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Alley Retail Can Work…In The Right Conditions

September 24, 2018 Downtown, Featured, Planning & Design, Retail Comments Off on Alley Retail Can Work…In The Right Conditions

Alleys are one thing that attracted me to St. Louis in 1990, we didn’t have them in the 1960s suburban subdivision where I grew up in Oklahoma City. Interestingly, my grandparents each had alleys behind their homes in the small Western Oklahoma towns of Weatherford & Clinton. I spent a lot of time in the alleys behind their houses. Everywhere I’ve lived in St. Louis has had an alley, though for the last decade the alley has technically been St. Charles Street.

In April 2012 I posted about the streets that are really alleys parallel to Washington Ave.; St. Charles Street to the South & Lucas Ave to the North.  A year later New Brewery Improves Alley-Like Lucas Ave.

A recent “Where am I?” photo on Facebook raised interesting issues about alleys, and led me to ban someone from commenting on the page. Let me explain.

I posted the photo to the right on Facebook (blog’s cover image) with the caption “Where am I?” There were right & wrong guesses as to the location — it’s off of Locust St. between 10th-11th. One of the comments was “A sketchy alley about to get mugged by a homeless guy with a shank.  Also next to the Urban Shark.” Yes, Urban Shark is attached to the Bike Station on the left. No, not at any risk of getting mugged, but many think that way about alleys.

One person commented we need to turn alleys into pedestrian-focused retail like other cities have done, citing San Francisco & New Orleans. I recall experiencing one in Vancouver years ago — great space. However, I replied that retailing has struggled downtown even on well-populated streets like Washington Ave. Later I asked him to name just one alley downtown that would make a good candidate for retail. He, we’ll call him GB, said I was bashing St. Louis and he’s seen it work well in other cities. I’ll post more on our interaction in the future, right now I want to stick to GB’s assertion we should enliven our alleys.

Our alleys, like in many cities, were planned as ways to keep unsightly business like trash disposal out of view from primary streets. Also, most of downtown’s alleys have been privatized. Certainly those who own to the rights to formerly public alleys could try to market an alley as a pedestrian-friendly retail & restaurant hub, though ownership is often split down the middle between property owners on each side.

Yes, this has worked well in other cities. So why not downtown St. Louis? First, this has been used in areas lacking vacant street-facing retail spaces.  When retail vacancy is near zero rents go up. By expanding into alleys building owners can make retail spaces in unused/unleased portions of buildings. The rents received isn’t what they get out front but it helps the bottom line. Retailers get spaces that are more affordable in their business model.

If we look at the immediate area around the alley I posted we can see lots of available storefront space. Lots.

The corner space on the building to the East is vacant. Same for the corner space on the building to the West.
Diagonally across 10th & Locust from the above, the corner of The Syndicate remains vacant.
Stefano’s former space at 504 N 10th has been vacant for 3+ years.

The South side of Washington Ave between 10th & 11th recent became fully occupied, but the North side has lots of vacancies.

The Dorsa building was renovated more than a decade ago but ground floor retail remains vacant.
The other storefront in the Dorsa is also vacant. Years ago the St. Louis convention people made the windows look nice at least.
Two months from now will mark 3 years since The Dubliner closed, the space remains vacant.
One bright spot is someone will soon be reopening Bella’s Frozen Yogurt at 1021 Washington Ave. Yay! Click the image to open their Facebook page in a new tab.

I’ve tried to think of an alley in Downtown or Downtown West that might be a good candidate. Laclede’s Landing — can’t think of one, North of the Arch/Ead’s Bridge, has done ok with an alley or two to gain access to buildings. The best local example I can think of is the Maryland Plaza alley in the Central West End.

The property owner(s) did a great job welcoming you to the back of the buildings.
A restaurant patio occupies the West end of the “alley” behind the buildings. This photo was taken on a hot Thursday afternoon, I’d imagine it’s hard to get a table here at certain times.
Looking East toward York Ave., we see a living wall to disguise the parking garage on the right.
Approaching York Ave.

This example was never a public service alley, but it does show how a small sliver of property behind a building can become an asset rather than a liability. Former service alleys can be given this same treatment, the results are often amazing.

Still doesn’t make it a good idea for downtown St. Louis. It might, if you can think of the right location.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Will Schnucks Be Too Dominant After Buying 19 Shop ‘n Save Locations?

September 23, 2018 Featured, Local Business, Retail, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Will Schnucks Be Too Dominant After Buying 19 Shop ‘n Save Locations?
Please vote below

Our local grocery scene continues to change, from last week:

Shop ‘n Save is checking out of the grocery-store business in the St. Louis region.

Schnucks Markets is purchasing 19 area Shop ‘n Save groceries owned by parent company SuperValu and will rebrand them as Schnucks stores. The remaining 17 Shop ‘n Save locations will close if SuperValu is unable to find a buyer by the end of the year.

The acquisition will boost the number of Schnucks grocery stores by 20 percent. Fifteen of the stores include pharmacies, which will also be purchased and run by Schnucks. (St. Louis Public Radio)

I was here in 1995 when Schnucks bought National Supermarkets from Canadian-based Loblaws, earlier grocery stores were before I arrived:

A previous merger in 1970 had seen Schnucks acquire the Bettendorf-Rapp chain of grocery stores—temporarily forming the Schnucks-Bettendorf’s chain (a joke was that an initially proposed name for the merged company was “Schnuckendorfs”) until the latter half of the combined name was dropped a couple of years later—just as Bettendorf’s had swallowed up the Rapp chain of stores to form Bettendorf-Rapp’s in the 1960s. Schnucks underwent a major expansion in 1995 when it purchased from Loblaws the National Supermarkets chain, also based in St. Louis.

Schnucks’ growth in the St. Louis area was bolstered by the local abandonment of two major supermarket chains: A&P in the 1970s, and Kroger in 1986. (Wikipedia)

This week’s poll is about Schnucks buying 19 Shop ‘n Save stores:

This poll will close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

Our First Visit to Mau Haus Cat Cafe & Lounge

April 13, 2018 Featured, Local Business, Retail, St. Louis County Comments Off on Our First Visit to Mau Haus Cat Cafe & Lounge

Last weekend David and I were going to be in Maplewood, so we decided to visit Mau Haus — a cat cafe & lounge. We have some food & beverage while spending an hour in a room with 18 cats and about 15 strangers. It was a wonderful time, we’re ready to go back. You’re probably asking yourself what a cat cafe is…

A cat cafe is a combination of all things good; cats, coffee, and a relaxing cafe environment. You can relax and pet cats, and it’s great socialization for them too! The cats are adoptable, which means if you fall in love, you can apply to take them home!

A cat cafe is perfect for cat lovers who need a feline fix. Whether you can’t have cats at home, or you’ve already got some and are looking for more, we’ve always got great cats here!

We partner with Stray Haven Rescue for all adoptable cats at the cafe. All cats are up to date on shots, spayed / neutered, and microchipped. Learn more about their mission and how you can get involved here. (Mau Haus contact page)

The space is a typical urban corner storefront. Because they don’t wan the cats to get out the old main entrance is now an emergency exit only. The side entry is the only public entry — and it’s wheelchair accessible. There are no cats in the ordering section or kitchen. After you’ve signed the waiver, ordered, and space is available you go through the double door vestibule into the main area.

Inside Mau Haus the cats can climb on many areas designed just for them
This is Loreli — one of two resident cats. Click image to see the adoptable cats and Loreli’s brother Taylor — he’s huge!
The bookcase wall lacks books but it does have steps and holes for the cats
While she were there one cat climbed way up top by the front window
David takung a pic of one cat that jumped up on our table.
Crates near the entrance had new adoptable cats getting acclimated ro other cats, humans, etc.

Mau Haus is located at 3101 Sutton Blvd in Maplewood.  Note that reservations are recommended:

Reservations to spend time in the cafe are highly encouraged. We do allow walk-ins, but it’s likely that you will have to wait for a spot to open up. There is a minimum spend or donation of $5 for all walk ins. A reservation ensures that there will be a spot waiting for you!

There is a $10 per person reservation fee that gets you an hour in the lounge. It helps us cover the cost of maintaining the cat lounge and caring for the cats. As a bonus, you will get a free beverage (per person) and 20% off any food or additional beverages purchased. (Man Haus reservations page)

Just being in this space with strangers and lots of friendly cats was very relaxing, we’re looking forward to going again. We told our neighbor down the hall when we saw them at the elevator. Her first question was “does it smell?” No, the entire place smells like any cafe and the place was just as clean.

— Steve Patterson

 

Aldermen Approved Failed St. Louis Centre Forty Years Ago

March 16, 2018 Board of Aldermen, Downtown, Featured, Retail Comments Off on Aldermen Approved Failed St. Louis Centre Forty Years Ago

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s also the 40th anniversary of the start of one of St. Louis’ worst decisions: St. Louis Centre

This Day in St. Louis History, March 17, 1978:
The first step towards St. Louis Centre

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved three bills that would set the stage to develop a proposed downtown shopping mall, with the only further step being the acquisition of federal funding. The headquarters of Stx, Baer, & Fuller, which would become Dillard’s just months before the mall’s completion, and Famous-Barr existed with one block separating them between Washington and Locust at 6th Street. The goal was to create an enclosed, urban shopping mall with these two companies as anchors, and the estimated budget was nearly $150 million. St. Louis Centre opened in 1985 as the largest shopping mall in America. It had over 150 stores and 20 restaurants, and was initially a great success. Challenges appeared in the 1990s however, as the Westroads Shopping Center was redeveloped into the St. Louis Galleria and stores began closing. St. Louis Centre closed in 2006, and since then has been redeveloped into a 750-car parking garage and retail center. (From now defunct STL250 Facebook page)

The mall opened seven years later, in 1985.

To any urbanist the idea of razing an entire city block to build one massive internally-focused building is just wrong. Anyone who knew better either kept quiet or were silenced, ignored. Malls in the suburbs are doing great so we must do the same.

St. Louis Centre, April 2006
Looking east along Washington Ave from 7th, February 2006

The mall is now a parking garage with out-facing retail at the sidewalk level. The oppressive bridges over Washington & Locust are gone.

2014

The mistake has been reversed, but the damage was done long ago. Retailing, once a big part of downtown, is almost nonexistent. Restaurants are now the generators of much foot traffic.

I can’t help but wonder where downtown would be if bills weren’t approved 40 years ago.

— Steve Patterson

 

Chain Retail Stores Closing at Hampton Village (JCPenny) & Chesterfield Mall (American Girl)

January 8, 2018 Featured, Retail Comments Off on Chain Retail Stores Closing at Hampton Village (JCPenny) & Chesterfield Mall (American Girl)
The only photo of mine I could find fat Hampton Village \, a 5/3 Bank “opening sioon” in November 2012

I can only think of one thing I purchased at JCPenny in Hampton Village since moving to St. Louis in 1990– a pair of Levi’s jeans about 5-10 years ago. My total lifetime purchases at JCPenny stores can be counted on both hands..maybe just one. My husband and I stopped there a few weeks ago so he could look for some jeans — he ended up buying them on Amazon.com. When JCPenny announced in March 2017 they were closing 138 stores nationwide I was shocked Hampton Village wasn’t on the list.

So it was no surprise to me when I saw a friend’s Facebook post about it closing. The last day is January 21st.

The Hampton Village Penney store opened in 1949. The chain had 10 stores in the St. Louis area in the early 1980s, according to Post-Dispatch archives. (Post-Dispatch)

I can’t believe that JCPenny has been renting this 50,000 square foot location for decades. I looked up records online and the real estate arm of Schnucks grocery, DESCO, has owned most to all of Hampton Village since 2011. I think JCPenny got a generous offer for their real estate and stayed around until the end of their leaseback

As I wrote when Macy’s was closing downtown, I’m no fan of department stores. The format of a register in each department within the store is so dated. Reminds me of visiting Sears as a kid in the 1970s. However, I’ve been shopping at the Target across the street once per month for most of my years in St. Louis.

Chesterfield Mall, August 2016

Like JCPenny at Hampton Village, I only recall going inside Chesterfield Mall once — for a free movie screening within the last 5 years.  O don’t recall the movie, but I do recall the mall being dead.That has had an impact on at few stores, with one announcing it will soon close

American Girl, which opened at Chesterfield Mall in 2012, will close the St. Louis County store on Feb. 21.

 The company said it made the decision to close “based on the current challenges facing the mall property, which have adversely impacted our store’s business.”   (Post-Dispatch)

About the time American Girl opened in Chesterfield my great-niece, who lives in Oklahoma, was outgrowing her obsession with the dolls. Whew…no need to visit the store for a birthday gift. My hubby and ‘i were in Chesterfield shopping earlier this month, he bought new shoes at the Nike factory store at a very busy outlet mall — an outdoor mall on a very frigid day.

As a country we invested in drive to retail for decades. Thanks to technology and younger shoppers that is coning to an end. Brick & mortar retail will never cease, it just will look & feel very different.

— Steve Patterson

 

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