Maps tell us the story of many things. They give directions, they help us understand our landscape and they give us a sense of where we are and where we want to go.
But the times are changing and the need for a brick and mortar storefront distributing physical paper maps is lessening by the day. One such business, Milwaukee Map Service, Inc., will be closing its doors this spring after 80 years in business.
Rich Milwaukee history
"My grandfather, Clarence Swain, with the help of his wife Bessie, started the business out of his home at 3921 N. 21st Street in 1937," said Milwaukee Map Service manager Tony Swain (noting his "manager" title is informal because it's a family business). "The porch of their home, and later their living room, became the meeting place for Milwaukee customers to come buy a map."
After a 24-year residency at 45th Street and North Avenue, the business — also known as The Map Store — moved to 959 N. Mayfair Road in 1991 and remained there until moving to its current location, 3720 N. 124th St., in 2012.
In recent years, Clarence's daughter Jan Swain has run the business with the help of Tony and another son Michael. Jan is set to retire soon and made the decision to close the store at this time due to the soon-expiring lease on the building the company rents.
May keep online presence
Despite a recent downturn in foot traffic, the store has remained relevant by operating a website and also became a vendor on Amazon in 2015. There is discussion about continuing the business exclusively as an online store; those decisions will be made in the coming weeks.
"More and more of our business is online and through email," Tony Swain said. "We spend more time already shipping but we can no longer justify the costs of a brick and mortar store."
In addition to selling custom maps, the store also has a laminating, mounting and framing department, a full selection of globes, and a certification to print topographic maps and navigational charts for the government.
"One of the reason we have lasted 80 years is we are a full service map provider," Swain said. "Our business also benefited from other store closings and when the government ceased creating their (United States Geological Survey) topographical maps."
Swain said the store has valued its customers and with that in mind they sent out two emails to their patrons announcing the closing.
If you are interested in visiting the store before the doors close for good you still have an opportunity to do so.
"We have to be out of the building by the end of March," Swain said. "If we can't get all of our property out by then we may make an extension request to the property owner."