Saturday, February 11, 2012

Brady Street Blooms

Things were looking up on Brady Street and for the surrounding area in the late 1960's and early 1970's.
The Hippies were establishing themselves as upstart businessmen/women. What started out as a countercultural movement was fast becoming a part of the mainstream of America. Tourist or gawkers who use to ride down Brady Street with their windows rolled up to catch a glimpse of these wild eyed, long haired, bell bottom, patchouli smelling hippies were now actually stopping and shopping. Fueled by the success of the Brady Street festival, other small business's were springing up. Stores like The Silver Shop, The Age of Man, Pot Pourri, 1812 Overture and Joynt Venture became established on Brady Street. Some of these stores became legendary and made a huge impact on the way we still live today. And I'm not just talking about scoring some incense or rolling papers but stores that had an impact on the way we would live and shop in the future.

A few blocks from Brady Street is Kane Street. A local band of Hippies known as the Kane Street Tribe had an idea for homegrown, organic food. This merry band of hipsters approached several of us merchants on Brady Street for donations to help them start a small co-op. They wanted to sell organically grown produce, natural honey, seeds, beans something called soy and eggs from cage free chickens. What a bizarre concept I thought but I decided to help them out. Several weeks later, one of the members of the KST came into my Leather Shop looking like a hippie farmer. He was a tall lanky fellow with bib overalls, no shirt and a red bandana tied around his sweat stained forehead. From a large burlap bag he pulled out a HUGE bunch of carrots. Not the carrots I was so used to see being sold in tidy little plastic bags but carrots with the untrimmed green tops still on and a vast amount of dirt hanging from the roots. This was my payback for the money I planted with this loose group. I ate carrots for weeks.

This seed money and the hard work and vision of the Kane Street Tribe had established a small co-op and called it the Kane Street Co-Op. Before long, people from all over the community were flocking to this store to buy their goods. After several successful years at this location, the Kane Street Tribe moved the entire operation over to Holton Street and renamed the store to Outpost Co-Op. This new location was much bigger and business for them was booming. Eventually they moved off of Holton Street to Capitol Drive and again renamed the store to Outpost Natural Foods. Two more stores were added and to think, this all started with a band of hippies with a good idea. Whenever I visit one of their stores, the check out clerk asks me if I am an owner and I dutifully answer, why yes I am and I'm a founder too!

Brady Street and this hippie movement also had a large impact on the way we enjoyed music. 1812 Overture was a small record store that sprung up on Brady Street. This record store provided people with new music that radio stations weren't playing at the time. Even the way we saw music was being changed by us young entrepreneurs. A fellow named Randy Mc Elrath formed a company he called Day Dream Productions. In July of 1969, Randy and Day Dream Production had a vision for a rock concert. Milwaukee and the midwest were often overlooked by touring bands but that was going to change. Bands were booked and a venue was selected. Merchants like myself were asked to display an announcement poster and sell tickets. Here is the actual poster I displayed in my Leather Shop. I still have it.

Midwest Rock Festival Poster - 1969
This Midwest Rock Festival was held at the State Fair Grounds in West Allis. A large flatbed truck was the stage and we all sat in the bleachers of the race track area. Bands that played were Led Zeppelin, Blind Faith, John Mayall and Joe Cocker. The smell of pot smoking and patchouli oil wafted in the air.
Here is an advertisement that was published in several newspapers:

Advertisement from The Milwaukee Journal - 1969

During this new beginning, I wasn't totally aware that I was transitioning from a very laid back young fellow to one that was fast becoming a fixture on both sides of the cultures we were living in. I always considered myself a hippie first who just love to be making leather goods. Making a living by doing this thing I loved was just the icing on the cake. Running a business on Brady Street allowed me to open doors to the establishment that I might not ever had an opportunity to do. I could now walk into tanneries, conduct my business and receive a warm welcome and a strong handshake. Even the mayor of Milwaukee, Henry Maier sought out my advice on his fledgling project Summerfest. Being a hippie also gave me credentials with the hippie movement.

Hippies have always been peace loving by nature but when provoked by mean spirited police they could become violent. The Water Tower Fountain near St. Mary's Hospital was a favorite gathering place for this fun loving bunch of people we all knew as hippies. These gatherings were spontaneous "be-ins" or "happenings" that sprung up. The neighbors around the Water Tower were unhappy with this group using their fountain so the police were urged to clear this unsavory group. One warm summer night as the peaceful hippies gathered at the Water Tower, the police charged the crowd with swinging clubs they attempted to disperse the crowd. The large group that had peacefully gathered were now being chased by the police. Most people ran away but some ran down Farwell Avenue and eventually ended up on Brady Street. The crowd mentality took over and many a store window was smashed on their retreat from the pursuing police. That early evening, I stood in front of my Leather Shop and witnessed the crowd descending on the street. Many of the established stores windows were broken. The grocery store A&P had it's windows broken and food was looted. My store was not damaged, overlooked by the crowd as I was not seen as part of the establishment. The police came by and wrapped their clubs on the concrete steps I was standing on and snarled for me to get inside. It was an ugly night that would change the way us hippies were viewed by the police and the general public.

In the days, weeks, months and years to come this event would mark a new beginning of the hippie movement in Milwaukee. At first the news media condemned the violence but soon saw that it was provoked by the police who started it. The police knew exactly what they wanted to do and with forethought they had removed their badges to prevent being identified. Once this revelation came to light, the news media shined a more favorable light on why the hippies acted the way they did. A young lawyer named James Woods successfully sued the city of Milwaukee's Police Department and to this day, it is illegal for any Milwaukee cop to remove their badges. A law was passed that all police had to have their badge numbers sewn to their uniform to prevent them from ever again hiding who they are. 

Hippies had found their voice and they were not going to take the abuse anymore!

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