jim Stintzi, who is the women’s track and cross country coach at UW, liked the neighborhood’s feel and its active residents.

“I see it turning into a Monroe Street but with its own flavor,” said Gail Stintzi, her 1-year-old Corgi, Fergie, sleeping at her feet behind the counter.

Carmen Alcalde and her partner opened Bad Dog Frida across Atwood Avenue from Monty’s Blue Plate Diner in 2006, just as the recession began to grip the country. Their business has grown each year.

“I believe things will just get better and better,” Alcade said. “I do think there will be even more businesses that want to come to our area. We’re being seen more now as a vital place to open a business.”

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