Salon is first of several businesses ready to open in South Pier District

Jomaji 1

On South Pier Drive, John and Marion Kuether are not just the new kids on the block. So far, they're the only kids of the block.

On Monday, the Kuethers will open Jomaji Salon & Spa, the first business to sprout in the South Pier District since the Blue Harbor Resort and Conference Center opened last June, with several more retail shops, sports and entertainment projects to follow this year.

"Being the first one down here is making it even more exciting," said John Kuether, 49. "There is a future here. We believe it. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here."

This weekend comes the big move to the butterscotch-colored, two-story, shanty-style building that will house the new salon. They'll close LaTress Hairquarters, a landmark for nearly 35 years at 15th Street and Indiana Avenue, at 4 p.m. Saturday, and reopen at 8 a.m. Monday as Jomaji, at 682 South Pier Drive on the riverfront.

"It's kind of a special little area ... with the water, the tranquility," said Marion Kuether, 47. "You can look outside and see the water. It's a soothing atmosphere."

After nearly two years of dormancy, activity at the South Pier District will be heating up in a hurry. The foundation for the Three Shop Shanty was poured this week, with construction on the retail building expected to be complete by August. This spring comes the groundbreaking of Triple Play Fun Zone, a 20,000-square-foot, $4.7 million sports and recreational complex.

Also planned are the Harborside Development, from Sheboygan developer Christine Holbrook, a $700,000 shanty-style retail complex and a $4.5 million proposal from Harborside Development and Entertainment of Wood Dale, Ill., with four more shanties for retail, restaurants and office space.

"As you see buildings going up and construction trailers moving in and earthwork being performed, I think it's exciting for the entire community," said Paulette Enders, Sheboygan's director of planning and development.

Erik Jensen, of LJM Architects in Sheboygan, whose company is developing the Three Shop Shanty and designed Jomaji, Triple Play Fun Zone and a new public fish cleaning and restroom facility for the South Pier District, said the peninsula has come a long way from a barren, polluted coal and oil storage area owned by the C. Reiss Coal Co.

"There's no comparison," said Jensen, whose office is across the river from the South Pier District. "That was a dismal industrial site, an underused industrial site, now it's got new paving and new green (space) and new buildings and new light fixtures and new activity."

The city purchased the 42-acre peninsula and the old C. Reiss Coal headquarters building for $1.8 million in 2001 from Koch Industries, and then spent $12.2 million in public money on the $54 million Blue Harbor project, and another $9 million more on streets, sewers, parking and other utilities to serve the resort and the remainder of the peninsula.

The South Pier District was the Kuethers' first choice for Jomaji, and it took some doing, with several months of negotiations with the city for a ground lease.

The Common Council approved the Jomaji development agreement in November.

The couple has put in 17-hour workdays in recent weeks, trying to finish the job of getting the salon ready for its opening, doing much of the interior design and a lot of the painting. It will offer hairstyling, manicures, massages, body treatments, facials and electrolysis. The 3,600-square-foot building is nearly twice the size of the old salon.

Marion Kuether, who went into a hairstyling apprenticeship at LaTress fresh out of Sheboygan North High School in 1975, said she expects many of her regular customers to make the switch to Jomaji. Also moving over will be Rosemary Vandenhouten, who as a former owner of LaTress helped teach Kuether the craft, and who will continue to work part time at the new location.

"The location is still central, and the clients are going to follow you," said Vandenhouten, 66, of Sheboygan. "They're very loyal."

The unique name of the salon is a family tribute to the couple's late daughter, Jillian, who died at the age of 20 in a car crash in February 2003 on the city's north side. Marion Kuether compiled the first two letters of John, her own and Jillian's names at one point as an e-mail address, and the name carried over to the new business.

The Kuethers said Jillian, who had been a student at UW-Milwaukee, had expressed an interest in going to cosmetology school.

"Everybody liked it (the name), and that's how it was and how ironic," Marion Kuether said. "It's a tribute to our family and ... it's making Jill a part of it."

South Pier projects

  • Jomaji Salon & Spa, opens Monday at 682 South Pier Drive, 3,600-square-foot salon and spa.

  • Triple Play Fun Zone. Groundbreaking scheduled in the spring at Lakeview and Blue Harbor drives. 20,000-square-foot sports and recreational complex with rock climbing, mini golf, laser tag, baseball and softball batting and training. Cost, $4.7 million to build and equip.
  • Harborside Development and Entertainment, Wood Dale, Ill. Groundbreaking planned for spring or summer. Four shanties with shops, retail, restaurants and entertainment, with offices or housing on the second levels. Cost: $4.5 million.

  • Harborside Development LLC, Sheboygan. Three shanty buildings for ground-level retail. Cost: $700,000. No groundbreaking date given.

  • Three Shop Shanty, LJM Architects, Sheboygan. Construction under way, to be complete by August 1. Three retail shops in one building. Cost: $350,000.

  • City-owned fish cleaning and comfort station, LJM Architects, Sheboygan. Construction under way, expected completion, June 1.

Petrie, Bob. “Salon is first of several businesses ready to open in South Pier District.”The Sheboygan Press. April 29, 2005, page A1.