Garver Feed Mill: Mission Accomplished

By Barry Adams, Wisconsin State Journal, February 5th, 2022 | READ MORE

The nearly $20 million restoration was only the first step.

With its windows replaced, roof repaired and its brick walls sealed, Garver Feed Mill’s potential has been somewhat muted thanks to a course-altering pandemic that hit just a few months after the opening.

The business plan for the former East Side sugar factory building, however, has remained true and has filled the 60,000-square-foot space with a village of diverse entrepreneurs pining for the end of mask mandates and looking forward to growing revenues.

Ian’s Pizza, with its display case of freshly baked pies, is the most visible, along with the Garver Lounge, a spacious bar adjacent to the 13,500-square-foot atrium that can host music, weddings and, on Saturdays in the winter, a farmer’s market.

But Garver’s other tenants include KOSA, a spa on the second level that combines steam baths and saunas with healthy eating, massages and meditation. Next door is Perennial Yoga and around the corner the corporate offices of Sitka Salmon Shares. Twig and Olive Photography is here along with Briar Loft, a floral design company; Ledger Coffee Roasters, Calliope Ice Cream and NessAlla Kombucha, which has a 15,000-square-foot production facility.

The newest entries are Clouds North Films, a video production company specializing in micro-documentaries, and Glitter Workshop, where a core group of a dozen local artists sell their creations and classes are held in candle pouring, wood burning and making bath bombs.

In short, this once controversial and dilapidated building off South Fair Oaks Avenue is alive and well. “I think we’re just starting to hit our stride,” said Bryant Moroder, a member of the development team for Baum Revision, which spearheaded the restoration and manages the spaces. “Its really been an economic catalyst for the small businesses and entrepreneurs, which is part of the intention.”

Garver Events, which is charged with catering, bringing music and other events to the building, noted for its large windows, high ceilings and exposed steel, is also based here and owns the lounge that was built when COVID-19 hit in March 2020.

On Wednesdays, for example, a large curtain is pushed back to connect the lounge with the atrium where live music is played. There are also art exhibits, plans for an outdoor bar on the patio in the summer and more special programming, all designed to bring more people to the building not only from the area but from throughout the region.

“We really see a pretty strong silver lining for us that came out of the pandemic in solidifying us as a place for the arts and community programming,” said Bethany Jurewiscz, Garver Events’ director of public programming and business operations. “I’m pleased that so many of (the businesses at Garver) have survived the last two years. I think without the pandemic there would have been fighting for these spaces. Instead we really worked to make sure everybody here survived.”

Completed in 1906, the building was used by United States Sugar Co. until 1924 before James Garver purchased the site in 1929 and established the Garver Feed and Supply Co. The mill closed in 1997 and was purchased by the Olbrich Botanical Society for $700,000 and donated to the city with the idea that it be used to expand the adjacent Olbrich gardens.

In 2001, the building was heavily damaged by fire. Former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz pushed for reuse of the site in 2003. And in 2009, voters endorsed a nonprofit’s idea to turn it into an “arts incubator,” but the developer pulled out two years later. In April 2015, the city sold the property to Baum for $1 and contributed $1.2 million to the project that received another $6.75 million in state and federal tax dollars.

Today, only one business space remains for lease and Moroder is hoping it will be filled by another restaurant to replace a vegan café that had occupied the space.

Next door to that space is Naomi Richardson’s Glitter Workshop that opened in Garver in December. She founded the business in 2006 and over the years had been in a variety of locations, the most recent at Hilldale when in October 2020 she took on a short-term lease after a candle store had closed. About 75% of her business comes from classes but the Garver space, with its events, local foods and vibe, has paid off with increased sales.

When Richardson experienced her first farmers market last month at Garver, her shop did more sales in one day that it had done in all of January 2021.

“I love this space so much. It has just such an organic feel to it,” said Richardson, who discovered Garver when she came for dinner at Ian’s. “It’s so community-based.”

That feeling is also what lured Bob Trondson in May to rent out a small space in the building where he edits video for his Clouds North Films, a business he founded about five years ago that specializes in nonprofit and social justice work.

Trondson, a former member of a punk band, had produced music videos in Chicago and was a screenwriter in Los Angeles but came to Madison where he produced a documentary for Wisconsin Public Television on Vel Phillips, the first Black woman to graduate from UW-Madison’s Law School, win a seat on the Milwaukee City Council and become a judge in Wisconsin, and the first woman and Black person to be elected to statewide office. Trondson’s office at Garver is bathed in natural light and provides an escape from his basement where he had been working. His new space is also inspirational and brings him in contact with potential collaborators.

“There’s a connection here between the old and beautiful architecture combined with the new and really great design style,” Trondson said. “It really fits with my brand. I love coming here.”

Shilpa Sankaran and her husband, Greg Rasmussen, opened in November 2019 KOSA, a 4,500-square-foot spa that uses Ayurvedic practices, a traditional Hindu system of medicine, which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment and yogic breathing.

The couple grew up in Middleton and both went to UW-Madison but moved to San Francisco where Sankaran worked in the dotcom world and started a prefab, zero energy construction company while Rasmussen worked in website and content development. They had moved back to the Madison area to be closer to family and had thought of creating a spa in the country.

Then Sankaran discovered the Garver space when she was brought in as a consultant on a proposed micro-hotel for the property. That project never materialized, but Sankaran fell in love with the restored building and now has seven treatment rooms, two saunas, two steam baths, a lounge area to sip tea and contemplate, and a commercial kitchen that makes traditional stews and khichdi, a rice dish with locally sourced vegetables and lentils.

The business was open for four months, closed for nearly a year, reopened in February 2021 and endured a rash of cancellations last month when omicron hit. But during the shutdown, Sankaran pivoted to create her own line of lotions, shampoo, body washes and deodorants.

“We’ve been through a lot of bumpy times but overall we’re going to come out of it stronger,” said Sankaran. “There’s nothing like (Garver) in Madison. You can just feel the energy of all of the lives that it’s had and all of the integrity that was here.”

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