Carolyn Weber has been dreaming of opening a hostel in Milwaukee for six years. Now, Cream City Hostel is coming to life in Riverwest.
Hostels are historically places where young people can sleep cheap and simple. Over the years, they’ve evolved to attract young and old, individuals or families.
The hostel is on the corner of Center and Holton Streets in Riverwest. It's in what was a grand neighborhood bank that Weber says was built in 1920.
“I know people who used to bank here with their parents, yeah, and now they’re in their 70s and they say it was quite the majestic building,” Weber says.
Little remains of its original magnificence except its brick exterior and depository box. Weber hopes to repurpose it as the hostel's mailbox.
Inside are eight sun-filled rooms. Some will have four beds, while others will sleep up to 12. The hostel can accommodate 52 guests at a time. Everyone gets a locker, Weber says.
"They each get their own shelf with an outlet and then a light for reading and each bed is going to be surrounded by curtains for privacy,” Weber explains.
She says the design eliminates things that have bugged her during her hostel travels: “Like having no place to charge your phone,” Weber says.
Co-owner Wendy Mesich says they also built in quiet areas and a more social gathering space. That’s in the basement. “This whole space back here will be dining area into the kitchen,” she says.
The other end of the room will be filled with couches and a large-screened TV. Mesich says they want it to be a hangout with a twist.
“We are going to discourage ‘Netflix and chill’ with hopefully just having it hooked up to a DVD player with a note to ask them to walk down to Riverwest Film & Video, which is the city’s last rental place and … we’ll take it back for them,” Mesich says.
The opportunity to experience the neighborhood doesn’t end inside. Mesich and Weber envision endless possibilities in their backyard. It’s three times the footprint of the hostel.
“For sure movies. I know there’s a lot of bands in the neighborhood that are excited to have some backyard shows. Eventually we'll have power out there for food trucks to pull in and plug in,” Mesich says.
Weber adds, “We actually do plan to keep the gate open and we do invite the community to come to our activities. So, we’re really looking at this as a shared space with the community.”
Seven blocks away woodworker Christopher Brooks designed and is building lots of the hostel's furniture.
“There’s going to be 10 of these tables and they’re all going to be linked together. One feature, which is my favorite part, is that each face of the sections will be a different color. So, depending on where you’re standing in the room, they will change dramatically,” Brooks says.
It’s a unique project for Brooks. He designed classic pieces with a modern twist. He also had to plan the assembly process so that volunteers could help, to save the hostel money.
“You know they’re on kind of a tight budget but they said ‘we’ll find you some volunteer labor’ and so I designed the project for low-skilled people to just do a simple task,” Brooks says.
Brooks reports that volunteers have showed up, sometimes five at a time, to help assemble, sand and paint the pieces.
A few blocks from the hostel, textile artist Julie Ruplinger is busy at her industrial-strength sewing machine. She’s working through yard upon yard of fabric – bright sunflower patterned to green checkered gingham and polka dots.
“What I’m doing is log cabin-style sewing of long strips. Then I cut them down to 40-inch curtains,” Ruplinger says.
Her curtains will provide privacy around each bed. Ruplinger says no two curtains are the same. She calls them evolving pieces of art.
“Every time they take them down to wash and re-install them, they’ll always be changing,” she says.
Ruplinger says the project means more than art or money. She likes being part of something good for the neighborhood.
Cream City Hostel’s Carolyn Weber thinks there’s room for more neighborhood-based hostels, perhaps in Bayview.
“We want to see more of this type of accommodation pop up. We want those community moments,” Weber says.
Co-owner Wendy Mesich agrees, but adds with a laugh, “They should wait. Give us a few years to get established.”
Cream City Hostel will celebrate its grand opening on June 23.
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