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Impacts of a merchandising extravaganza PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 01 July 2015 18:36

With Meijer, Grafton has added the most dazzling jewel yet to its crown of big-name outlets, but will local food stores survive competition from a retail giant?

The acreage covered by the new Meijer store and parking lot would have amounted to a large part of a typical farm back in the days when farms actually existed in the Grafton area.

    The store building, or “supercenter” in megastore parlance, alone measures 192,000 square feet, and its 680-vehicle parking lot covers many times that area with a vast expanse of tarmac.

    It is one of the largest stores in Wisconsin, and by far the largest in Ozaukee County. By comparison, the nearby Costco warehouse store, immense by most standards, measures a mere 151,000 square feet.

    The Meijer supercenter, which opened last week, adds lustre to the merchandising extravaganza in the east Grafton annex that augments its status as one of the most remarkable commercial developments in Wisconsin.

    It wasn’t that long ago that the area of the Village of Grafton now occupied by the likes of Meijer and Costco and a plethora of national chain stores was Town of Grafton farmland and the only nearby commercial activity was the Schmit’s Pavilion hall and a string of tiny cottages for travelers at the intersection of Port Washington Road and Highway 60.

    The good fortune of its place beside I-43 a short drive from the metropolis is largely responsible for this commercial explosion, but the village government, its planners and the Community Development Authority deserve credit for making the most of the advantages of location.

     Small municipalities can be overwhelmed when corporate giants come to town with grand promises and grander demands, but Grafton officials have been anything but pushovers and have pretty much gotten the development they wanted.

    Still, it can’t be said that the east Grafton phenomenon is an unmixed blessing. At opening ceremonies for the Meijer store, Grafton Village President Jim Brunquell noted that the development was “designed to make Grafton a destination.”

    That has certainly been achieved, yet the Grafton to which throngs of shoppers from southeastern Wisconsin are attracted is in effect a sprawling shopping mall. No doubt many people drawn to this destination don’t know that the real Grafton is a pretty village on a lazy river a mile to the west. It follows that the downtown that is the heart of that version of Grafton is struggling more than those of other Ozaukee County communities.

    It also stands to reason that the Meijer supercenter could be a threat to food stores around the area, though Village Administrator Darrell Hofland said that would be mitigated by the fact that Meijer “will create a bigger pie so that everyone can have a larger piece.”

    That’s a nice thought, but it probably should be filed under “wishful thinking.” The pie will grow by the numbers of shoppers attracted by the first Meijer store in Wisconsin, but they are not candidates to be customers of food stores in downtown Grafton or in Port Washington, Saukville and Cedarburg.     

    Meijer is an admirable company, a family-owned business that is well known for supporting the communities in which it operates. (The company got off on the right foot at its opening by giving the village a $25,000 check for the riverwalk.)         

    Consumers will benefit from its huge selection and competitive prices that are expected to hold food costs down in the area. Yet that benefit will be illusory for Ozaukee County families if this powerful competition drives the nearby local grocery stores and food specialty shops on which they’ve depended for years out of business.

    The hope is that Ozaukee County consumers, while not denying themselves some of the offerings of Meijer and other stores in the Grafton complex, will value convenience and personal service close to home enough to stay loyal to their small-town stores.

    A factor in favor of the local stores is that many shoppers looking for grocery staples might just prefer to shop in a store that is not so enormous that it needs some 30 check-out lanes.

    That’s the count at Meijer—one reason it’s called a supercenter.

A tall ship, an icon of Port’s heritage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 24 June 2015 21:29

Ahoy, seafaring buffs: Board the Denis Sullivan in the Port Washington harbor and get a taste of Lake Michigan’s great age of sail

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, there could well have been more boats in the north slip of the Port Washington harbor than there are today.

    That section of the harbor, just a stone’s throw from the main business street, is now a part of the marina. During the boating season these days, it’s a busy place, with the comings and going of the charter fishing fleet, transient yachts moored dockside and in slips and on some weekends dozens of racing sailboats rafted together.

    Yet in the second half of the 19th century, that water was at times covered with sailing ships tied gunwale to gunwale. Photographs made in the era show a forest of masts towering above the husky hulls of freight-carrying sailing vessels in the harbor, most of them schooner rigged with two or three masts.

    This was the golden epoch of commerce under sail, a time when Lake Michigan was a liquid highway for materials and goods, and Port Washington was an important commercial port of call.

    How fitting it is, then, given that rich seafaring heritage, that the masts of a 19th century schooner will once more stand tall over the Port Washington harbor when the Denis Sullivan makes a number of extended visits this summer.

    The Sullivan doesn’t really date to the 1800s, of course. Launched in 2000, the vessel is a re-creation, authentic in as many ways as possible, based on several famous schooners that sailed these waters circa 1870s. Owned by Discovery World of Milwaukee, it has been designated Wisconsin’s flagship, and the well-traveled green-hulled three-master has become one of America’s favorite tall ships.

The Sullivan’s stays in Port Washington—for four days starting this Thursday, followed by the weekends of July 4-5 and August 21-23 and probably a weekend in September—are the result of a new partnership between the City of Port Washington and Discovery World. While in Port, the schooner will be open to the public for deck tours and sailing excursions.

    The cancellation of this year’s Maritime Heritage Festival leaves a void that the Denis Sullivan will help fill. Appreciation of the community’s seafaring history has been demonstrated for years in strong attendance and backing for the festival and is already evident in financial support for the Sullivan’s visits, including contributions from the city, Tourism Council, Business Improvement District and several corporate donors.

    All of which suggests the Sullivan could have a future in Port Washington. Mayor Tom Mlada, who is leading the initiative to bring the tall ship to Port, thinks so, and surely this historic harbor, said to be America’s first manmade harbor, would be an appropriate home-port-away-from-home for the tall ship, perhaps its winter berth.

    Rising lake levels even hint at the possibility that the ship could be berthed for extended periods in the north slip. Picture the schooner, with her soaring bowsprit, clipper bow and three towering masts moored virtually in the heart of the downtown.

    That may be the future. For now, it’s time to go sailing, and the Denis Sullivan will be ready to go Thursday. With luck, one of Lake Michigan’s typically robust sea breezes will kick in, and the great schooner, with as many as eight sails set, sheets straining, blocks creaking, will heel to the insistent wind and with its bow wave curling (sailors of yore called it “a bone in her teeth”) will give the fortunate folks on board a taste of life in the great age of sail.

On a previous visit, the Denis Sullivan sailed past the Port Washington lighthouse in a fresh breeze.

Contempt for teachers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 19:36

The proposal to abolish virtually all licensing requirements for teachers in Wisconsin attacks the heart of education quality

What is it about teachers that provokes such mean-spirited behavior by some Wisconsin legislators?

    Are these grown-up politicians still bitter over mediocre middle-school report cards that got them grounded by their parents? Still mad about being sent to the office for being naughty in a grade-school classroom? Miffed over getting an “F” on a freshman English essay because the teacher took issue with serial misspellings?

    Outside of the Capitol halls controlled by the Republican majorities of the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly, teachers are respected. National opinion polls consistently rank teaching among the most respected professions. Anecdotal evidence of high regard for teachers abounds. Ask anyone, from recent graduates to senior citizens, and you will likely hear of teachers fondly remembered for making a difference in their lives.

    But in the Legislature the budgeting process has been perverted into an assault on teaching. Proposals to reduce state funding for K-12 public schools and the University of Wisconsin system, to shift tax dollars from public schools to private schools and to undermine tenure for UW professors all have a negative effect on public school teachers. But the topper, the affront that reeks of contempt for teachers, is the proposal to allow people who do not have teacher training or even a college degree to be licensed as teachers in Wisconsin.

    The proposal would make Wisconsin the only state in the U.S. to certify teachers without bachelor’s degrees. Wisconsin would have the distinction of the lowest standards for teachers in the nation.

    Students will certainly pay a price in the eventual deterioration of the quality of their education. But the instant harm of the proposal, which State School Supt. Tony Evers has aptly described as “breathtaking in its stupidity,” would be its impact on teachers.

    If signed into law—and there are strong indications it will be in the final budget—the dismantling of standards for their profession will send an explicit message to teachers that their training and their degrees in their chosen fields of education are considered meaningless. It will tell them their work is so ordinary, so undemanding, that anyone can do it.

    The provision was slipped into the budget by the Joint Finance Committee at 1:30 a.m. on May 20 with no public debate. Its sponsor, Rep. Mary Czaja (R-Irma), said it was intended to help rural schools find teachers.

    Yet representatives of rural schools seemed dismayed if not appalled by the idea. One of them, Jerry Fiene, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, said, “This totally destroys any licensure requirements we have in Wisconsin. It’s very concerning.”

    Under the plan to lower teacher standards to rock bottom, any person could be licensed to teach any non-core subject in grades six through 12, with no college education required. Anyone with a bachelor’s degree in any subject could be licensed to teach English, math, science and social studies, with no teacher training required.

    Education experts across the country have condemned or ridiculed the Wisconsin Legislature’s astonishing willingness to undermine teacher standards, but it doesn’t take an expert to see it as mindless meddling in necessarily demanding licensing requirements.

    Teaching is a skill that needs to be taught. That is the purpose of education schools. Subject matter needs comprehensive study. Aspiring teachers need the intellectual rigor that comes with the mastery of a college course of study and the guidance of mentors that is required under current teacher certification rules. There is no reason this should not apply to non-core subjects, including technical education, as much as to the basics.

    There is much irony in the claim by its backers that weakening standards would make it easier for schools to find teachers. The opposite, that it would reduce the number of available teachers, is more likely true. Who would want to go into a profession that is treated so shabbily by a state’s legislators?

    Why any lawmaker would want his or her name associated with this codified denigration of teachers is beyond understanding. We can’t imagine that the people of Wisconsin want anything to do with it. We suspect it is a nearly universal hope across the state that clear-thinking Senate and Assembly Republicans will stand up and demand that this idiotic measure be excised from the budget and consigned to the nearest wastebasket.

    Failing that, it will be up to Gov. Scott Walker, who has the most powerful item-veto authority in the nation, to get rid of it. He has not been considered a friend of public education, but with a stroke of his pen he could mitigate that damning perception.

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