Pete's Fruit Market Aims to End Food Desert in Milwaukee's Bronzeville Neighborhood

Apr 14, 2017

Milwaukee has a number of neighborhoods that lack easy access to grocery stores. An end is in sight for one of these food deserts. Pete’s Fruit Market plans to open a store next month in Milwaukee's Bronzeville District.

Business is booming at Pete’s on the south side, and now the owners want to recreate the magic on North King Drive.

In order to envision what the north side store will look like, you need to travel to the south side operation. It has some cool features, such as a barker who stands at the front of the store and shouts out the daily specials. And, owner Pete Tsitiridis stands by the produce aisle, giving away fresh slices of fruit.

“I cut them and they sample. I give them samples of all the food that I have and they love it. I cut watermelons, cantaloupes, oranges, everything,” he says.

In summer, Tsitiridis moves some of his business outside, so customers can enjoy a farmer’s market experience and sample Mexican cuisine from a couple food trucks. Tsitiridis is a native of Greece; he’s owned Pete’s Fruit Market for more than 20 years. It’s located just off of 16th street, in the heart of Milwaukee’s Latino neighborhood.

He says he’s been looking to expand for years, and has had his eye on the new location at the corner of King Drive and North Avenue.

Pete Tsitiridis hands out fresh fruit slices at his store on the south side.
Credit Marti Mikkelson

“I haven’t seen any operator over there that has daily fresh fruits and vegetables and the neighborhood is in need of a store like ours. The location is great, there’s a lot of traffic and a lot of people around and I think we’re going to do better than here,” Tsitiridis says.

Tsitiridis says the new store will feature some of the same offerings as the one on the south side, including those delicious free samples. He plans to employ at least 50 neighborhood residents to work on King Drive, including Chris Harris.

The store has already hired - and is training him. Today, Harris is wearing a store apron and learning to organize the produce.

“They are cross training me to work on every area of the store so when we get to the new store, at least somebody will know what’s going on,” Harris says.

Harris says he’s been through periods of unemployment in his life, and is grateful that Pete’s is coming to his neighborhood. He likes that the central location will be easy to access.

“As far as transportation, a lot of people who live in the neighborhood can get back and forth, walking or on the bus, so I think it’s a nice addition,” Harris says. “It’s hard to find good stores that have fresh food, because we need it around here.”

Amanda is waiting for the bus at the corner of King and North, just a few feet from the new store. She says now, she has to travel several miles to get to the nearest grocer. “The one grocery store that’s close to me is Walmart and Pick 'n Save and that’s too far for me because I have to take the city bus all the way over there,” she says.

LISTEN: Community Partners Work to Make Fresh Food Accessible on Milwaukee's Near West Side

"It's a strong feeling throughout the community that... [Pete's will] change Bronzeville, it'll change the King Drive BID because it's sitting in the center of our business district."

The 10,000 square foot building Amanda stands in front of many days has colorful signs in its windows reading, “Coming Soon – Pete’s Fruit Market.”

Another person excited about the development is Deshea Agee, director of the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District. He calls the grocer a “game changer” for the neighborhood.

“It’s a strong feeling throughout the community that, and even as I get calls from people asking when are they opening, it will change the corner of King Drive and North Avenue, it’ll change Bronzeville, it’ll change the King Drive BID because it’s sitting in the center of our business district,” Agee says.

And where there is foot traffic and shoppers – often come more retailers. In fact, Agee says developers are planning a second fresh food market for King Drive, located just a few blocks north of Pete’s.