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Local Stores Offer More Humor Than Chains

February 24, 2006 Local Business, Travel Comments Off on Local Stores Offer More Humor Than Chains

CityMarket.jpgSeattle’s City Market store offers a humorous take on current affairs to attract customers. A friend of mine sent me this image he took while walking home from work the other day. Apparently this local market is known for its signs. My friend wrote in his email:

These are the folks that brought us “The Passion of the Sandwich” and “Salvador Deli”

Humor is one of the things seldom expected from big national chain stores or even regional chains but is often the hallmark of the business owner behind the counter at a locally owned business. Yet one more reason to skip the chains.

– Steve


The Gelateria Rivals City Grocers for Most Significant DT Neighborhood Contribution

February 22, 2006 Downtown, Local Business 23 Comments

After speaking to a class at Webster’s Old Post Office campus last night I headed over to meet a friend at The Gelateria for what else — gelato! A steady stream of customers came in and out during the nearly two hours we hung out. Finally around 9pm I decided it was time to scoot home.

Today I’m back at The Gelateria having a beverage while checking email and updating my site (yes, they are a free wi-fi hotspot). With weekend hours until midnight they are the late night destination place downtown.

At the end of 2004 I proclaimed City Grocers the best new thing:

A grocery store as the best of 2004? YES! Nothing else will have such an impact on the future of downtown as a grocery store. Schnuck’s Markets development arm, Desco, is busy razing the Century Building for a f*cking parking garage – they can’t be bothered with serving the real needs of downtown. But, local developer Craig Heller and grocer Rance Baker decided to fill the void by opening City Grocers in the ground floor of Heller’s Bell Lofts. Heller, Baker and the staff of City Grocers are the urban heros of 2004!

While City Grocers’ role is not diminished by the new kid downtown they are challenged for the title of most significant neighborhood contribution. I’ll call it a tie for now. However, Joe Edwards’ bowling alley, Flamingo Bowl, may be the new king when it opens this summer.

If you haven’t checked out the grocery selection at City Grocers or the hazelnut gelato at The Gelateria you are missing out.

– Steve

[UPDATE 2/23/06 @ 12:30pm – Changed headline from “…most significant downtown business” to “…most significant DT neighborhood business.” This should help clarify that I am talking about businesses that contribute to the feel of a neigbhorhood and not a 9-5 CBD. Nobody decides to spend a Saturday downtown due to ATT/SBC (unless they are putting in OT). – SLP]


Moseley To Open Cinema Downtown

February 22, 2006 Downtown, Local Business 23 Comments

The Post-Dispatch’s Deb Peterson is reporting local theatre owner Harmon Moseley will open a theatre in part of the Jefferson Arms. For those that have lived here a while you’ll recall the various attempts to have a theatre downtown — behind the train shed turned parking lot at Union Station.

The lame idea that people would drive to Union Station to see a film was absurd. Of course they hoped people would take in dinner while they were there. Well, they thought wrong. Destination places tend to do well as long as they are the new & hot destination.

A theatre will do great at Jefferson Arms. Not so much because of the building (although it is interesting) but because of the location on Tucker at Locust. With the many downtown residents and the many more of us that like to visit friends downtown I can see it staying busy.

Moseley says he wants to “raise the bar” in St. Louis by including a full bar. Great idea as some recent movies require a good stiff drink to deal with the poor script and lackluster performances. They cannot all be Brokeback Mountain.

Now for a mini-rant…

In the last five years we’ve witnessed a virtually empty downtown transform into an interesting downtown. We are a long way from being 24/7 but each new enterprise helps. A neighborhood needs all those places necessary for daily life. A theatre isn’t exactly a necessity but I can’t imagine doing without the option.

Downtown leaders need to be marketing the businesses that have opened. They are doing a poor job.

For example, take the Explore St. Louis site from the Regional Commerce & Growth Association (RCGA). They list the following neighborhoods in St. Louis: Laclede’s Landing, The Ville, Lafayette Square, Soulard, South Grand, The Hill. Uh, hello, Downtown!!! You know, the place where your offices are and where we have this white elephant convention center and near bankrupt convention hotel.

The Loop does well because of the efforts of Joe Edwards and other merchants. They have no bureaucratic entity like the Downtown Partnership or Downtown Now to deal with. They get organize, decide what they are going to do and then do it. We kinda have that downtown already with the developers bringing in new business owners. Do we need the Partnership?

Maybe some of our independent filmmakers in town can put together a documentary on the politics behind the razing of the Century Building. Wouldn’t that make an interesting opening film in the Jefferson Arms?

– Steve


Copia’s Valet Parking Negating New On-Street Parking

As a follow up to my post from earlier today I ventured down to Washington Avenue to check out the parking situation on a Saturday night. Although parking is now permitted on two additional blocks (10th to Tucker) you wouldn’t know it based on the parked cars.

The block between 10th and 11th is full from end to end, a very good sign. It looks so much better it is a pity we’ve gone this long without it. But the block between 11th and Tucker is another story.

Copia Urban Winery at 1122 Washington Avenue is consuming entirely too much of the 1100 block with their valet parking. How much is too much?

Try 288 feet! (I carry a measuring wheel in my car for such purposes.)

Copia, located about the mid-point of the block, is 75 feet wide (per tax records). So they are taking away 213 feet of parking from adjacent buildings. A little greedy don’t you think?

Now I’m not going to tell any high-end restaurant they can’t have valet parking. That is a necessary function to please their clientele. However a number of their own customers could park on the same street if they didn’t block it off with their orange cones.

I looked through St. Louis’ ordinances online and didn’t turn up any laws regulating valet parking. The City of Clayton, however, has a reasonably defined law (no direct link, search for ‘valet’). They require a license and the city determines the amount of space the valet is allowed to occupy.

St. Louis needs to address the valet parking situation or we risk stagnating the very area we are trying to enliven. You don’t need nearly 300 feet of road to provide adequate valet parking service for a restaurant the size of Copia.

Back to Clayton, I’ve seen restaurant valets occupy at most two parking sapces — roughly 40-45ft. If we were generous and gave Copia 60 feet of space they should be able to provide for their customers without blocking traffic. Although if someone ends up waiting in a lane for a minute or two it won’t be the end of the world. The street is 50 feet wide at that point (yes, I measured that too) so someone could easily go around.

At the most Copia should be restricted to the width of their building. They have no need to take away spaces that could be used by adjacent store fronts or visitors to residential units above. As additional businesses open in the area it will simply be unfair for one business to consume so much of the on-street parking spaces.

Where are Tom Reeves & Jim Cloar on this one? My guess is inside Copia…

– Steve


On-Street Parking on Washington Avenue — Finally!

Yes folks, we finally have on-street parking along a two-block stretch of Washington Avenue — from 10th to Tucker (aka 12th). Thanks to Ecology of Absence for the heads up on the change. Before we get into the new changes I want to give you some background.

Getting on-street parking has been a topic of mine for sometime now, it first came up on December 29, 2004 when I was reviewing the recently completed streetscape improvements in the area. On that post I wrote:

Downtown Now’s Tom Reeves was quoted in a St. Louis Business Journal story about the improvements:

“The idea is to make a safe, pedestrian-friendly environment so we can have tourists, convention goers, residents and business people all walking up and down the street,” he said. “That’s going to lead to a lot of new retail business.”

Sorry Tom, despite the attractive benches, street trees and brick pavers this area will not be as pedestrian-friendly as hoped.

Why you ask?

Lack of on-street parking.

Someone made the foolish decision to not have parking on Washington Avenue East of Tucker. This decision is going to have a negative impact on the friendliness of the street by having four lanes of fast moving traffic going by you.

The street will seem dead – parked cars have an amazing ability to indicate that something is going on. Can you imagine sitting on one of those benches near the curb line knowing cars, SUVs & buses are going to be whizzing by just a few feet away? Not me!

As a result, these blocks will not be as successful as the blocks to the West. Just imagine the Loop without on-street parking and four lanes of traffic. Yes, you could get through during rush hour much easier but that shouldn’t be the goal. Think of Euclid without street parking – it would be boring and lifeless.

Expecting to have a successful urban retail street without on-street parking is simply naive. Sure, Chicago’s Michigan Avenue doesn’t have on-street parking but it is an exception rather than the rule. This is so basic a principle it makes me continue to wonder if anyone at City Hall or Downtown Now get what urban life is all about.

This is likely the fault of city traffic engineers or perhaps Downtown Now. Could just be a lack of thought – these blocks didn’t have on-street parking before the improvements. Maybe it was just assumed the parking & traffic lanes would be the same? However it came to be, it is unfortunate. Traffic moving faster is always contrary to pedestrian-friendly.

The good news is this is reversible. Re-stripe the street and install some parking meters and the life of the street will improve dramatically. Plus, this reduces the need for ugly parking lots and garages. But, I’m not optimistic the city will wake up and realize the folly of this mistake.
I revisited the issue again on July 1, 2005 in a post called ‘East Washington Avenue: To Park or Not To Park?’

This evening on the way to the First Friday Gallery and Design Walk downtown I couldn’t help but notice cars parked on Washington Avenue East of Tucker. This is special because the street has neither parking meters or no-parking signs. So is it allowed or not? I was excited to see people parking along this stretch of Washington Avenue. It looked and felt so much better. But later what did I spot attached to the lamp posts with string? No-parking signs. At some point after 6:30pm the city came by and attached temporary “no-parking tow away zone signs.” They weren’t ticketing or towing. They were simply trying to keep the area lifeless and sterile.

Five months had passed without any indication of parking being allowed or not allowed. So people started parking on the street when visiting restaurants or galleries. Realizing the error of not blocking parking the city put up paper signs until they could get permanent signs in place to prohibit parking. This was all very deliberate and poorly executed. Two days after this post the Mayor’s blog announced a downtown traffic & parking study.

On July 15, 2005 the issue came up again:

Today Downtown St. Louis Partnership President Jim Cloar included the following in his weekly notes to members:Curb-side parking is prohibited along Washington Avenue east of Tucker. Some “entrepreneurial” motorists realized that “No Parking” signs had not been installed and have been camping out all day, playing havoc with buses, delivery trucks and traffic in general. That has been corrected and tickets will be issued going forward.

The stupidity of his statement is so infuriating. Where does one begin?

I concluded the post stating, “We must rescue our streets from the very organization that is charged with promoting downtown!”

I quickly did a couple more posts on the subject in the following days. On July 17, 2005 I posted an online poll and on July 18, 2005 I posted findings from an informal traffic count.

My most recent post on the subject was this past December in reviewing the draft traffic/parking study:

While they say that on-street parking has not been ruled out I’m suspicious. They hinted at allowing parking except during peak hours. I pointed out after the meeting to Doug Shatto [study consultant] how KitchenK will not use their sidewalk cafe license until they have a row of parked cars to make sidewalk dining more hospitable to their patrons. I also pointed out that Copia is allowed to take a traffic lane for valet parking. If we can take a lane for a valet we can certainly take the balance of the lane for parking as the flow is already restricted. I still want to see on-street parking all the way from Tucker to at least Broadway.

While I was rightfully suspicious in December it also seemed pretty clear that many folks living and working in the area that on-street parking was going to be necessary to continue the vibrant street life we see west of Tucker to the blocks east of Tucker. In between posts I talked up the issue to as many people as possible, including those that might be able to have some influence such as developers Kevin McGowan, Matt O’Leary and Craig Heller. I already knew the city’s Planning & Urban Design director, Rollin Stanley, would be supportive of on-street parking. I just wasn’t sure if he’d be able to charm his political colleagues enough to get them to concede on this issue.

Not sure what finally tipped the scales but this week signs permitting on-street parking were installed.
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