by Kevin Flaherty Have you noticed Center Street’s newest retail neighbor? The KukaBana Tree opened its doors at 826 East Center Street on November 30, 2001, in the space formerly occupied by One Nation. Owner and Riverwest resident Kira Norris opened KukaBana to connect local artists with consumers interested in handmade and unique work not found in shopping malls or mass-market catalogues. Norris felt artists were not getting their fair shake in more mainstream retail outlets. While some vendors look down on one-of-a-kind arts and crafts, Kira Norris welcomes them and offers artists reasonable consignment deals. Norris, a craftsperson in her own right, has experience in making jewelry, furniture, and clothing. Some of her own wares are on sale at the store, as are those of other Riverwest and Milwaukee-area artists. Norris opened KukaBana Tree with her sister Amanda who helps keep the books for the business. The mystical-sounding store name originated from a toddler nephew who mispronounced the names of his Aunt Kira as “Kuka,” and Aunt Amanda as “Bana.” “Kuka” and “Bana” were merged and, voila, baby talk became a catchy business name. The store sells items ranging from $5 to $600, with most of the merchandise on the lower end of that range. Clothing — including dyed dresses and pants with custom detailing — paintings, woodwork (picture frames, stands, etc.), furniture, and glass art are all for sale at KukaBana. Particularly attractive are hand-painted bowls and ornaments from Kashmir and glass bowls for oil burning that fit into smooth, hand-made wood bases. Norris will soon offer greeting cards made of Kenaf paper, a green alternative to standard cards because the “paper” is not made from trees and uses no chlorine. During the winter months, KukaBana Tree, 826 E. Center Street, is open from 2–7pm on Friday, noon to 7pm on Saturday, and noon to 5pm on Sundays. Norris intends to expand her hours once the weather warms up. KukaBana’s telephone number is (414) 264-TREE.
by Kevin Flaherty