Tag Archives: retail

WiG 2015 Holiday Gift Guide

Happy holidays, and welcome to this year’s installment of the Wisconsin Gazette Gift Guide!

It’s always tough to figure out what new, exciting gifts to get your friends and relatives, especially when you’re trying to avoid big retailers and aim for something unique. So our editorial staff sat down and looked over what’s really out there, putting together this package of stories out of what we found. Inside, you can find everything from national subscription boxes and the hottest toys from yesteryear that are making a comeback to the best stores you can find in local malls and shopping districts.

We’ve also looked outside of our own circle for recommendations. Throughout this guide, you’ll be able to “unwrap” gift recommendations from local experts, collected by freelancer Kerrie Kennedy. She contacted seven local businesses and organizations, each of which offered their insight into what you should look for this holiday season.

Like something you see? You might be in more luck than you think: This year’s Gift Guide is being launched simultaneously with the WiG Shop, our brand-new online store offering deals and discounts to our loyal readers. We’ve already got deals from restaurants and vendors like Rodizio Grill, Ward’s House of Prime, Discovery World, and Elements Massage up now, and you can find additional items mentioned in this guide or featured as advertisers in the days to come. It’s the perfect way for you to support both local businesses you love and the journalism we’re pursuing, while saving money at the same time. To see what’s currently on display, go to wigshop.kostizi.com.

ASK THE EXPERTS: The best gifts this holiday season 

Kerrie Kennedy,
Contributing writer

“Unwrap” gift recommendations from local experts.

Madison’s malls offer quirks and character

Michael Muckian,
Contributing writer

A community’s shopping destinations reveal a lot about a community’s character. Madison, the state’s second-largest city and the home to Wisconsin’s largest university, boasts stores that pack a lot of variety into a little bit of real estate.

Holiday cards with an artful edge 

Kim Cook,
Associated Press writer 

Seasonal greeting cards have long been an artistic niche that inspires a wide range of illustrators and designers.

Besides today’s ubiquitous family photo cards, contemporary designs often take advantage of advances in drafting and production — holography, music embeds, digital photography and laser-cutting among them.

Give the gift that lasts forever: A great experience 

Matthew Reddin,
Staff writer

Buying presents for people is hard. So stop doing it — and get them something they’ll like even better.

Many months of merry: the wide range of subscription gifts 

Kim Cook, 
Associated Press writer 

Suffering from a pre-holiday “what to give” headache? The prescription may be a subscription.

Toy trends 

The Force is strong. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has awakened a new enthusiasm for Star Wars toys for children and adults, according to ToyInsider.com, which reviews and recommends toys. The site has published holiday toy reviews and lists, including top tech and STEM toys.

Gifts to bark or purr about 

Louis Weisberg,
Staff writer

Millions of Americans wouldn’t consider celebrating the holidays without including their pets. In fact, pet lovers go all-out.

Shop local at Milwaukee’s top retail districts 

Matthew Reddin,
Staff writer

Having trouble finding that perfect gift this year? Braving Black Friday or adventuring on Amazon.com are not the only options. Milwaukee’s diverse shopping districts offer a variety of opportunity and options for every sort of gift recipient — from the fashionista to the quirky uncle and everything in between.  

Classic toys ‘baby boom’ing 

Lisa Neff,
Staff writer

Many baby boomers visiting toy stores this holiday season will be buying familiar toys for girls and boys. Some toys, like the Duncan YoYo, never fell out of favor as stocking stuffers. Other toys get updated year after year to remain relevant, like the Easy-Bake Oven — which now has both a dedicated heating element that retired the un-green incandescent bulb and gender-neutral packaging. 

Many months of merry: the wide range of subscription gifts

Suffering from a pre-holiday “what to give” headache? The prescription may be a subscription.

Subscription gifts, one of the hottest retail trends, literally keep on giving: New installments arrive over the course of weeks or months. Gift recipients can also cancel the subscription at any time, so if you buy the first month or two, they get to make the call on whether they stick with it after the holiday buzz has worn off.

While the idea isn’t new (remember those record-of-the-month clubs?), the breadth and variety of what you can subscribe to is. Everything from Anna Sui makeup to zebra masks for kids. Freshly-pressed records, juices and high-fashion togs. Mystery boxes for people and for pets.

If your loved one is more into content than stuff, consider ordering a subscription for e-books, movie passes or classes in art, cooking or exercise.

“They’re a great improvement on the gift card,” says Neale Martin, a consumer expert and CEO at Sublime Behavior Marketing in Marietta, Georgia. Like gift cards, subscription gifts are easy to buy, especially last-minute, at a variety of prices, but they also can be highly customized.

“The idea of giving a present that will be bringing smiles for months creates a very powerful reinforcement,” he said.

Liz Cadman founded a website, MySubscriptionAddiction.com, devoted to boxes containing a mix of items each month. That improves the odds that your recipients will like what you gave them, she says: “Boxes give you variety. Most include five-plus items, so you know someone’s going to like at least a few of them.”

For ideas, here are some online offerings:


One place to start your hunt for subscription boxes is Cratejoy, which describes itself as the “world’s first subscription marketplace.” Featuring mostly home goods subscriptions but also branching out into fashion, food and other types of boxes, Cratejoy presents visitors to its site with new and trending subscriptions, rated and reviewed by users so you can hopefully avoid duds (cratejoy.com).

Set your style parameters at Linen Crate and get a monthly box of tablecloths, placemats, towels or rugs, as well as coordinating items like platters and spa accessories (linencrate.com).

Barkbox lets pets in on the subscription-gift game with dog and cat toys and treats arriving monthly.
(barkbox.com )


The edible subscription universe is vast and varied — with too many options to list them all here. 

Some can be almost alarmingly targeted. A Bacon of the Month Club will deliver different varieties of gourmet bacon to you 12 times a year (baconfreak.com). Candy Japan sends two to six different kinds of Japanese candy, twice a month (candyjapan.com). And health nuts may enjoy Pressed Juicery’s packages, sending an array of green, root, citrus and fruit juices to your door (pressedjuicery.com).

Of course, there’s simpler options. Club W seeks to cut out your trip to the liquor store by sending you three to six bottles a month, tailored to your “Palate Profile” (clubw.com). Alternately, the Craft Beer Club aims to do the same for beers, offering 12 world-class beers every month (craftbeerclub). Be advised: Alcohol shipments require an adult signature to accept, so either make sure you’re home when the tracking number says it’ll be there or have your boxes shipped to a workplace.


There are all kinds of beauty, fashion and wellness subscriptions, many of which ask you to describe your personal style and makeup parameters and take it from there.

Birchbox, a subscription pioneer, offers monthly boxes of sample sizes and one full-size product (birchbox.com).

At Quarterly, prominent curators like fashion guru Nina Garcia, actor Will Wheaton and science icon Bill Nye create their own boxes and include a personal note explaining their choices. Nye’s boxes, for example, have included bow ties and cardboard DNA models (quarterly.co).

With Stitch Fix, five new women’s wardrobe items chosen by a stylist, appear at the door. Send an e-gift card that your recipients can redeem; the select delivery dates, keep what they want and return the rest in the prepaid mailing bag (stitchfix.com).

Chicago-based Trunk Club has boxes for men and women and stylists’ selections can be previewed and approved online. When the items arrive, you can nix them if they don’t fit or don’t look right (trunkclub.com).

Cadman recommends Popsugar Must Have as a subscription gift for women, offering a variety of beauty, fashion, home, food and fitness items. October’s box included a satin pillowcase and a gift card for monogrammed jewelry

For men, try Bespoke Post, Cadman says: “It’s $45 a month and they deliver high-quality items (think ties, barware, grooming kits, shoes, etc.). Each month they announce new box options, and your giftee gets to pick which one they want.”(bespokepost.com).

Or give a gift that keeps on giving. With Dollar Shave, subscribers choose the style of blade and razor they want and refills arrive on a regular schedule (dollarshaveclub.com).


Arts and crafts are a fun subscription gift for children, because each month brings a new box of creative possibilities. Check out Green Kid Crafts and Art in a Box
(greenkidcrafts.com; artinabox.net).

Tinker Crate offers puzzles and engineering challenges for 9- to 12-year-olds (tinker.kiwicrate.com).

Spangler Science Club, aimed at kindergartners through sixth graders, sends enough stuff each month for over a dozen science experiments (spanglerscienceclub.com).

GiftLit sends monthly book boxes, while Brickbox’s niche is — you guessed it — all things Lego (giftlit.com;

Expose your budding 3- to 12-year-old traveler to new places with Little Passports. Young armchair globetrotters get started with a little suitcase and a map. Then comes a monthly array of activity kits, gadgets, stickers and souvenirs that explore sciences and world cultures

Citrus Lane sends boxes skewed to babies, toddlers or preschoolers, full of quality toys, games and snacks

Matthew Reddin contributed reporting to this story.

Oregon retailers sold $11 million in marijuana in first week of recreational sales

Retailers sold more than $11 million of marijuana during Oregon’s first week of legal recreational sales, outpacing the early business done in other states that have legalized pot, according to the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association.

Oregon retailers had sales of $3.5 million by the end of opening day, Casey Houlihan, executive director of the association, told the Statesman Journal. By contrast, Colorado’s first week of sales reached $5 million. In Washington, sales during the first month hit $2 million.

Under the state law approved by Oregon voters last year, possession of marijuana in limited quantities has been permitted since July 1. 

But there was no legal way to buy it until Oct. 1. Pot shops that already sell medical marijuana made big plans for the historic day, with some opening just after midnight. 

One reason Oregon posted stronger early sales was the existing medical marijuana infrastructure. More than 250 medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon have told the state they will sell to recreational customers. By contrast, Colorado had 24 stores on Day 1. Washington had just four, and a year later, still has fewer than Oregon.

Oregon also has a robust supply of marijuana that’s grown to support medical marijuana users and the black market. Companies have invested in massive warehouses in Portland to grow the drug indoors, and southern Oregon has some of the nation’s best conditions for outdoor cultivation of marijuana.

Growers don’t face strict regulations yet, so the supply can more easily flow into retail stores than it did in Washington and Colorado.

Houlihan says shops are seeing customers coming back to pot after years of not smoking it. 

“They’re telling me that customers lining up are in many cases 50 to 65 and haven’t purchased marijuana in decades, but they’re just happy to have the opportunity to do so,” he said.

Packers look to expand plans for entertainment, retail district around Lambeau

Early interest in the Green Bay Packers’ proposal for an entertainment, retail and residential district around Lambeau Field has the franchise already thinking of expanding its plans.

The Packers recently announced plans to develop the Titletown District on 34 acres around the stadium, including 30-50 townhouses overlooking a public plaza.

Strong interest in the development could mean expanding it to as many as 70 townhouses, said Packers vice president and general counsel Ed Policy. 

The Packers’ plan includes Lodge Kohler, a four-star hotel and spa, Hinterland Brewery and a Bellin Health sports medicine clinic west of Lambeau Field. Policy said there has also been a lot of interest in 180,000 square feet of commercial space on the north side of the district.

“We have talked to a lot of prospective tenants. The reaction … has been tremendous,” Policy said.

Initial investment in the project, including land acquisition and infrastructure improvements by the Packers, is estimated at $120 million to $130 million.

Packers CEO Mark Murphy wants a specialty grocery store within walking distance of the townhouses, Press-Gazette Media reported. Policy said it’s one of a number of concepts being discussed, and that it would not be a standard 70,000-square-foot grocery store. 

The Packers filed project documents with the Village of Ashwaubenon this week. After the village approves its plans, which could be about 90 days, site preparation can begin. The three anchor developments and the public plaza could be ready by the beginning of the 2017 NFL season. 

8 tales from around Wisconsin: Some WEDC deals worked, others tanked

Snapshots of some of the 24 companies that got a piece of the $126 million in state taxpayer subsidies without full financial review from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.


County Materials Corp.: The Marathon County-based concrete construction and landscaping manufacturer was awarded up to $750,000 in tax credits to invest $14 million in expansion and create 43 new positions at its Rock County location. The company said it has exceeded those requirements, investing more than $17 million and creating 65 new jobs. County Materials’ top officials gave Gov. Scott Walker $51,000, according to the campaign finance watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Ruud Lighting: The Racine company got $725,000 to help expand its LED lighting manufacturing plant and has qualified for nearly $1.8 million of its $3.3 million in job tax credits by creating 340 of its 469 promised new jobs. Paul Jadin, the former head of WEDC, said the award kept the company from moving to North Carolina. “We not only retained them, we moved a lot of the North Carolina jobs up to Wisconsin,” he said.

Ta Chen International: WEDC said the Long Beach, California-based company has created 67 of the 92 jobs it planned to add when it moved from Illinois in 2014 to a massive distribution center in Pleasant Prairie. The company has claimed $634,000 of the offered $1 million in tax credits. Ta Chen regional manager Fred Nummela predicted the company, which distributes metal sheets, pipes and tubes, “is going to continue to grow.”


Blue7 Solutions: The Glendale IT firm said it has created six jobs, although the WEDC database lists 17 — none of which qualify for subsidies, which require an average salary of $30 an hour. The company planned to add 250 jobs, but its partnership with a Bayside-based company dissolved, harming its ability to meet its goals. Blue7 Solutions has not collected any of its $3.25 million in tax credits or a $500,000 retention and expansion grant. Gesturing to a nearly empty office in suburban Milwaukee, Blue7 Solutions’ Merike Milli said, “We were not creating 200-plus jobs as you can see … The plans are to grow, and they’re pretty aggressive. Realistically, at this point, I can’t tell you it’s realistic.”

Kestrel Aircraft: The airplane manufacturer promises to bring more than 600 jobs to the struggling northern Wisconsin economy. The company initially got a $2 million loan and up to $18 million in tax credits from the state without full financial review, later securing another $2 million loan. But the Superior firm has created just 24 jobs, according to WEDC, or about 35 jobs, according to Kestrel CEO Alan Klapmeier. He blamed delays and alleged false promises by WEDC and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, which said it offered Kestrel $30 million in investor tax credits. Klapmeier insisted it was $90 million — or $30 million a year over three years. The company has earned $717,500 in tax credits for $1.1 million in capital investments and spending $360,000 on worker training. Then-WEDC spokesman Mark Maley told Wisconsin Public Radio this summer that the state has extended repayment of the loans to help the company succeed. Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen noted Klapmeier already has founded one successful aviation company. Klapmeier said he is confident Kestrel, now part of ONE Aviation Corp., will bring the six-passenger airplane to market.


Plexus Corp.: A Neenah manufacturer, Plexus sent 116 jobs out of the country months after it was awarded up to $15 million in state subsidies to create jobs and make capital investments in 2012, WKOW-TV reported last year. Democrats are sponsoring bills in the Senate and Assembly to ban companies from getting state taxpayer assistance for five years if they outsourced jobs after receiving state aid. According to WEDC, the company reported Aug. 18 that it had added 300 of the promised 350 employees since 2012 and is planning to add an additional 100-plus jobs. The Plexus contract requires it to retain 1,000 jobs, but Plexus already had at least 1,792 employees, according to the WEDC database. Without naming the company, the Legislative Audit Bureau highlighted the Plexus deal as one that violated state law. Auditors found the company qualified for $517,000 in job-creation tax credits even though its workforce shrank by 307 employees. WEDC says the company now reports having 2,327 employees. And Plexus is ahead of projections on capital expenditures, claiming $270 million spent, compared to a projected $68 million, the agency said.


Building Committee Inc.: Owned by Bill Minahan, a major donor to Walker, Building Committee Inc. has gone belly up, leaving taxpayers on the hook for a $500,000 unsecured loan that was supposed to create 155 jobs. The Milwaukee company lied when it said it had not been sued on its loan application, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. And the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found WEDC officials kept hunting for government funding for BCI even after a Minahan creditor told them the construction company owner planned to use it to make overdue lease payments on luxury vehicles.

Ripon Foods: On paper, Ripon Foods has met the jobs goals of its WEDC contract, creating 55 more jobs than the projected 100. The Fond du Lac County cookie maker has collected all of its $400,000 in tax credits. But in May, the ConAgra Foods subsidiary announced it would close one of its two plants, laying off 300 employees. WEDC spokesman Kelly Lietz said the agency is talking with the company “as they finalize the future of the facility.”

— Dee J. Hall and Tara Golshan. Wisconsin Public Radio’s Danielle Kaeding contributed. 

Soggy Doggy, Puppy Pot: inventions by and for pet owners

Joanna Rein knew there was a way to prevent her rambunctious Labrador-collie mix from tracking in mud, water and drool from the soggy outdoors.

“The kids thought it was funny. They’d chase the dog,” said Rein, of Larchmont, New York. “I’d run behind them all with towels. Buddy thought it was a game.”

She used her dirty floors to her advantage, creating a line of dog-drying doormats and special towels called Soggy Doggy.

With people putting more money into products for pets — whether for pampering, aiding aging animals or just keeping the house clean — some entrepreneurial owners have invented their own helpful devices. And some, like Rein, have turned them into multimillion-dollar ventures.

“Most of the small companies that enter the industry do it because they have a pet and identified a need that wasn’t being addressed,” said Andrew Darmohraj, executive vice president of the American Pet Products Association.

Smaller companies make up more than half of the group’s membership. They form the core of the industry, which is expected to account for more than $42 billion in U.S. spending this year, he said.

Here are some popular pet-owner inventions:


Rein started her product line by trying to make her own doormat to soak up the slop when Buddy got drenched in rain or rolled around in the mud.

She paid a tailor to sew hundreds of orange shammy cloths over a thin layer of foam, put it at the back door and waited for her dog.

“He took one look and jumped over it,” she said. “He would not step on it, wouldn’t go near it.”

Then, Rein found microfiber shammies made with parachute nylon, which her dog didn’t mind stopping on for a shake.

Her business got a break when rain and snow started in November 2010 and seemingly didn’t stop until the next June. She sold the mats from her car trunk but ran out of them in weeks, while more orders came in.

Since then, she’s sold hundreds of thousands of mats and created “slopmats,” which sop up slobber and water under dog bowls, and “Slobber Swabbers,” a handled fabric brush that collects drool from pets’ faces or from windows and car seats.


Rikki Mor of Denver converted her hair detangler for kids into a popular pet brush.

Shaped like a dog paw, the Groom Genie works on long or short coats and spreads natural oils through the fur, she said.

“It’s turned my life upside down in ways I never expected,” Mor said. “I love that it’s tested on humans and good enough for pets.”

It emerged from the Knot Genie, a million-dollar online empire started six years ago and inspired by her three long-haired daughters.

Mor promised them to try to end the daily detangling nightmare that always ended with tears. She met with consultants and ran tests.

She eliminated the balls on the end of bristles and reshaped the bristles and base, which eliminated pain.

Mor got appreciative letters from parents, then received notes from pet owners saying the brushes calmed their dogs and cats.


These bright-orange products to make, serve and store meals for dogs emerged from the pup-centric minds of Kris Rotonda and Denise Fernandez, creators of the online dating service YouMustLoveDogsDating.com.

After launching the matchmaking site in 2013, they started the Doggy Cooking Network on YouTube last year.

Their Pup Pot line comes with a 3.8-quart stainless steel cooking pot, a paw-shaped serving base, and two serving and storage bowls that are microwave-safe. As a bonus, there’s an e-book of the couple’s favorite recipes.

On the Web …




Packers debut development plans for new ‘Titletown District’ near field

The Packers unveiled plans this month for a new business district west of Lambeau Field, a development that will feature a four-star hotel, brewery and restaurant and a 10-acre public plaza.

It has been dubbed the “Titletown District,” borrowing on the nickname assigned to Green Bay for being home of the 13-time world champion Packers.

The Packers said they would invest about $65 million into the project. When adding in estimates from other organizations involved, the total initial investment could be as much as $130 million.

Packers president Mark Murphy said the team doesn’t plan to seek public money for the project, though it might look into some tax credits normally associated with such developments.

“We continue to build on Lambeau Field as a destination, and to bolster economic development in the area,” Murphy said at a news conference at Lambeau Field.

“And with the way we continue to acquire land around Lambeau Field, we continue to have an eye on the future and trying to further regional economic development in this area.”

Like other NFL teams, the Packers are flush with cash, bolstered in part by the windfall from the league’s massive broadcasting deals. The Packers last month reported that revenue from the 2015 fiscal year topped $375 million, up 16 percent from the previous year.

The perennial NFC contender has a national fan base and one of the league’s most popular players in MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

But they’re unique from the 31 other NFL franchises in that they are a publicly owned team in the league’s smallest market. That creates bonds with the community that most NFL towns don’t have with their teams.

Plans for the plaza call for a “park-like setting” with year-round programming including fitness-related activities and cultural opportunities. There would be an ice-skating rink in the winter.

Future phases of the project could include residential buildings. Groundbreaking will likely start this fall with the goal of completing the project by fall 2017.

“Now as I look to the future, developing Titletown is an important factor to further (the) game day experience for our fans, which will always continue to be priority,” Murphy said.

But the driving force, he said, was to make sure the space was used year-round by the community as it evolved into an “authentic Wisconsin neighborhood.”

The Titletown district has been in the planning stages for years as the team bought up land. Thursday’s announcement ended months of speculation.

The three anchor tenants will be the 150-room Lodge Kohler hotel, run by the plumbing-and-hospitality company Kohler Co.; Hinterland brewery; and Bellin Health, a major Packers sponsor.

Herbert Kohler Jr., chairman of Kohler, said signing up for Titletown was “almost a no-brainer.”

“This is the first time for the Packers, a big development district like this,” Kohler said. “So they’re new to the game, and we knew we would have to design a special hotel for this particular location.”

Anchored by Lambeau Field to the east, the district already has a tenant to the far west with a Cabela’s retail store.

A similar commercial district is near the New England Patriots’ home in Foxborough, Massachusetts, called Patriot Place. Murphy said Titletown would be different because it would include residences and the public plaza.

On the Web …

Visit “Titletown.”

Mega housing, retail development planned near Grand Canyon

The U.S. Forest Service is clearing the way for a sprawling urban development near the southern edge of the Grand Canyon. The development involves more than 2,100 housing units, 3 million square feet of retail space plus hotels, a spa and conference center.

The superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park has said the project is one of the greatest threats to Grand Canyon in the park’s 96-year-history of the park.

The proposal — by the Stilo Development Group — would transform the 580-resident community of Tusayan, Arizona, from a quiet tourist town into a sprawling complex of high-end homes, strip malls and resorts only a mile from the park boundary near the southern entrance.

Stilo partnered with the town of Tusayan in order to seek a federal permit to expand road and utility access through public lands in the Kaibab National Forest so development can proceed.

The U.S. Forest Service in mid-April began moving forward with the process to approve the special-use permit despite objections from the park service, park advocates and many environmental groups.

“The Forest Service is putting Grand Canyon National Park in the crosshairs by considering Tusayan’s dangerous, damaging plan for a mega-resort,” said Kevin Dahl of the National Parks Conservation Association. “This proposal is not in the public interest and is one of the greatest threats Grand Canyon National Park has seen in its history. The Forest Service can and should have rejected it out of hand.”

The National Park Service considers the mega-development a significant threat to Grand Canyon because it will require vast quantities of water and could lower the aquifer that feeds seeps, springs and streams that support wildlife and recreation on the park’s South Rim.

Groundwater pumping accompanying the development could also lower the aquifer that is the exclusive source of all water for Havasu Falls, the cultural foundation of the Havasupai tribe.

The art of tasting artisan chocolates

Sweets for the sweet is a time-honored Valentine’s Day tradition, and no sweet is more beloved than chocolate. And when you’re buying for Feb. 14, there’s all the more incentive to buy the best.

So remember to take time and savor the chocolates you receive. The very best of the breed are more than mere commodity.

With quality chocolates, there’s as much an art to tasting as there is to wine. The more you know before popping that first truffle into your mouth, the more fully you will enjoy the experience, according to Madison chocolatier Gail Ambrosius.

“You need to use all your senses in order to experience the flavors fully,” says Ambrosius, owner of Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier on Madison’s east side. “You should breathe in the aroma, after visually noticing the chocolate’s color and sheen. The chocolate should have a distinct snap when you bite into it and then (you should) feel the silky smooth texture in your mouth.”

Megan Hile, owner of Madison Chocolate Co., one of the city’s newest producers, agrees. Moreover, she says, savor slowly and let the flavors come to you.

“Take a piece of chocolate in your mouth, chew it to start the melting process and then let the flavor open up,” says Hile, who currently runs her operation solely online. “Chocolate offers flavors that will hit you up front, in the middle and then on the finish.”

Great chocolate is defined by its origin point. Both Ambrosius and Hile have taken time to visit cacao growers and learn about what goes into producing the right beans to create great chocolate. The process is key, Hile says.

“Great chocolate to me means there is care taken from beginning to end — from the cacao plantation, to fermentation, to processing, to the chocolatier’s kitchen,” Hile says. “You can always find good chocolate, but great chocolate is made in small batches, by hand, using stellar ingredients by people who are passionate about what they do.”

Ambrosius agrees: “The chocolatier takes the chocolate and uses her alchemy to turn it into wonderful truffles, bonbons or other confections. I would say it is a combination of farmer, chocolate-maker and chocolatier.”

Both chocolatiers favor Ecuador as the source of their cacao beans, although they say countries in Central America also excel. Like anything else, some types of cacao are rarer and more expensive than others, Ambrosius says.

“Porcelana is said to be the rarest cacao, most expensive and most sought after,” Ambrosius says. “It is native to Venezuela, but there is rumored to be some in a remote area of Peru as well. It is light in color and very aromatic in flavor. To me it almost melts away like cotton candy in my mouth.”

While traveling in Peru, Ambrosius also learned of an heirloom cacao variety called cacao chuncho, named for an ethnic group of Amazonians in Peru at the time of the Spanish Conquest. “Very small beans, but the farmers were very proud of this chocolate,” she added.

Different Madison area chocolatiers favor different styles, but all of them produce the classic truffle favored with everything from coconut to chili powder to cognac. No matter the approach, all great chocolate has one thing in common.

“Great chocolate is made with love,” Hile says. “I believe you can taste the difference.”

Get Your Truffle On

The Madison area is home to five chocolatiers, men and women who make chocolate as an art form. Here is a list of where to shop for your Valentine’s Day treats.

Candinas Chocolatier, 11 W. Main St., Madison, and 2535 Old PB, Verona, WI. 608-845-1545 or candinas.com.

Chocolatier Markus Candinas learned his trade during a three-year apprenticeship program in Switzerland and the result has been more than 20 years of elegant chocolate. Whether sampling the espresso or elderflower truffle, you will find that Candinas’ workmanship speaks for itself. Shop the boutique in downtown Madison or the retail shop that fronts the factory in rural Verona. Each has its charms and plenty of chocolate to taste.

DB Infusion Chocolates, 550 N. Midvale Blvd. (in the Hilldale Shopping Center), Madison. 608-233-1600 or infusionchocolates.com.

A staff of trained chocolatiers crafts a vast array of truffles that are as attractive in appearance as they are scrumptious in flavor. This time of year, the Aphrodisiac for Her (65 percent Venezuelan dark chocolate infused with strawberry, passion fruit and tropical Tasmanian leatherwood honey) and the Aphrodisiac for Him (Patron silver tequila, lime and a blend of guajillo and chipotle peppers in a milk chocolate center) are must-haves for your truffle basket. Caribbean Fire (70 percent mostly dark Ecuadoran chocolate around a fiery center of ancho and chipotle peppers, nutmeg, allspice and jerk seasoning) will help spark romantic fires.

Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier, 2086 Atwood Ave., Madison. 608-249-3500 or gailambrosius.com.

Although not Madison’s oldest maker of handmade chocolates, Ambrosius has one of the area’s highest profiles, especially when it comes to dark chocolate harvested from unique areas around the globe. A former cartographer for the state who trained as a chocolatier in Paris after being laid off, Ambrosius manages to blend sweets and spices in unique ways that intrigue the palate and serve as a gustatory geography lesson to the world’s best cacao.

Madison Chocolate Co., online only at madisonchocolate.com.

Launched in fall 2012, Madison Chocolate Co. uses facilities at Food Enterprise & Economic Development Kitchens, a contract commercial kitchen and food industry incubator located on Madison’s north side, to produce chocolate truffles. A former Spanish teacher, Megan Hile began her food education process with Ecole Chocolat coursework and a “bean to bar” internship in Mindo, Ecuador. She markets her truffles using a consumer-supported agriculture model, which enables customers to buy shares in the company and receive a monthly shipment of chocolate in return.

Maurie’s Fine Chocolates, 1637 Monroe St., Madison. 608-255-9092 or mauriesfinechocolates.com.

Established in 1993, chocolatier Cher Mandel Diamond named her shop for her late father, who had been making fine chocolate truffles by hand since 1941. Maurie’s recipes form the core of the chocolate truffles Diamond produces. The second-generation chocolatier draws on fine, internationally harvested cacao, surrounding a dark chocolate ganache infused with natural fruits, teas and spices and a thin chocolate layer. Chocolates like the Amour, a raspberry-infused dark chocolate truffle; the Single Barrel, dark chocolate infused with bourbon; or the Oporto, dark chocolate infused with port wine, should be part of the Valentine’s Day celebration.

Waxwing flies back

It sounded like just another example of the same sad story: The Waxwing, a consignment shop that offers local artists the chance to sell their wares to eager Shorewood residents, was being forced to close at the height of its success because it wasn’t going to get a lease renewed for another year.

And then, as suddenly as the bad news came, it wasn’t such a sad story after all.

On Jan. 17, only a few weeks after owner and artist Steph Davies announced that The Waxwing would close at the end of February, she reversed course, revealing that her landlord had granted The Waxwing and its artists a one-year reprieve — largely as a result of the outpouring of sadness and support she and the store received in those weeks. 

Davies says she was surprised by the response her initial announcement got — “I had people coming in crying when they found out we were closing,” she says — but the passion of The Waxwing’s customer base hasn’t ever been in question, even from day one.

Davies opened The Waxwing in 2012, replacing the space’s two previous owners and her old bosses. They’d run a smaller-scale version of the shop, Hummingbird Art Boutique, and when they chose to step away from the store, Davies decided to give it a shot. She picked the name “Waxwing” as a loose tie to Sparrow Collective in Bay View, where she had previously sold art, as well as a suggestion of combining two distinct things in the way many of her crafters and artists do.

She’d gotten a lot of encouragement from her friends in the art community, as well as the Shorewood residents who’d stopped in for her soft opening, but when Davies officially opened her doors that March, she didn’t expect anyone to show up. She was mistaken. The store was packed from wall to wall and in that single night, she made enough to cover her rent for the month.

The Waxwing’s flown higher since. Originally home to about 65 artists (including Davies, for whom the shop doubled as a studio until she ran out of space), the store is now packed to the brim with drawings, paintings, crafts, jewelry, posters, clothing, pottery and handmade gifts of all sorts from 120 artists. 

Initially, Davies herself had to find artists, scouring craft fairs and galleries for art she liked, as well as art she thought would fit well in the store — a distinction she had to cultivate quickly. Now artists find her, and while many of them have been with The Waxwing for years, Davies regularly has to rotate out artists in order to let in new ones.

As a consignment shop, The Waxwing offers artists 60 percent of the earnings on their works. Davies says the percentage is higher than many other boutiques offer. In exchange for that extra amount, though, artists are expected to drop off their work ready to be sold, with labels, packaging and all. When items arrive, Davies and her six-person staff unpack them and take photographs to share on the website and in social media outlets. Most artists bring in items once a month, with the more popular and prolific doing so even more frequently. “In that sense,” Davies says, “it’s more fun than regular retail, because you never know what’s in store.”

Over the past three years, Davies says, she’s had the pleasure of watching many of her regular artists grow as a result of The Waxwing’s presence. Some have simply thanked her for offering them the opportunity to build up their confidence as artists. Others, even luckier, have been able to quit their day jobs, and focus on making their art full-time.

So it was those 120 artists as well as The Waxwing itself that were jeopardized in late 2014, when landlord Nathaniel Davauer told Davies of his hopes to expand Draft & Vessel, the successful tasting room/micro-bar next to The Waxwing. 

Davies says she bore no ill will toward Davauer when he explained his hopes to expand Draft & Vessel, and she understood the tough position he was in as their businesses both grew more successful. “Did it suck that it affected me? Sure. But until I own my own place, I’m always going to be at the mercy of a landlord.”

But she also couldn’t accept the compromise offer he provided at the beginning of the year: to renew her lease under the condition that, if he received a permit to expand from the village of Shorewood, she’d have 60 days to find a new home for The Waxwing. “I couldn’t spend a year looking over my shoulder,” she says. “I’m a rip-the-Band-Aid-off person.”

The community’s response changed that. Just as she sent the last round of messages to her artists, Davaeur sent her an email wanting to talk. Then the two hammered out a deal that would keep The Waxwing in its current location for one more year.

The announcement has given the art community and Shorewood residents hope that The Waxwing can find a new home, and that’s Davies’ goal too. But while she’s keeping her eye out for places in Shorewood, Davies says she’s already come to terms with the prospect of eventually closing the store. It’s not something she wants, but with a year-and-a-half-old daughter at home and no desire to try and start from scratch in a new neighborhood, it’s something she knows is a possibility. “I’m just leaving it in the hands of the universe,” she says.

And if 2016 does find Shorewood without The Waxwing, Davies says that doesn’t make the store’s absence permanent. “Even if this is our last year for now,” she says, “the key is ‘for now.’”


The Waxwing will host a three-year Anniversary/Encore Bash 5-10 p.m. on Feb. 28 in celebration of a lease’s extension into 2016. Food and beverage will be provided, along with a performance by the Thriftones. At 4415 N. Oakland Ave. Admission is free. Visit thewaxwing.com for more information.