Online shopping to blame for closure of Neptune Comics, Bartz's and Hallmark, sources say


Since the end of 2016, three stores have shuttered at Westbrook Shopping Center, a 210,000-square foot plaza on Waukesha's northeast side.

The cause, sources said, is an increasingly familiar one to retailers: dwindling foot traffic due to online shopping. But the empty storefronts might not stay empty for long.

Neptune Comics, Bartz's Party Store and Hallmark all quietly closed up shop at the mall, 2120 E. Moreland Blvd., in about an eight-week stretch at the end of last year. They were among approximately 15 other businesses operating at Westbrook, which is anchored by a Kohl's department store and has seen some storefront turnover in recent years.

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Although vacancies at the shopping center are rare, according to Kevin Riordan, the mall's principal leasing agent, retailers everywhere are taking a hit from the growing popularity of online shopping.

Even the businesses at Westbrook – a mall with a prominent location along one of Waukesha's major thoroughfares – are not immune.

Dwindling business

A sign taped to the door at Bartz's said the store was closed and consolidated to accommodate a customer base that prefers to do its shopping online.

Staff at the company's Wauwatosa location said the Waukesha store closed in early-to-mid-December primarily due to lack of business.

However, three other suburban Milwaukee Bartz's locations, in Wauwatosa, Greenfield and Menomonee Falls, remain open.

Craig Lopacinski, the owner of Neptune Comics, offered a similar assessment last October when he announced the closure of his business.

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"Unfortunately, all the work that we put in (for 13 years) never put us in a great financial position, but we did it for the love of the medium, and our customers, and always hoped things would eventually get better," Lopacinski wrote in a letter to customers explaining his decision.

Market changes, such as the burgeoning online shopping trend and a dwindling satisfaction in some print products among comic book subscribers, were to blame, he said.

Hallmark did not respond to a request for comment on its closure before press deadline, but Riordan said online shopping likely drove down business there as well.

The Hallmark sign is still up at Westbrook, but the storefront is closed. A sign on the door directs customers to the Fredrick's Hallmark shop on Sunset Drive. A local Hallmark e-commerce service also remains open.

Holes to fill

According to Riordan, Westbrook, which also houses a Payless ShoeSource, Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Anytime Fitness, rarely has empty storefronts.

"It's pretty unusual that we have a vacancy there at all," he said.

And the holes left by Neptune, Bartz's and Hallmark might soon be filled.

Riordan declined to identify any specific businesses, but said the mall is already working with prospective tenants to occupy those spots.

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