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State & City Help fund competition for existing grocery store

Last month Mayor Slay made an announcement many had been expecting:

Schnucks will build downtown’s first full-service grocery store, a 20,800 sf urbanized version, in the Missouri Development Finance Board’s Ninth Street Garage at 9th and Olive Streets.

I guess I am not clear how mayor Slay defines “full-service.” City Grocers opened in October 2004 and offers this downtown resident everything I expect from a grocery store. Of course, I don’t expect to fill a prescription at a grocery store. Nor do I expect to get mylar balloons & florals from a grocery store. I expect groceries.
The Mayor continues:

This is an important step forward for downtown. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me why downtown doesn’t have a supermarket, and where downtown residents shop. Now we have a great answer to both those questions — we will have a Schnucks downtown later this year or early next year, and downtown residents will shop at it.

And what exactly has the Mayor told all these many people asking about where to shop ? Hopefully City Grocers.

The business journal had more:

It will cost $7.56 million for Schnuck Markets Inc. to build out, stock and open downtown St. Louis’ first full-service grocery store. But the family-owned supermarket chain is getting help.

Lots of help — from tax payers of course.

Schnucks will pay $3.42 million necessary for tenant improvements, inventory and other opening expenses at the downtown location, at Ninth and Olive streets, according to state finance board documents. The remaining money will come from a combination of state, federal and city subsidies.

“If we didn’t have the public support, it wouldn’t be a viable project,” said Scott Schnuck, chief executive of Schnuck Markets. “We’re starting with a space that wasn’t designed for a grocery store.” The location will require a leveled floor, extensive wiring and other improvements, he said.

Not designed for a grocery store? Who’s fault is that? Schnuck’s development arm DESCO was involved in building the garage. And in razing the National register listed Century Building. And in suing two downtown property owners who believed a parking garage facing the Old Post Office would be a detriment to downtown.

Does this mean they could not lease the space to anyone else?

Back to the article:

The grocery chain will receive $1.1 million in state funds from the Missouri Development Finance Board (MDFB), $1.29 million in proceeds through the federal New Markets Tax Credits program and $1.75 million from the city of St. Louis through a development agreement that will operate like a tax increment finance (TIF) plan, according to a resolution approved March 18 by the state finance board. The city’s Board of Aldermen approved the development agreement March 14 and has sent its bill to Mayor Francis Slay for his signature.

So tax dollars are now being used to buy inventory??? Inventory that will be sold for profit! WTF?  Meanwhile we have a grocery store already — just not one that is heavily subsidized.  Granted prices will likely be less at this new Schnucks compared to City Grocers.  So we are helping buy food for downtown loft dwellers.

Do we really want the state and city government handing out favors to help one business at the risk of harming another?  What message does this send to someone looking to start a small business in the city?  That once you’ve taken a huge financial risk and proven the market does exist we will swoop in and give favors to our wealthy buddies so they can steal your customers!
From the same article on the new store; “it will have a pharmacy — something that’s been missing downtown since Walgreens left a few years back.“  Walgreens, ironically was located in the very same spot — on the ground level of the Century.  Walgreens was booted out so the building could be razed for a parking structure.

It will be nice to see a new Schnucks without a massive treeless surface parking lot out front.


Wal-Mart gives the Shanks the shaft

March 30, 2008 Local Business 43 Comments

You’ve probably heard the story — Wal-Mart is suing a former employee that is brain damaged and living in a nursing home. Wal-Mart has won their case on a couple of levels — the health plan that paid nearly a half million dollars of her medical expenses had a clause which allowed the company to recoup expenses if the employee gets a settlement.

Debbie Shank received a million dollars from the trucking company that caused the accident that left her incapacitated — about $477K after legal expenses. The intent of the settlement was to pay for her on-going care. Wal-Mart is limited to only the amount that remains in the trust — just under $300K. The Shank family wonders why Wal-Mart can’t just let it go — who needs the money more? CNN has the full story.

This is a good example of the big corporate chain vs. the local retailer  the local merchant that is part of the same community would not take such a step.

Wal-Mart could take this amount of money from their foundation to recoup the health plan. The Walton family could dig through their sofas for this much. But the world’s biggest retailer is hiding behind corporate policy. So besides driving manufacturers to send jobs overseas and a long list of other strong-arm tactics, this is yet another reason not to shop at Wal-Mart & Sam’s.

For more on this story, links to help contribute to her care and a petition you can sign visit walmartwatch.com Please think about the costs to society for that “low price.”  It just is not worth it.


Fire Heavily Damages Downtown Restaurant

Earlier today an act of arson (per the Post-Dispatch) heavily damaged a downtown restaurant as well as adjacent living spaces. Thankfully, everyone was evacuated safely.


Just past 7:30am this morning a few fire trucks were still on the scene that started after 3am, according to news reports. Police had Washington Ave blocked in both directions. Copia was in the main floor of the lovely two story building in the center, above. The Vangard Lofts are to the left, a narrow building is to the right and finally The Meridian to the far right. Residents of all these buildings were evacuated. Unfortunately, The Vangard suffered some smoke & water damage.


From the back, above, we see the rear patio area. The front dining room seemed to have suffered mostly smoke & water damage, as the tables appear ready for dinner. However, the rear of the building was severely damaged.

The back of these buildings front onto St. Charles St., a narrow alley-like street. I’m not sure if parking is allowed on this section of the street. Still, a silver Mustang was parked at the end of Copia’s ramp at the back. The Fire Dept looks to have cut the railing apart to get access to the back entrance. Good thing they had that practice on Lou Hamilton’s diving board!


Above, St. Louis’ new fire chief Dennis Jenkerson changes shoes at the back of his car before leaving the site.


From the front, with the exception of the broken glass and debris, it doesn’t appear a 4-alarm fire just did the damage that it did. Again, the dining room was damaged by smoke and water, not fire.


Later crews were on the scene to board up the building and deal with damage at the Vangard Lofts as well.

Regular readers will note this is the same restaurant where I had my video-tapped confrontation with owner Eyad “ET” Tammas, over valets consuming too much public parking. Despite that, and the on-going valet problems, I would never wish arson upon anyone. Copia, like many other places, was an important part of the downtown scene. I wish them well in their rebuilding. The valet guys, and their tactics to take up more spaces than is fair, can stay gone as far as I am concerned unless they learn to play well with others.


Restaurant Cuts Dinner Hours Due to Highway 40 Closure

The Southside Journal is reporting that Giuseppe’s Ristorante at Grand & Meremac is axing it’s dinner hours starting next week, in anticipation of a drop in business from it’s largely West County clientele.

When the highway reopens, Giuseppe’s could start its evening hours again.”Sixty percent of our customers live in West County,” said Forrest Miller, who owns the restaurant with Eric Stockmann and Mark Manfrede. “You can’t expect people to go through that aggravation.”

While I think that many people on all sides of the construction zone will spend more time nearer their homes, I still think people will venture out for an evening meal to a well-known place they enjoy. The Fox and Symphony will continue. Life will continue, unless places begin to shutter their doors beforehand.

“When they closed the highway last summer, each time they closed it our weekend business was in the tank,” said Miller, who also owns the popular South County banquet hall Royale Orleans at 2801 Telegraph Road with his wife Donna. “We noticed our business was off like 60 percent every weekend.”

“This is a big restaurant,” Miller said. “If you have a bad day, you go in the hole.”

I appreciate that restaurants cannot have food prepared only to send it home with the staff because their business was down. Still, the temporary shut downs that we had were very temporary — a solitary weekend here and there. People were like, “let’s just go some place close tonight.” Well, that is going to wear off very soon.

In January our roads will be a mess. However, I think folks will get into a routine and before long it will seem rather normal. Someone coming for an 8pm Saturday dinner reservation will still manage. They might do well to consider a weekend only evening schedule, say Thursday-Sunday, starting in February. Still, the Feasting Fox across the intersection might pick up some business from people that arrive for dinner only to find the establishment closed.
Forrest Miller spoke at the stop highway 40 closure meeting last week held by Joe Passanise.


I’ve been to Hell and back Today

This morning when I got up I knew what I had to do today, scoot out to the suburbs. Rock Hill, specifically. Normally I don’t really mind a nice long ride but it was a tad cold this morning. Bundled up, I made my way out Chouteau/Manchester to my destination.

Back on the road I cruised through the new development at Manchester and Rock Hill (McKnight). Wow, and I thought we had some vacant storefronts downtown. I didn’t even stop for pictures. They’ve actually got some good pedestrian connections but they also got some real dumb mistakes. They have a long way to go to get those spaces leased. A little advice to Rock Hill, make sure they get a few more tenants before starting to raze buildings to the North. Look for a review in January ’08.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I decided to head straight for the center of hell — Brentwood and 40. Since I was out this direction I had to stop at Whole Foods and Trader Joes to get a few things I can’t really get elsewhere. Whole Foods is great because of their commitment to the environment. However, I think they may have gone a bit too far:


The urinal in the men’s room has a nice new lever handle designed to conserve water (so does the toilet). Up for liquid and down for solid waste. How nice, but this is a urinal!!!! My dad never pulled me aside to share that solids don’t belong in urinals, this is something we guys just seem to know. I’m all for saving water but people need to think more critically. This might certainly encourage some unintended consequences.

Heading from one strip mall to another I made my way to Trader Joes. Ah, so many items and so little carrying capacity. Good thing about a day like today, my frozen items stay frozen. Looking to the North as I left I saw the I-170/40 interchange and realized that, for all its flaws, I’m so glad I live and work in the city. I walk to destinations now and scooter to those places outside my local environment. I could not imagine living life in that environment amongst highway ramps, huge parking lots and so on. I thought about stuff they had at Trader Joes that I wanted to get — briefly considering a return trip soon or even a venture there on MetroLink but I’m not sure it is worth it.

Traffic was moving slowly on Hwy 40 heading back to the city but not slow enough for my scooter. I took the back ways through some of Maplewood’s lovely residential areas (those that have not been converted into horrible anti-pedestrian big box centers). Returning to the city limits was a relief for me. I was still in an ugly part of town (St. Louis Marketplace) but crossing back over the line was comforting to me.


Approaching Kingshighway on Manchester, however, and we had a preview of what we may see in a few weeks – backed up traffic on a major East-West route. The Water Dept had the two Westbound lanes of Manchester closed so traffic was condensing to one lane. Eastbound traffic was backed up for a considerable distance before noon.

Upon crossing Kingshighway I was back in my element. Ah yes, urban buildings near the street. On-street parking. Mixed uses. Not perfect, by any means. But, home. Got the grub put away and headed out the door on foot to a couple of ribbon cuttings.

First up today was Good Works, a second location for this local store that is a fixture in the Loop. A former bank lobby, the Good Works space at 9th and Washington Ave is impressive. Above is Barb Geisman (Dept Mayor), Ald Phyllis Young, the store manager (sorry, didn’t catch her name), and Jim Cloar from the Downtown Partnership. I wish Good Works the best of luck and hope they do get all the support they need from the city — and some on-street parking out front.

After a brief stop at the AIA Bookstore, next door, I headed to the ribbon cutting at Flamingo Bowl.


Mayor Slay arrived sporting a personalized bowling shirt. Slay got to throw out the first ball, leaving a couple of pins. OK, he admitted he wasn’t a bowler.

The space? In a word, stunning! It is divided into two parts, each with a bar, restrooms, kitchen and lanes (4 on one side, 8 on another). This means groups can reserve a section while the balance is open to the public. Their hours are noon to 3am daily. The noon thing might put a crimp in the early lunch crowd.

They allow smoking so we’ll have to see how well the systems work to remove the smoke and smell. Of course, the toxic pollutants are still in the air. This might keep some of us from going for food, I can handle a drink and bowling around smoking but I just can’t consume food around people smoking.

The Downtown Residents holiday party is this evening so I will be back there later tonight. Unlike so many other great venues downtown, I think we just turned a corner today. Up until now everything seemed like it might slip away any moment. Today this place will do a lot of selling for downtown.