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We heart Milwaukee
Area newcomers embrace the people and culture of their adopted home

By NAN BIALEK

October 7, 2009

Some of the Milwaukee area’s newest fans are not just here for the beer. They’re finding that genuine Milwaukee cuisine goes beyond brats, that summers here come wrapped in every shade of green and its people are warm even if its winters are glacial.

Staying Put

Ed and Caren Breslau, owners of Local Motion Outfitters in Cedarburg, found many new friends when they moved to Brown Deer in July 2007.

"I think people here are real; they’re very trusting and very friendly," Caren Breslau says. "They definitely made us feel welcome."

Caren Breslau was born and raised in California; Ed Breslau has lived around the country. He was born in Baltimore, worked for the Marriott Corp. in Orlando and just outside Yosemite National Park in California.

When Ed Breslau took a job in Colorado Springs, the couple expected to stay there forever. But a year later, an irresistible job offer brought them to Wisconsin. When he was laid off from that job, along with four others from out-of-state, he watched his co-workers go back to California.

"We decided we loved it here," he says. So the Breslaus began putting down roots and opened their shop in December 2008.

The couple found they could simply do more things in this area compared to California, "because California was too expensive or the traffic would take all day," Ed Breslau says. "So we just fell in love with that aspect right away. And we really like the people here and the fiber behind it all. We’ve met a lot of neat people."

The Breslaus have embraced their new home by getting involved in the community. Ed Breslau is active in the Cedarburg Merchants Association, the Festivals Committee and a group that organizes a bike race through town.

At Local Motion Outfitters, he exchanges children’s bike trade-ins for a 25 percent discount on new bikes. He refurbishes the trade-ins and donates them to the Boys & Girls Club.

"And we work pretty closely with Parks and Rec," he says, because the shop’s sales and rental business includes bikes, kayaks, canoes, snowshoes and cross-country skis, as well as organizing trips.

Caren Breslau, who has a teaching background, works at the Milwaukee Boys & Girls Club in its SPARK (Spheres of Proud Achievement in Reading for Kids) early literacy program for children in Milwaukee Public Schools.

"I feel so blessed just being a part of it," she says.

Although her family in California thinks everyone in Wisconsin spends their time milking cows, she says she finds plenty to do here.

"We go to concerts and the theater and all the festivals," she says. "We love all the greenery, and we love the four seasons."

Caren Breslau’s daughter, 16-year-old Austen, will be a senior at Brown Deer High School this fall. Austen has been surprised at how much she likes living in Wisconsin, she says.

"She didn’t want to like it in the beginning, but it was easy for her to make friends," Caren Breslau explains. "And she feels her friends are friends she’ll have for a long time."

‘Real America’

Growing up in Tokyo, award-winning children’s book illustrator Sachiko Yoshikawa knew Milwaukee was famous for its brew by watching Sapporo beer commercials on TV. When her husband, Wayne Blackwelder, accepted the position of clerk of court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin Bankruptcy Court last year, she expected Wisconsin to be a mountainous region like the landscape they were leaving in Seattle.

She was pleasantly surprised: "I really enjoy driving the straight country roads with the open fields in front of me. I was telling all my friends, if you want to experience the real America that you see in the movies, come to Milwaukee."

Living in an East Side condo, the couple and their 5-year-old daughter, Kinu, have been splashing around area pools, treating themselves to Pizza Man pizza and bicycling along the lakefront.

Kinu was enchanted by her first snowfall last winter, and the family discovered the joy of making angels in the snow.

Blackwelder and Yoshikawa enjoy dining out in Third Ward hot spots and exploring the neighborhood’s unique shops.

"And we’ve been to all the Japanese restaurants in town," Blackwelder says.

Born in South Bend, Blackwelder grew up in Nashville and went to college in Tampa. He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, Colombia and Uganda and comes to Milwaukee by way of California, Oregon and Washington.

When Blackwelderwas considering the job in Milwaukee, he consulted two Peace Corps co-workers who had lived here about what to expect. One characterized the city as "gritty," the other simply said it was "great."

"I was expecting kind of the grit," Blackwelder says.

A Realtor took the family on a tour of Milwaukee’s hip spots near UW-Milwaukee and Lake Michigan, "which we thought was an ocean," Wayne adds.

Milwaukee’s architectural gems left an impression on the couple, particularly Santiago Calatrava’s Burke Brise Soleil at the art museum and the meticulously restored Federal Courthouse.

Blackwelder’s colleagues at the courthouse made sure the family received a warm welcome when they arrived in the city. A series of parties helped "introduce us to the community, and that’s never happened to me before," Blackwelder says.

"That was almost tear-dropping," Yoshikawa says, "the thoughtful welcome, the words and gestures. That was the first time I experienced it in the States."

Warming Up

With two Ph.D.s in the family, the job market spans the country, says sociologist Melanie Hinojosa. The trick for Hinojosa and her husband, Ramon, was finding great jobs in the same city. They found that fit in Milwaukee.

The Hinojosas, who live in Wauwatosa, moved here two years ago when Ramon Hinojosa accepted a position as sociology professor at Marquette University and Melanie Hinojosa joined the Family and Community Medicine Department at the Medical College of Wisconsin as assistant professor in sociology and statistics.

Melanie Hinojosa has lived in West Virginia, Florida and Chicago and had referred to Milwaukee as "Chicago Lite" before moving here two years ago. Milwaukee has "very, very little traffic," she explains. "You get the culture and you get the lake, but you don’t have so many people."

When they were considering a move here, they visited the city to see what it was like.

"We came in December and people drove us around," she recalls. "They would say, ‘There’s a park here and there’s a park there.’" All the parks were buried under mounds of snow.

They have since frequented many of the area’s parks with their daughter, 2-year-old Eva. Daughter Alexandra was born in May.

"We found that we’re within walking distance of the Oak Leaf Trail and three blocks away from a nice playground for our kids," she says. "We were very pleased when we found, under the snow, all of these parks."

The family makes good use of the green space, for jogging, relaxing and taking in the many concerts in neighborhood parks scheduled throughout the summer. They’re also enjoying the area’s museums, the lakefront and Milwaukee’s line-up of festivals. So far, they’ve made it to Summerfest, Festa Italiana and last year’s Harley-Davidson birthday bash.

The Hinojosas say they like the convenience of living in Wauwatosa, especially when they get hungry. They can walk to Simma’s Bakery for morning buns, and one of their favorite restaurants, Balistreri’s, is right around the corner from their home.

Just for fun, she says, "We kind of have a band. We made good friends with neighbors who are guitar enthusiasts."

There’s maybe one thing they would change about Milwaukee, though.

"We don’t like the winter, I’ve got to be honest," she says. "But we’re trying to get used to it. We’re trying to find things we can do outdoors that are related to snow. Maybe we’ll try skiing this year."

Now, at least, they know there’s something beautiful under all that snow. M

 


This story ran in the August 2009 issue of: