GREEN BAY, Wisc. (WFRV) – As a fellow New Yorker now calling Green Bay home, I love to see that the image of Vince Lombardi still looms large in this football town.
I love how with humor and gusto cheeseheads embrace their beer drinking and brat loving image.
But as part of my series called “Street Cred,” I set out to find more about the history and how it will shape the future of this city at the mouth of the Fox River on Lake Michigan.
As it turns out, Main Street was long the major roadway that brought travelers to and from this hub where many staked their claim in a tradition of trading selling and settling that spans generations.
I started by looking at this famous thoroughfare from a completely different angel.
Recently, I ventured atop the Main Street Commons building with Jeff Mirkes who is the Executive Director of Downtown Green Bay and Olde Main Street, Inc.
“This is a view not many see,” said Mirkes. “I came up here just yesterday. You can see downtown and its proximity just a mile from where we are now.”
Olde Main Street certainly lives up to its billing as one of the oldest if not the oldest thoroughfare in Green Bay.
It wasn’t always called “Olde.”
That happened in the ’90s when a group of businesspeople got together to make sure that whatever happened here in the future, this street’s history was never forgotten.
“Many buildings had manufacturing backgrounds and were being converted into retail and professional buildings,” explained Mirkes. “A number of these, even coming out of the pandemic, are doing well with 80 percent occupancy.”
Olde Main has called people here for generations. We know this because of what they left behind.
The Neville Public Museum opened its vault for “Street Cred” to see rarely displayed artifacts recovered from the east river just off Olde Main.
“We found axes and mallets from five thousand years ago,” says Kevin Cullen who is Deputy Director of the Neville. “Fast forward to European contact,” he goes on. “Main street was that main thoroughfare into the city then east into the fields. It was the military trail that started around the 1840s with Fort Howard. People would have marched along this direct road where buses now pass by.”
According to Cullen, what we see now on Olde Maine is the second generation of its building boom from the early 1900s through the 1920s.
Most are heavily wooden structures that now house a variety of marketing, hi-tech, mail order companies.
We also came across a cool studio that houses three different women owned beauty businesses.
“I’m hoping to bring new feeling here,” says Vicky Nelson of Shade Beauty. “I’m a make up artist . So with wedding season coming up I’m getting busy. So it’s a great time.”
Olde Main considers itself a haven for artists and art lovers.
The arts community is anchored by the highly successful and expansive cannery turned gallery “The Art Garage.”
And on almost every block there are street murals fulfilling the promise that arts will be accessible to all.
Most significantly in the past five years a building boom. Townhomes. Lofts in what once was the Whitney School and the sleek new 901 Main building.
“As this area goes through revitalization, there’s a lot of new construction and bringing life to the old,” says Brittaney Kleifgen who is Main Street Management owner. “I think this is a really nice mix between the two. As new townhomes go up. I just think it’s a really unique place to be.”
And with the people comes entertainment and Olde Maine’s shaking things up there too. Martini drinks are as popular as beer so Crown and Common put them all under one roof.
Today’s Olde Main Street dwellers are pioneers in a post-pandemic world where reminders of those who forged a path so long ago inspire the journey that’s still ahead.