Urban Patrons Reclaiming Our Culture

by Kevin Flaherty UPROC - www.uproc.org

A visit to the new skateboard/hip-hop clothing store UPROCK on a hot summer’s night found two of the three store owners, Matt Nowak and Jason Francis, minding the store and acting the part of big brothers to several younger kids in for a game of a chess, a free video game, and to hear what the DJ was spinning. The door was wide open to let the early evening July air in, with big fans blowing the light scent of incense around. Two aquariums burbled in the background, and a green crushed velvet sofa invited visitors to take a load off. The slacker clothes, incense, and glass display case up-front may make you feel like you’re in a head shop, but closer inspection of the metallic pieces in the display case reveals skateboard components, not discreet pipes. Spiral racks of skater tee shirts, skimpy sequin-bedecked halters, short-shorts, and jackets are scattered throughout the store. UPROC also offers CD’s and posters, and items tend to cost between $15 and $50. It’s not just any store, but a store with a conscience of sorts, an entertaining place for patrons, friends, and neighbors alike to hang out away from the boredom of unstructured time. UPROC is part tree house, part clothes store, part Big-Brothers mentoring meeting, and part private party with thump-thumping music spinning. Even the store’s name, an acronym for Urban Patrons Reclaiming Our Culture, is different, with its evocation of the fusion of commerce, social-mindedness, and politics. Three long-time Milwaukee friends, Matt Nowak, Jason Gruenwald, and Jason Francis, own the store. They had always wanted to open a skateboard/hip-hop store, and with the help of a few former Milwaukee friends with skater clothing-line connections, the trio opened their clothing and skateboard shop last month at 901 E. Center St. Each of the owners brings different talents. Gruenwald is the boarder; Nowak, the breakdancer; and Francis the artist. They want UPROC to be a kind of nucleus to a world where social and entertainment activities converge. They already have a sponsored breakdancing team and are seeking members for a drill team (choreographed dance group) and a band. Gruenwald wants to see if these groups can perfect their performances enough to appear next year at Summerfest and the Circus Day parade. The break-dancing group, named the “Funkcrushers,” will be performing at Three on Milwaukee Street on August 13th. The choice of Riverwest and Center Street — even in its apocalyptic under-construction state — was an easy one for the owners. Nowak already lives on Fratney Street; Gruenwald lives on Pierce Street and rents from Robert Klaveter, the same landlord who owns the commercial space on Center Street. Gruenwald, 25, expounds on the group’s vision: “Me and all my friends — we were always broke [growing up] but we just ended up meeting friends who were sponsors. They’d buy us a board when we didn’t have money for one.” UPROC is part of continuing that generosity. They want to use any money from the store to do good in the community. In the end, the trio seems to have such a simple, pure-hearted passion for peaceful co-existence. As Nowak puts it, “We just want everyone to be happy.” Although retail business has been a tough go on Center Street, the owners — with their passion and atypical motives (no one mentioned making money once), just might make this store happen. Their products would appear to appeal to the Riverwest’s youthful and off-beat market. Already the store appears to be attracting plenty of young people who play the store’s video games and get expertise from the owners on boarding. But those items are free, and the challenge will be finding customers who find that sharing the owners’ vision might need to be sustained with the purchase of a tee shirt or skateboard now and again. UPROC is located at 901 E. Center Street. The store hours are Monday through Friday from 12 to 7PM; Saturday 11AM to 7PM; and Sunday Noon to 5PM. UPROC may be reached at 264-5009. Their website is www.UPROC.org. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1- Issue 7 – August 2002
by Kevin Flaherty