by Sonya Jongsma Knauss
I can’t think of a couple who better embody the punk “Do-It-Yourself” ethic than Shelly McClone and Andy Yeager. The first time I set foot in the Riverwest Co-op Shelly was working there. I remember being welcomed and greeted with a smile. She was cleaning the store, wearing a tight multi-striped polyester skirt and a t-shirt with “Chop the Onions, Mince the Garlic, Smash the State” printed on it. A snake tattoo, among others, caught my eye as it coiled around her arm. Andy was probably there too, painting one of the shelves. I’ve rarely known him not to be busy with something; he has an incredible work ethic. The sweatshirt he wears on the day of our interview — for the 2002 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon he ran in — testifies to that. Their paths crossed several years ago. Shelly says it was at Beans & Barley, where she worked before recently being hired as the Co-op’s first full-time employee. “But you didn’t talk to me,” she points out. Andy kind of smiles. He doesn’t deny it. Andy is vegetarian and Shelly is vegan. They put a high priority on making thoughtful decisions about how they eat and spend their money. They find their focus has shifted over the years — “When you’re younger, you think more on a global scale,” Shelly says. “Now it’s more important to me to do things in my own community, where I live.” For Andy too, local is important. “Trying to be consumers of non-corporate things — music, art, to some degree food — is really influential. It usually makes you think of other things in your life — food, clothing, plastics, things you throw away — that you can change too. They have similar philosophies with enough counterbalances to make life interesting. “I think it was at Food Not Bombs that we really got to know each other,” Shelly says. They both became involved in the months of talking and planning for the operation that is now the Co-op. And then there was that fateful phone call from Brazil. Shelly was there on vacation. Unexpectedly, over the phone, Andy asked her if she wanted to move in with him. “It was totally out of the blue,” she remembers. “You were on the phone, waiting for me to says yes — and we hadn’t ever talked about moving in together! I hadn’t seen the place yet.” Andy thinks. “I was just getting really sick of the dude ranch.” The place in question was an apartment on the second floor of the Riverwest Co-op building, newly purchased by Vince Bushell. The apartment was in need of remodeling, and the deal was relatively cheap rent for helping improve the place. And a benevolent landlord. “We were tired of renting from slumlords,” Shelly said. So from their apartment on the second floor, Andy and Shelly, both of whom are now on the Co-op board, helped build the store at 733 E. Clarke St. into the business it is today. That was three years ago, and they recently closed on their first house. Do they miss living there? “Do we miss it?” Andy asks almost incredulously. “Let’s just say it’s nice being able to walk through the door when I come home and not having someone come to me with a question or a problem.” Shelly says, “When we first moved here, it was so quiet. It really seemed weird. I felt like we weren’t even in the city any more.” They live in the 2400 block of N. 1st Street, which has a high percentage of homeowners. Andy and Shelly are the only white people on the block, and they say their neighbors have been welcoming. They looked in Riverwest before going west of Holton in their quest for a house. “All the houses in our price range in Riverwest were in bad shape,” Shelly said. “You’d walk in and be like… ewww. Drop ceilings, awkward rooms, bad yards. There was nothing that was a good fit.” They’re happy in their new neighborhood. They’ve inherited two great tenants and have settled into the first floor flat of a large three-story house. In just a couple months, Andy and Shelly have transformed the worn Victorian home into a beautiful place, inside and out. Not that there’s nothing left to do. There are projects everywhere, and they’re quick to point them out. The old windows are leaky, and they hope to replace them as they can. The walls are painted “Japanese Fern,” a vibrant green that lends a pleasant lightness to the rooms. The floors, newly refinished, are a nice maple with a matte finish. Spilling over with plants and books, wood shelves made by Duane Rice, one of Andy’s friends, decorate the walls in every room. “We had to fight about the trim,” Shelly says. “I wanted a bright orange and Andy wanted white.” He won that one. The walls used to be brown and purple, and the linoleum in the kitchen worn and hideous. But what really took work was what they did on the outside. To qualify for the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan, the house had to meet certain requirements. Since they knew the owner had already had a full-price offer fall through, and they wanted their offer to be accepted, they said they’d do all the work, at their expense, that FHA required to bring the house up to standard. That turned out to be scraping and painting the entire exterior, including replacing wood shingles — cutting cedar to size, priming, and painting it. They also had to paint all the windows, the four porches, and all the gables. “I worked here full time at least three weeks,” Andy said. He is a full-time substitute teacher for Milwaukee Public Schools, but was not working at the time. Shelly would bike over every day after her shift at Beans & Barley and work until dark. “Doing it was fun. It was a lot of work, but I learned a skill… I know how to sand maple floors now,” Shelly pointed out. Their work at the co-op is a case in point. The work has been fun and, at times, exhausting. But they are committed to what they do, and there is something very satisfying about being exhausted at the end of the day when you’ve been working for something you believe in.