When you walk through the wood and glass doors, it’s a trip back to 1924 when the Plankinton Arcade, Milwaukee’s first mall, was still young and the downtown was alive. The store still has the original woodwork it had when John Daly first opened the doors to his pen shop. Daly’s Pen Shop is like a time capsule and inside, very little has changed since its address was 4 Plankinton Arcade.
But today, inside Daly’s Pen Shop at the Shops of Grand Avenue, something new has been added. A table in the center of the store featuring clearance items, including a selection of high quality pens and pencils, are on sale for up to 50%.
That’s because Daly’s, America’s oldest pen shop, is closing its downtown location. Not because the business is struggling, but because the Shops of Grand Avenue is struggling. While the interior of Daly’s has remained timeless, outside its walls time has continued to tick forward, bringing unrelenting change. Last October the mall sold at auction for a paltry $8.5 million. Daly’s and T.J. Maxx are the only retail stores left in the Plankinton Arcade side of a mall that when it opened to much pomp in 1982 housed 80 specialty stores and boasted the largest food court in Wisconsin and stood as a cornerstone to revitalizing downtown Milwaukee.
The bankruptcy of Linens ‘n Things in 2008, which was one of the largest tenants in the Plankinton Arcade, and the closing of the neighboring Old Navy store in 2009 took a toll on foot traffic past the pen shop and owner Brad Bodart had to take a long, hard look at the historic downtown location.
Daly’s Pen Shop will not be going out of business, however. They will move all their retail operations to their second location at 7632 W. Burleigh Street, which they had opened in 2012. Bodart said most of his customers find the Burleigh location more convenient and they don’t have to pay for parking, as they would at the downtown location.
Daly’s, in fact, has an online presence at www.dalyspenshop.com, which accounts for 70% of their sales.
The clearance sale runs through October 10th, so if you’re in the area, stop in, pick up some great deals on some high quality writing instruments and imagine what it must have been like to shop at Daly’s through the ages, rubbing elbows with Milwaukee’s movers and shakers, with dignitaries and celebrities, such as Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis, and even Bishop Fulton Sheen.
Because come December when the lease expires, all that will be left of 90 years of downtown Milwaukee retail history and memories will be just another empty store inside a dying mall.