BY KATIE MATTESON
While still a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Tracy Stacy began her professional career in architectural design with an internship at Butterfield & Seitz (now Butterfield Rudie & Seitz) in her hometown of Racine.
At that time internships were hard to land and even more difficult for women. On her first day, with great expectations and imaginings of the fabulous designs she would help create, Tracy was instead met with a cool reception from her co-workers. As she walked in the door, a junior architect walked out, stating that he wouldn’t work with a woman.
Undeterred, Tracy established herself in a field dominated by men and in 1990 she started her own residential architectural firm. Her carpenter husband Jeff converted an old chicken coop into studio space in the backyard.
“I tell people that I opened my first business account with $9 and a chicken coop,” Tracy said.
Her third son, Jacob was born the same year. They will celebrate their 29th later this year.
Tracy is the president of Absolute Construction Enterprises, a firm specializing in residential architectural design and commercial construction.
Examples of their work can be found throughout the area in custom homes and municipal buildings such as the Civil War Museum in Kenosha, the Southshore Fire Station, as well as commercial projects such as the new addition at O&H Danish Bakery and a rooftop dome and new facade on a local restaurant.
Jeff joined his wife’s company in 2005 after working for years at other construction firms.
Son Jacob has worked up through the ranks; first in the company’s apprentice program (a four-year program which provides paid work experience in carpentry, concrete and professional laborer jobs, combined with technical school training), and also earned a business degree. He’ll eventually take over management of the company, but as of now his mother shows no signs of moving into retirement.
Tracy just embarked on a new venture on the corner of North Main and High streets on Racine’s northside.
Oldtimers will know the building as the former Homer Dairy Drug Store. Tracy is sentimental about the place because that’s where her mother got her first job – as a soda jerk at the lunch counter.
She actually bought the building three years ago and has been quietly updating it with new mechanicals, windows, lighting, some interior demolition and lots of paint.
Her vision for Northwinds Gallery, which opened the second week of July, is to create an artists’ co-op space, coffee shop, Bohemian boutique and classroom studio. Thirty artists have joined the co-op so far and more are welcome.
“It’s all about giving back to the community, bringing a classic building to life and injecting new energy into the neighborhood.” Tracy said. “I’m very happy that the neighbors have already embraced it by thanking us and asking how they can help.”
With a focus on upcycling, the 3,000 square foot shop is a cornucopia of repurposed fixtures and merchandise. There are restored tables and chairs which are for sale, but also for relaxing in quiet conversation over a cup of coffee or a game of chess. There’s space for book clubs to meet and a place for an artist demonstration or a musical group to play.
Plans also call for the expansion of the gathering space to the grassy area to the north of the building and the installation of a bike rack. There’s also plenty of free parking.
And the ambience of the place has already flowed to the exterior of the building, where Tracy took a spare half-hour of her time to paint a black cat named Gypsy on a brick wall. The feline will likely become the mascot for Gypsy Java, the name of the resident coffee shop that will serve coffee from the Door County Roasting Company and locally-sourced bakery items.
The shop is currently open Tuesday and Wednesday from noon – 6 p.m., Thursday from noon – 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon – 6 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday. Once Gypsy Java opens in September, the shop will open at 6 a.m.
For more information about Northwinds Gallery, 1700 N. Main St., call (262) 456-6804. Artists are invited to stop in on Thursdays from 5-8 p.m. with samples of their work to interview with Tracy for participation in the co-op.
For more information about Absolute Construction, 6618 Six Mile Road, call (262) 456-6802 or visit.absoluteconstruct.com.