Just mention the name Glorioso's in southeastern Wisconsin, and the words “Milwaukee icon” come readily to mind. Established by the three Glorioso brothers, Joe, Eddie and Ted, the specialty Italian market located on historic Brady Street has been a first name in food and fare from its original existing location since its inception in 1946. Since that time, the next-generation owners, cousins Felix and Michael Glorioso, have worked side by side with the founders as co-managers, even as the tireless trio of owners hit their 80s and 90s.
Realizing that an expansion of the original 3,100-square-foot store would be limited within the current facility, Glorioso's management decided that moving away from Brady Street was simply not an option. However, as the cousins evaluated their goals to grow, the historic 20,000-square-foot multi-story Astor Theatre located directly across the street went on the market and would prove to be the ideal choice for Felix and Michael to expand their business while remaining on Brady Street. But how could an early 1900s building that once served as a home to vaudeville players and other social events in the 1930s and 1940s be successfully converted into a specialty Italian market?
Enter supermarket design and project management firm Mehmert Store Services, which got a call from Michael to discuss the project, the goals of which included an expansion of Glorioso's grocery and specialty offerings, an enhanced cheese and wine selection, a gourmet dessert and gelato area, and a bigger prepared food section. More kitchen space would also be required, along with a sit-down café and space to accommodate the return of Glorioso's signature Trio's pizza program.
While it was imperative for the project to keep close to the established budget, it was even more important to the owners that the new store maintain its small Old World market charm — so much so that if any doubt surfaced along the way, the family reserved the right to cancel the project.
After extensive feasibility studies and site evaluations of the 1907 vintage building that appeared on the Milwaukee Historic Building Registry, the project got underway. The demolition process was a dramatic event as layer after layer of non-period-correct construction was peeled back to reveal the original structure of the building. A second floor that had been added over the years was partially removed to create a soaring space above the retail area.
The original structural steel was exposed and restored to play up the history of the building. Interior walls revealed the charm of cream city brick. Double-hung windows on the interior, along with canopies, awnings and parapets, created a streetscape reminiscent of Brady Street from years gone by. Windows facing the street were maintained in the design to allow for natural light and clear visibility from the sidewalk that runs along the store. Significant iron structures for hanging sausage and cheeses, along with scrollwork signage, continued the Old World Italian market theme.
A new refrigeration system with heat reclaim was added to the project; energy-efficient refrigerated cases were installed seamlessly alongside display fixtures of wood and steel that tastefully complement the rustic plank floor. Streamlined LED and energy-efficient light fixtures create a well-lit space while drawing little attention to the fixtures themselves. Harp-style street lights designed specifically for the city of Milwaukee became the centerpiece of the lighting design.
The entire process was rewarding for both the owners and the project team, but nothing could have been more satisfying than the response from the community when the store opened in late November 2010. Total customer traffic count and total store sales have doubled. Bakery sales, with the new coffee and gelato components, are running 10 times the levels of the old store. Wine sales are up 100 percent, with cheese sales soaring 125 percent, while the prepared food program featuring the new pizza program skyrocketed 150 percent from previous store sales.
Indeed, the intricate design challenges of the project were certainly worth the outcome that marvelously fused a local retail icon with a historic theater to create a true destination for Milwaukee-area shoppers.