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Title Loan Outfit Proposed for Former McDonald’s Location

One of the hot topics from 2006 was the proposal to relocate a McDonald’s location (w/double drive-thru) to back up to the Gravois Park neighborhood along South Grand. After a long battle, that plan was scraped. The owner shuttered the old McDonald’s at Grand & Chippewa.

The property sold last year and now a title loan company (or similar?) is proposed for the existing building and drive-thru. I’m told the same company is also interested in opening in the former Wendy’s at South Kingshighway and Tholozan. Neighbors of both properties are mobilizing to oppose what they see as loan sharks that prey on the poorest in our society.

Tomorrow morning at 8:30am, in room 208 of City Hall, a hearing will be held on conditional occupancy of the former McDonald’s location (along with other agenda items). Ald Florida (D-15th) is said to neither support nor oppose the application.


Currently there are "63 comments" on this Article:

  1. Reginald Pennypacker III says:

    “Neighbors of both properties are mobilizing to oppose what they see as loan sharks that prey on the poorest in our society.”
    I suppose in a society where no one is responsible for their own actions, this line of “thinking” makes sense.

    [SLP — True, still I think the feeling is that the city has more than enough of these places already.]

  2. Mary Homan says:

    Steve, I have to help with a lab tomorrow at 8A. Are you attending this meeting? I am strongly opposed to such an establishment being built there (or this type of business anywhere). If I typed up something, could you bring it?

  3. stlmark says:

    I wonder if J. Flo will be heard in the near future saying “I told you so. Wouldn’t a McDonalds have been much better than a payday loan?”

  4. Scott O. says:

    I heard recently that San Francisco got tired of these places and started giving poor folks and those would had previously had problems with banks access again. I believe they partnered with a local bank or credit union to do this. Think about all the money people have to spend if they don’t have a bank account: Check Cashing Fee for Paycheck or Tax Refund, Money Order everytime you have a bill. People have 3-4 bills a month minimum… plus without access to a bank its hard to re-establish a decent credit history. I bet many folks spend $30-40 a month on this stuff, and thats important when you’re at the poverty line. Anyway, I would certainly call these places predatory, but finding an alternative seems really important.

  5. James says:

    Well, this doesn’t help the payday or title loan issue, but American Eagle Credit Union (Jefferson at Russell) does offer paycheck cashing services. They at least used to advertise that on their windows and when I asked they said it was to try and take what little business they could from the check cashing services. I also think that they do have a number of low-cost and accessible account options.

    I heard a great quote the other day, something like I can’t afford to be poor. It just costs too damn much.

  6. Pretzel says:

    Steve, I’m the one who emailed you last week on this. Thanks for posting on it.

    The neighborhood opposition for the Wendy’s on S. Kingshighway is multi-fold.

    First, TitleMax would be the FIFTH payday/title loan company in a three-block span between Tholozan and Chippewa. If anyone in the neighborhood wants to get into a vicious cycle of debt, there is plenty of opportunity.

    Second, the neighborhood is slowly building a nice commercial tenant base – there is now a yoga studio and a graphic design firm in the 3700 block of Kingshighway, and a new pizza parlor w/patio is going in by Starbucks and Cold Stone Creamery.

    The residents and property owners in this area are pleased with this direction. There are property owners with vacant storefronts who could cash in and lease to more tax return, check cashing and loan companies, but most have realized that all it does is drive down rents and property values. Again, a vicious cycle.

    In lieu of facing the mounting opposition, last Thursday TitleMax postponed their conditional use hearing for S. Kingshighway. However, they’ll reschedule, so it is important to contact Alderman Joe Vollmer if you are opposed.

    On a side note, it would be amazing if the city and a local bank could offer basic accounts for people who are “teetering.” If they can do it in SF, it can be done here.

  7. a.torch says:

    STL County just passed last year, laws restricting how many title-loan type companies there can be within a given radius (I think it ws 5 miles). They also restricted how close to schools they could be……seems a bit odd, but whatever works.

  8. northside neighbor says:

    Could someone pass me a bromo? Up north, we’ve dealt with this sort of thing for years.

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    This kinda falls into the realm of “be careful what you ask for”. Mickey D may not have been the best “neighbor”, but they were the “devil you knew”. The local economy / market supports certain types of businesses, and per the “law of unintended consequences”, these businesses want to go where their “customers” are. I know the neighborhood activists have a different view on this, and want to live in a “better”, more-upscale area, but the simple reality is businesses want to go where the demographics say they’ll make money. We have seen the enemy, and he is us. Many residents of this area apparently don’t know better, don’t “qualify” or choose not to use traditional banking services. Is this the “fault” of the businesses, the individual, the city, our educational system or “society” in general?
    You can’t continually say “no!” to every business that isn’t Trader Joe’s or Starbucks. If you don’t want payday loan places operating in your ‘hood, it’s simple, don’t patronize them and convince your neighbors to stay away, as well. And while you’re at it, convince the “real” banks to open branches and take your business there, too (although many of their fees are as avaricious as the payday places). The “city” shouldn’t be society’s conscience – different people have different expectations and perspectives. Some people don’t like tattoo studios and some people don’t like christian bookstores. Some people don’t like bars and some do. All these businesses have been zoned out of areas all around the country, but they’re legal businesses, and as long as they’re legal, government shouldn’t be placing restrictions on them based on the whims of local “leaders”.
    I don’t like payday loan places. I agree, they’re (more than?) a bit of a plague on the lower levels of society (along with the rent-to-own places). But hey, we live in an instant-gratification society. My solution is pretty simple – I don’t walk in the door. No one is holding the proverbial gun to anyone’s head. They exist simply because of a combination of ignorance and greed. And like the general said, “You can’t fix stupid”, and you’ll never eliminate greed . . .

  10. mark r says:

    Below is a portion of a letter to the editor from yesterdays WSJ on why these loan services are able to grow.
    I am personally in opposition to these loan places but there must be a huge demand that is not being met by banks, SLs and Credit Unions.

    You need a permanent address for a bank account so you can get your statement. You need a driver’s license or ID card for identification. You need to maintain a minimum account balance to get the “free” checking, otherwise the fees add up.

    My guess is that a fair number of people who use payday loan services and check-cashing services may not have these things that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Schwarzenegger take for granted. If you are transient, illegal or sporadically unemployed, the above are alien to you. These people are not a large disenfranchised group being fleeced by evil capitalists. They are willing participants in a financial transaction, and are more conscious of the intricacies of that than of “free checking.”

    These payday loan services provide a clear alternative to banking for a group of people. If they didn’t they would not be so successful. We also have not seen how these payday loan businesses will do in an economic downturn. I would hope they are pricing their product appropriately to compensate for the risk of clients who fail to pay back loans. My guess is that the payday loan people have priced their risk better than the banking people over the last three years.

    Dan Taifer
    Walnut Creek California

  11. northside neighbor says:

    Interesting the letter comes from Walnut Creek, California, the heartland of Northern California’s liberal Republican elite. Homes there typically cost upwards of $700,000. There are lots of illegal aliens doing yardwork on million dollar homes and washing dishes in expensive, trendy restaurants. If those low income Californians are looking to improve their lot in life, forget trading at the rent-to-own and payday loan shops owned by Reublican Northern Californians, move to St. Louis instead where you can buy a home in a nice neighborhood on a gardener’s salary!

  12. I couldn’t make the meeting due to homework but I planned to testify. A Title Loan or Rent A Center are unacceptable for this area. Not only do they exploit the community, but in terms of planning such a use is unacceptable. This area should have higher standards as the SSNB, as well as the Senior Living Center, create a good environment for store front retail. We should be providing a walkable environment which attracts new residents. Moreover, existing residents would most definitely see a quality of life benefit with the arrival of more quality goods and services.

    A community can say no to a type of business. They do it all the time for bars. Title Loans exploit the community, especially the poor. They shouldn’t be allowed, period.

  13. MKV says:

    There is some data out there that shows the lower the poverty level of an area, the more title/payday lenders in that area.
    It is often tied to education (oddly enough, the security word i typed in). The people who use these lenders do not have much if any, financial education. They aren’t aware of the ridiculous rates and high-fees – they need money, they need it now and that is what they know for sure.

    Then again, one recent report showed a CEO of a bank, a professor at a local university and other high-paying jobs using the services of a payday lender.

    Bottom line, these loans are a bad idea – high-rates, fuzzy terms and regulations, etc. Letting them into a community is ultimately showing support of this ‘shady’ practice…

  14. LisaS says:

    In most ways I agree with JZ on this, and with Doug. Payday loan and paycheck cashing places are definitely on the exploitive, greedy end of the spectrum, and neighborhoods should be able to say no to them, just as they do to strip joints and bars. But if people choose to do business with them …. at what point do we stop trying to protect people from making bad decisions? Should we remove video games and candy machines from public places too?
    On the other side …. I’ve always wondered why people go to check cashing places instead of using a bank to store and distribute their money, and if the existence of a mainly cash economy in poor areas contributes to the higher crimes rates that generally correlate. Several local banks, including Pulaski Bank, offer free, no-minimum balance checking accounts: why don’t people take advantage of it? I never really thought it about before reading this (http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/003704.html) last night, but I guess that having a bank account means you have to keep something in your account, even as little as the twelve cents I once maintained for a month in college.

  15. Nick Kasoff says:

    Payday loan companies exist because, for some people, $100 today is worth more than $125 next week. If your electricity is about to get shut off, if your car needs an alternator and you can’t get to work … well, you get the picture. The people who gets these loans aren’t ignorant of the cost, they simply have a need that merits spending the money.
    And the reason the cost of a payday loan is so high is, (1) Very high default rates, and (2) Cost of processing the loan. The fixed costs of processing a loan are not any lower just because the loan happens to be for a very small amount. And when a defaulted loan is sent to collection – assuming they ever collect on it – you lose 1/3 of the amount to the collection agency. The collection rate on defaulted payday loans is itself very low, even by collection industry standards.
    You can attack payday loan companies as being exploitive and greedy. You can eliminate them by passing laws that make it impossible for them to stay in business (limiting service fees, for example). But if you do that, I say you have a responsibility to meet the financial needs of those who were being served by these businesses.
    Finally, note that the problem here is NOT lack of available banking services for the poor. As LisaS mentions, there are banks that have checking accounts perfectly suited for poor folk. US Bank has branches all over the place – you can open an account with $100, and there’s no minimum balance or service fees once the account is open. Problem is, if you bounce checks, it’s like $40 a pop. And if you leave one bank account negative and it is sent to collections, you can’t just go to the next bank down the street, you have to make good on what you owe.
    I here lots of talk here about how payday loan shops are exploitive, greedy, unacceptable. Ok. How many of you who dislike these businesses are willing to take a few grand of your own money, and lend it out, a hundred bucks at a time, to strangers who have a spotty work record and rock bottom credit? When 1/3 of them don’t pay, and when you call to ask them to pay, their cell phone is disconnected, how many of you will continue to loan out your money?

  16. northside neighbor says:

    Nick, let’s uncomplicated things. We need more programs like the republicans and democrats are proposing to fix our economy. We need the government to send us a check. We could do the same thing to help poor people. It’s called redistribution of wealth, and I want some.

  17. Dale Sweet says:

    Here’s a rundown (from my perspective) on what happened this morning.
    Titlemax real estate manager Paul Bland [contact info removed on 2/1/08] from Savannah, Ga. spoke on behalf of the applicant, indicating that they had or would have a long-term lease on the 3737 S. Grand property from its developer owners [who bought the place in November 2007]. He did not name the owners, but they’re Richard & Margaret Ly of Crestwood, who own a number of commercial and adjacent residential properties in the area. The hearing officer asked if Mr. Bland had aldermanic or neighborhood support, and he provided no letters but indicated that they’d met with Alderwoman Florida a month ago and that she was “supportive.” [Jennifer Florida was not present.]
    Dale Sweet opposed. I provided a copy of the Gravois/S. Grand/Meramec redevelopment plan as appears as Ordinance 64592 and 63865. I pointed out Section B. 2. Land Use and its discouragement/prohibition of check cashing and pawn shop style uses. I pointed out that the plan, as voted into law by the Board of Aldermen, pledges the City’s cooperation to its implementation. I noted that financial institutions are allowed but that the definition of such as appears elsewhere in City ordinance, specifies “banks, credit unions and savings and loans that are regulated by federal and state government.”
    I provided a map of regional foreclosures and a list of existing Titlemax locations, in an attempt to show that its business model is predatory in locating near areas with high foreclosure rates, such as Northwest County (Moline Acres, Wellston, etc.) and now our area.
    I brought up the issue of the drive-thru, stating that if Titlemax planned to use it, the former McDonald’s proprietor had testified to its dangerousness, as it was/is separated by a story from the other employees.
    I provided photos of the property owners’ other nearby properties, showing that their plan seems to be commercial spaces with possibly detrimental uses (payday loans, checks cashed, pager stores, etc.) and dilapidated adjacent residential rentals, the rear yards of which have been paved to allow commercial parking. Examples: 3454-56 Gravois/3459 Potomac (rear overgrown and open storage), 3719 Gravois/3562 S. Spring (debilitated rear residential yard), 3469 S. Grand/3472 Grace, etc.
    I asked that the Board of Public Service consider that this use of 3737 S. Grand was not in the interest of public health, safety, morals and general welfare of the City.
    Mr. Bland rebutted, saying that Titlemax is regulated by the state, that it will not use the drive-thru, that its business model is not predatory, that its locations pay no attention to foreclosures, and that its interaction with the developer Ly is limited to this business transaction.
    Dale rebutted, saying that the definitions of predatory and “financial institution” would likely be left to another time, that the use would be detrimental, and by the way where would they store the repossessed automobiles? I mentioned that there was no evidence of neighborhood or aldermanic support.
    Mr. Bland said the repossessed cars would be kept elsewhere by a third party and that during meetings with Alderwoman Florida they’d agreed to clean up around the lot and the bus stop on Chippewa.
    The hearing closed with the hearing officer providing the above to the Board of Public Service.
    In the hall outside, I was approached by a man named Louis Ford who introduced himself as Alderwoman April Ford-Griffin’s father and a former state representative. He said he was “doing a little work for Titlemax” and that as a City resident he encouraged me to think of the jobs that Titlemax could bring and how it could allow small contractors to borrow against their vehicles to finish contracted projects (!).
    Then Mr. Bland approached and introduced me to Barbara Bernard, Titlemax’s regional manager out of Arnold (barbara.bernard@titlemax.biz; cell 314-541-8429), telling me that Ms. Bernard could drive me around and show me how clean their lots were. I declined.
    Walking away, I encountered Alderwoman Florida in the hall. She had not attended the hearing. I asked her if what I heard was true that she neither supported nor opposed the Titlemax use at 3737 S. Grand. She said yes and that she’d “taken this to the Grand Oak Hill Executive Board” and that they didn’t seem to care either way. She said something such as “in fact, they seemed almost positive.” [Keep in mind that on Monday Alderwoman Florida told a resident that the applicant was a financial institution and that she wasn’t sure if it was a payday loan or what.] Ms. Florida said that she had read the applicant’s materials and that their interest rate was around 18%. Ms. Florida said that during their meeting they’d agreed to pick up trash. I said that as a business they had to do that anyway. She replied that McDonald’s never kept the lot clean. [When she provided a letter of support as well as supportive testimony in 2006, Ms. Florida mentioned that during her tenure the only problem at 3737 McD is that they “had to fix a fence or something.” This was as she provided support to move the McDonald’s to an objectionable location at Grand/Winnebago, adjacent to a new home development where taxpayers had paid to clear land and assemble titles.]
    [Others have asserted that GOH board members frequently live outside the neighborhood, and I’ll never forget past Board President Harold Brown’s letter in support of the McDonald’s relocation—to an area outside of GOH coverage—due to McDonald’s “sensitivity to the architectural history of the area” (paraphrased).]
    I asked Alderwoman Florida about the new checks cashed/bill payment/t-shirt store location with objectionable signage at 3350 Gravois. She replied that as this occurred in August, during an aldermanic recess, that she didn’t know about it. She said that she was working on citywide legislation to limit these uses to a certain number per square mile.
    I believe that we can call Zoning 622-3666 in several days to find out what the decision is on 3737 S. Grand. There is also an upcoming hearing, date/time TBA, regarding the former 3554 S. Kingshighway Wendy’s location, applicant Titlemax, which appears to be owned by a Savannah, Ga. LLC, with the same street address as Titlemax. In that case, the neighborhood is still Tower Grove South but 10th Ward, Alderman Joseph Vollmer.
    Dale Sweet

  18. Nick Kasoff says:

    It is very possible that a payday loan shop isn’t a good use for this property. But it’s asinine to bring up the correlation of payday loan stores and foreclosures, as though that meant something. There is also a high correlation between small, independent churches and drive-by shootings. I’m sure you’d also find that the incidence of drug abuse is much higher within a mile of streets named “Martin Luther King.”
    One other thing – publishing the cell phone numbers of these people is nothing but inciting bad behavior. What cause does that serve?

  19. Dale says:

    Oh dear, yes I neglected to snip that contact info when pasting that text above. Perhaps SP would edit.

  20. Jim Zavist says:

    Be careful what you ask for. While payday loans are certainly a ways down on the food chain of desirability, there are certainly less-desirable options, including day-labor brokers and liquor stores that cater to the brown-bag dregs of society. The reality is that you have investors who need and want to lease a legal, commercial property – the alternative is vacant and boarded up, or worse. They want a stable tenant who will pay as much rent as possible. The city wants more businesses of all types because they pay taxes and provide jobs. “Desirable” businesses will come to the area only when there is a market demand for them. We need to buy locally and support the types of businesses we want in neighborhoods, and not patronize those that we don’t want. It’s really quite simple, businesses, including “undesirable” ones, won’t stay around long if they’re not making money. Not “wanted” by a vocal minority has much less to do with it. NIMBY and BANANA are perjorative terms because of knee-jerk responses like this. Life is messy,and we, rightfully, have only limited control over what we don’t own . . .

  21. Nick Kasoff says:

    Good point, Jim. Even here in Ferguson, we have a lot more fast food joints, beauty supply, and “buy here-pay here” car shops than we’d like. Many of us would prefer to have nice restaurants, antique and resale shops, and other such things. But you get what the market will bear.
    I must say that it seems not a little hypocritical when people who claim to favor diversity, and who say they value living in a mixed-income community, are upset when the community includes businesses which those at the low end of the mix choose to patronize. “I want poor people to live near me, but only poor people who patronize Mokabee’s and our local organic grocer, and who listen to KDHX. The poor people who drink beer from tall cans, and who are more excited about rap music than the gay pride festival, need to live somewhere else.”

    [SLP — As I sat quietly in the hearing listening to this and three other cases, where I knew at least someone opposing an occupancy permit in each, I thought about this very issue.  You’ll note that in the above I didn’t make a strong personal argument about this case.  Still, as more and more of these establishments come into an area the rental furniture places follow and so on.  This makes it more difficult (or impossible) for the building owner that plans a major historic renovation project (say up the street at Gravois) to get tenants at a rate to justify the rehab.  The trick is to find a balance so you don’t cross a tipping point that sends the area on a free market downward spiral.]

  22. Jim Pepper says:

    I am in the process of trying to stop another one from going in O’Fallon.

    These legalized loan sharks need to be stopped.

    2nd reading of an ordinance allowing one is being read at the Feb 14 Council meeting.

    Would be nice to see a large group show up against it.

  23. Jim Pepper says:

    All anyone has to do to settle this discussion, is to ‘Google” Title loans”.
    There is enough information to choke a horse and 99% of it is negative.

    As far as helping out the working poor, there is money in Community Development Block grants to enable local governments to help these people regain their self worth by being an advocate on their behalf and help them regain financial control. NOT A GIVEAWAY program.

  24. BeanCounter says:

    Maybe people patronize the check cashing places because they get stung by bounced check fees at traditional banks. They get you coming and going. I believe the bank gets you for $25 and the institution gets you for $25, but those figures may be a little off. Paying in cash guarantees avoiding that fee.

    While I don’t think there should be a check cashing place on every corner, competitions should bring down their fees. Speaking of getting prices down, Wal-Mart wanted to open a bank, and just about everyone was against it. The strategy was to cash someone’s check and have them stay to shop.

    Wal-Mart is many things, tremendous cost-cutters being one of them.

  25. BeanCounter says:

    above should have read, ‘While I don’t think there should be a check cashing place on every corner, competitions should bring down their fees.’

  26. Matt B says:

    Very interesting subject and good discussion.

    A couple of other points…

    It would be one thing if they were trying to locate in a signature commercial space (e.g. the vacant storefront at the corner of Grand and Arsenal), but really this site is pretty much useless in its current configuration with the steep grade.

    What do those that oppose this use realistically see going here?
    Single Family Homes? No, site is not well suited and they aren’t selling well at Keystone Place or anywhere else for that matter.
    Apartments? No, reasonable rents here would not support a newly constructed building
    Affordable housing? Maybe. Pyramid wanted this space for a senior project, why not a family project? Would the “neighborhood” be opposed?
    Retail? Not likely due to the site configuration.
    Fast Food? No one else was lining up to take this property. Long time vacant drive through properties remain all over the city and county. They just aren’t that desirable.
    Mixed-use? No way, surrounding properties are not that attractive, and Lawrence Group is doing their thing at Grand and Gravois, why should a developer take a big risk here now.

    Its not like Titlemax is significantly altering the site in a way that would prevent some better use in the future. They are fixing up and occupying a vacant fast-food restaurant that would likely have remained vacant for a long time.

    There just isn’t much that can easily be done on this site. I am not being sarcastic, I would really like to hear people’s alternative ideas for this site.

  27. Jim Zavist says:

    BTW – one dilapidated, historic Victorian retail building in downtown Denver was well-restored to its former glory by its owner-occupant . . . an adult bookstore. Interesting dilemma for both urban preservationists and neighborhood activists . . . from Westword (their RFT), Best of 2001: “Best Porn Store in a Historic Building (2001), Diamond Lil’s, 1215 20th St., The building that started life in 1899 as Kopper’s Hotel and Saloon today houses Diamond Lil’s, believed to be the only adult bookstore in a nationally recognized historic building (it made the National Register of Historic Places in 1999); perhaps more important, it’s also the last porn shop in downtown Denver. Lil’s keeps the tradition of “beautiful ladies behind glass” alive, with two convenient bay windows for your viewing pleasure — although the ladies who work them are considerably less Victorian in behavior and appearance than the impeccably restored building. In any era, it qualifies as a genuine beauty.”

  28. Matt B says:

    Another quandry…
    Deadwood SD legalized gambling with most revenue dedicated to historic preservation.

  29. Christian says:

    Dale said:
    [Keep in mind that on Monday Alderwoman Florida told a resident that the applicant was a financial institution and that she wasn’t sure if it was a payday loan or what.]

    That resident was me.
    I asked Jennifer F at our block captain meeting last Monday evening what was going into 3737 S. Grand.

    She said she didn’t know(!) I mentioned it was in the City Journal. She then said it was a ‘financial institution’.

    Retail or office space, I asked.
    Could be a Pay Day loan, she responded.

  30. Southside Tim says:

    As Jim Pepperon said “I am in the process of trying to stop another one from going in O’Fallon. These legalized loan sharks need to be stopped.”

    I think you hit it right on the head. These shops have filled a need that was once under the control of thugs and loan sharks. They are our society’s attempt to bring some day light to a seedy business. Be careful what you ask for if you wish to outlaw these shops.

    I have one other perspective on the “unbanked”. It is my experience that significant tax evasion goes on in this demographic. One reason a person doesn’t want a bank account is to avoid paying FICA taxes etc. There is a great statistic out there that shows expenditures greatly exceed incomes (including transfer payments) in urban areas. I suppose this can be extrapolated to the needs of illegals also.

  31. Chris Grant says:

    “It is my experience that significant tax evasion goes on in this demographic. One reason a person doesn’t want a bank account is to avoid paying FICA taxes etc.”

    As opposed to the significant tax evasion by the wealthy, who create questionable tax shelters in the Bahamas, don’t report any income, and never pay FICA taxes?

  32. Nick Kasoff says:

    > Still, as more and more of these establishments come into an area
    > the rental furniture places follow and so on.

    Very true. Of course, were it not for rental furniture joints, there would be a lot of people sitting on the floor. Personally, I think the furniture and appliance rental places are a much bigger rip off than the payday loan places. Just look at the prices these guys are charging! Then again, my brief personal venture into that business was a bust – I bought a washer and dryer for a woman who was both a personal friend and employee of my wife. A month later, she split town, and when I went to her house to pick up the appliances, they were gone. Word on the streets was that she sold them to raise bus fare back to Texas. How often do you suppose this happens to Aaron’s?

    > This makes it more difficult (or impossible) for the building owner that plans
    > a major historic renovation project (say up the street at Gravois) to get
    > tenants at a rate to justify the rehab.

    On the contrary. Aaron’s and TitleMax probably pay higher rent for their buildings than Mokabee’s and International Foods do.

  33. Southside Tim says:

    Chris, point made. However, that was not my point. I was just noting that there are often subtle reasons why people use services that we might consider irrational. The cash economy requires such places as check cashing centers etc.

  34. Dennis says:

    I am a Southampton resident and we were told about the situation with the former Wendy’s on Kingshighway & Tholozon at one of our past neighborhood meetings. I agree, the places are nothing but SHARKS! The couldn’t care less about the neighborhood. I wish I had known about the public hearing sooner. I would have sceduled a day off work just so I could go down to city hall and let them know I don’t want them in my neighborhood. Not sure it would have helped that much but it can’t hurt. Their’s strength in numbers I always say. The more people they see opposed to this crap the better chance they will decide to just move on to someplace else.

  35. Nick Kasoff says:

    So Dennis … the poor people in your neighborhood who need check cashing, payday loans, and that sort of thing – just let those low life losers ride the bus up to the north side – right? Or would you suggest that financial responsibility be a requirement for living in south St. Louis?
    Since so many of you here say that these guys are exploiters, sharks, and other such things, and since none of you answered a question I asked in this thread 4 days ago, I’m going to repeat it:
    I here lots of talk here about how payday loan shops are exploitive, greedy, unacceptable. Ok. How many of you who dislike these businesses are willing to take a few grand of your own money, and lend it out, a hundred bucks at a time, to strangers who have a spotty work record and rock bottom credit? When 1/3 of them don’t pay, and when you call to ask them to pay, their cell phone is disconnected, how many of you will continue to loan out your money?

  36. Travis Cape says:


    My problem with this is the number of these places in a given area. No, I don’t plan on loaning the patrons of these businesses my money. I would like to think that the commercial property owners had some intelligence about selecting their tenants, but they don’t. The city is chocked full of “investment” property owned by people far off in the county. This issue will have to be regulated since you can’t expect people to have common sense anymore.

    The very presence of these businesses creates a bad impression to anyone that might be thinking of renting, buying, or rehabbing in the area. Come on Nick, even you can agree with that.

  37. Pretzel says:

    Let’s go easy on Dennis. On this stretch of Kingshighway, people have a choice of four payday/title loan companies and at least two check cashing options within four blocks. That is why the neighborhood doesn’t want more of these businesses. We’re not trying to get rid of the ones that are already there. We just don’t want or need any more of them.

    No one in Southtown will need to make loans from their own piggy bank, and no one will have to hoof it up to North St. Louis. There are plenty of options in Southtown for people who do not use traditional banks.

    For the record, I’m a very concerned property owner and live “far off” in the county (at LEAST a 10-15 minute drive – better pack lunch). Please be considerate before you categorize property owners. Some of us are working hard to make a difference.

  38. Nick Kasoff says:

    Here in Ferguson and in neighboring areas, we have lots of payday loan/check cashing/title loan joints. We have buy here-pay here car sales, and furniture and appliance rentals. We have beauty supply shops, a ton of independent beauty salons catering to black clients. We have fried chicken joints, fast food galore. Neighborhood “grocery stores” that make almost all their money on liquor, lottery tickets, and junk food. We even have bunches of 50 year old, 850 square foot, 2 bedroom homes, many of which are owned by “people far off in the county.”
    Despite the presence of all these corrupting influences, we also have 5,000 square foot historic homes which have been beautifully maintained, a very nice locally owned coffee house, several locally owned restaurants, a great neighborhood bar where the beer is cheap and the burgers are delicious, and our very own farmer’s market. We have a municipal government which simply gets the job done, no drama, no headlines. We have a police department which is very busy sweeping up the garbage that spills into our community from the unincorporated slums around us, and still has the time to help chase down the dog that broke its leash. We have our own 4th of July and Christmas parades, which march right through our own downtown, ending at our city’s largest park, which though it pales in comparison to Forest Park, does have a nice walking trail, a fishing lake, and our municipal swimming pool. It could be that some of the cost of our many public amenities is actually paid with the taxes of all these car lots and check cashing joints.
    Yes, I know these check cashing places are terrible. Yet somehow, despite having check cashing joints all over the place, Ferguson has managed to be a great place to live. So apparently, the check cashing joints aren’t the poison pill that you fear.
    Now don’t get me wrong … I’d much rather have nice little antique stores, a gourmet wine/cheese/coffee shop (Starr’s #2?), and more restaurants. Maybe even a little artsie movie theater that showed indie flicks on a single screen. I’m glad the city planners had balls enough to tell Dollar General that they couldn’t put a store in the middle of our business district. But for now, if downtown Ferguson doesn’t look like the Delmar Loop, it’s a heck of a lot better than downtown Wellston.
    PS – We have two old fast food restaurants that have been converted to other uses – one is a locally owned Chinese restaurant, and the other is the place you get your car registration and driver’s license. They are just as ugly with these uses as they would be if they were check cashing joints. There’s just nothing you can do to make an old Hardee’s look like anything but what it is.

  39. Matt B says:

    A few more points…
    — Why is it not intelligent for the owner of a marginal property (vacant drive-thru restaurant) to fill it with a viable tenant? I am still curious what some of the commenters think would be a better and realistic use for this property.
    — With an increased number of “these places” comes increased competition, resulting in more attractive store fronts and signage. I think all of the scrutiny has caused some of these place to clean up their store image and look more like a respectable business. For example there are several of check cashing/payday loan places at Kingshighway and Chippewa, if Titlemax puts in an attractive store at the old Wendy’s and puts one of the dumpy places out of business in the more attractive building across the street, wouldn’t that be a net positive for the area? Now a space in a historic building is available for a more attractive business.
    — Dale declined an offer to visit a couple of Titlemax locations to see the quality and cleanliness of the properties. Why? I drove by one on Manchester Road in Ballwin, an old quick lube type store. It was very clean, and the retrofit of this vacant store was done well. Unless you specifically knew what TitleMax was you wouldn’t give it a second thought. I only started noticing it as a result of this thread. I am confident that this use would be much more attractive in the neighborhood that the current boarded up and vacant McDonald’s.
    — Seems like most of the opposition is because the neighborhood is perceived to be too good for this type of business. On my visit to Ballwin I counted 6 payday loan type stores in a 1.25 mile stretch of Manchester. The median income of that zip code ($78,098) is almost three times that of 63118 ($26,061).

  40. Dennis says:

    Nick, Pretzel hit the nail on the head for me. He’s exactly right. Here in Southampton we just don’t want any MORE of those places. But I still think they are sharks. They take advantage of peoples ignorance. I know, I know, it’s a free country, they can do that if they want. But that doesn’t make it right.

  41. Jim Zavist says:

    There are three issues at play here, local control (zoning, NIMBY), state/national control (is it legal?) and “the market” (does a business want to be here?).
    Zoning has been adopted in nearly every city to limit the adjacency of undesirable uses and their impacts on adjacent properties. Most zoning ordinances, including St. Louis’ include general lists of “uses by right” that are allowed in certain zone districts. Meet the definition, and the city really can’t say no to you opening the doors. In this case, the discussion centers around whether or not a payday loan operation is a “bank” or “financial institution”. Excluding the rates they charge and the clients they appeal to, they ARE very similar to a bank. They lend money to individual customers. They want to locate in a zone district that allows banks. The city really can’t say no. Yes, I agree with the preconconceptions and the negative perceptions of the industry, but if they can’t open here, neither can Citibank or Regions Bank (and they WOULD want to use the drive-thru). And the last thing I want the city to do is to judge me as a customer – my cash is just as green as Donald Trump’s – I just have a lot less of it.
    Usury laws used to be a lot more restrictive. I’m old enough to remember the days when a great mortgage was 10% and an average one was 12% and the banks weren’t handing out credit cards in states that capped loan rates at 18%. Because people couldn’t borrow money, state legislatures raised the maximum allowable rates to what they are today. Since then, market rates have fallen (substantially, for “good” customers), opening the window for payday loan operations to charge what approaches loan-shark rates, legally. The reality is that poor folk, who really need(ed) cash, have always been forced to pay higher rates (for the higher risk) – the only difference now is that it’s legal and capped at a high rate. If it’s not “fair” or “right”, convince the folks in Jeff. City to lower the maximum allowable rate to match today’s reality. But beware of the law of unintended consequences. Yes, if it’s lowered enough, it will become economically infeasible for payday loan places to operate, and yes they will close. The reality remains that people desperate for cash will turn to the black market, where the cash WILL be available, for even higher rates than are now legally allowed.
    Finally, there’s “the market”, something the government, especially a local one, has little real control over. While you can attempt to legislate “out” certain businesses, you can’t legally require businesses to open. Most of us have a fuzzy mental list of businesses we’d like near us. Most of us also know of businesses we really wouldn’t to have next door or in the neighborhood. Unless we all agree (a majority), what “I” want or don’t want needs to be weighed against the “greater good”. While I don’t have a need for payday loan places, obviously someone patronizes them, or they wouldn’t be successful. Personally, I wouldn’t want one next door, but that’s not an issue for me – I live in a residential area, with one non-conforming (and non-intrusive) business down on the corner. If there’s one over on Hampton or Kingshighway or Chippewa, I really don’t care.
    The other half of “the market” is that businesses want to be where their potential customers are (and not be where their customers aren’t). It’s simple, they want to make money, as much as possible. It’s the American way. That’s why it seems like there’s going to be a Starbucks on every corner, a Walgreen’s every mile, and a Schnuck’s every five miles. It’s also why Trader Joe’s or IKEA or Nordstrum doesn’t need to be close by – they have an aura and a draw that convinces their customers to drive (yes, drive) greater distances for a better shopping experience and a better product for the dollars spent. It’s also why Tractor Supply isn’t too keen on opening a location in the city. Payday loan places and Rent-A-Center are no different – they want to be where their customers are. If they want to be in our neighborhoods, it’s because they perceive us to be potential customers. It may not be “fair”, it may even be humiliating, but it’s based on a very rational decision-making process and detailed research, and they’re willing to back up that decision by investing in opening a retail location. “We” (all of us, including the poor) can “prove them wrong” by not patronizing them and they will soon leave. Why do you think the “brilliant” minds at Darden spent millions opening a Smoky Bones BBQ at Gravios Bluffs, only to close it within a year?
    Bottom line, we’re dealing with a perception versus reality issue. Many of us urban folks can see the potential in distressed areas, and we want to believe that our vision can and should be realized, that other like-minded businesses will want to buy into our vision, and that “inappropriate” ones will buy a clue and stay away or move away. Unfortunately, the business world is a lot less romantic. It’s all about having limited dollars to invest in the best location possible to earn the highest return on investment. It’s also why rents in “desirable” areas are higher, in many cases, much higher, than in many St. Louis neighborhoods, the wonderful law of supply and demand. It may not be “fair”, but it is all about demographics and market studies. The only way we’re going to see more of what we want, and less of what we don’t want, is to have more disposable income and to spend it only in the “right” businesses.
    Like Bonnie & Clyde said – they rob banks because that’s where the money is. These “predatory” businesses are here only because they have a certain, probably small, number of customers who are willing to pay high rates for instant gratification. It’s always cheaper in the long run to wait/save for something, including cash, than it is to borrow the money to have something sooner. Whether it’s a big screen TV or brakes for the clunker, there ARE options. And like the general in New Orleans siad, you can’t fix stupid . . .

  42. Nick Kasoff says:

    Mr. Zavis – As always, when you’ve spoken, there little left to say. My only disagreement is with your statement that it’s always cheaper in the long run to wait/save. Generally, you are correct. But the reality for poor people is that a payday loan may actually be a bargain compared with the alternative. Most who read this blog don’t worry that they’ll be evicted because they are $100 short on rent, or that they’ll be fired because they can’t afford bus fare to get to work. Most of us, if we did come up a little short, could borrow from friends or family. Some poor people don’t have these options, and for them, under some circumstances, a payday loan is a lifesaver.

  43. Jim Zavist says:

    Nick, I agree. We all have true emergencies, many driven by fluctuations in employement, and most users of the payday places are facing true emergencies. My comment on saving was aimed more at the rent-to-own places – a big-screen TV or even washer or a dryer isn’t an “emergency”, it’s a luxury and/or a convenience. And while it’s a dying concept, lay-away is much better option for poor folks with no credit resources – maybe we should “require” every retailer to offer that option if they’re going to offer their own credit cards . . .

  44. Jim says:

    I used to live in Berdell Hills and can remember when Fergusson was absolutely one of the nicest places to live, not just a pocket of restored historic homes. I long for those days.

    I watched as less than desireable businesses moved into the area (including Normandy) and people moved out as a direct result. I am not suggesting that all of these places be eliminated (like New York state) but limitations on the amount of usary should be placed on them.

  45. Jim says:

    Jim Z,

    AMEN over and over!!!!

  46. Jim Zavist says:

    OK gang, in honor of Steve, I’m going to attempt to redirect this post. There are a couple of related, “bigger picture” issues out there that we can kick around during his recovery . . .
    First, from Otis White, a very astute observer of urban America:
    There are many signs that a city’s in trouble: graffiti, crime,
    abandoned buildings, too many banks. Banks? Yep. Some suburbs of
    Chicago are concerned that their downtowns are being overrun by bank
    branches and a few have actually slapped moratoriums on any more. “It
    seems like every time you turn your head, a major corner is turning
    into a bank,” frets an alderman in Highland Park, where a beloved
    drugstore was replaced last month by a Bank of America. So what’s so
    bad about having a bunch of bankers roaming around your downtown?
    Elected bodies prefer land uses that build their tax base. And in
    suburban Chicago, where cities depend on sales taxes, politicians hate
    to see banks take over prime retail locations. In the past 10 years,
    Cook County has seen the number of commercial bank branches increase
    by 74 percent. In nearby Will County, bank branches have grown by an
    amazing 138 percent. Even in Chicago itself an alderman was upset to
    learn that a Gap store had been displaced by–wouldn’t you know it–a
    Bank of America branch. “Banks are welcome,” an aide to the alderman
    said, “but we don’t want a whole block of banks.”
    Second, a personal observation . . . how do we balance America’s continuing shift to a service economy (from an industrial economy) with everyone’s desire to have a “good-paying” job? Sure, there have been and will always be a need for certain services we all need, things like doctors and undertakers. But how can we have a sustainable and growing economy if all we end up doing is “selling” services to each other and importing more and more of what we actually consume? While I’m not a big fan of unions, I can’t deny that the workers at the Boeing plant and the Chrysler plants are well paid. In the city, we’re comparing the economic impact of a Titlemax versus a McDonald’s, both of which may have one or two “managers” making a “living” wage, while all the other employees are barely above the minimum wage level. Multiply that by the thousands of other “service” sector employers, and the numbers simply don’t pencil out.
    I admit it, I’m a part of the “problem”, but by no means unique. I’m an architect. I help people with the building process, but I’m not building anything myself. My dad worked for GE, where they built major appliances, something tangible. Steve’s a Realtor – he helps people buy and sell real estate, but he doesn’t construct the buildings. His dad was a carpenter – he built things. We get paid a fee to make things happen, our parents actually produced something – more and more those “value-added” jobs are now overseas. While our fathers probably would think that getting a job where we use our brains instead of our backs is improving “our place in life”, and at the individual level it probably is, on the larger, more global level, I question the sustainability of the concept.
    The clearest example is the creep in the taxes we all pay. Government is all about delivering services. The voters of St. Louis just approved another tax increase to fund these services, so obviously they’re still “affordable” to the majority of those voting. Contrast that with the continuing drain of “good” jobs in the private sector, first with the closing of the Ford plant in Hazlewood last year, combined with Macy’s latest round of lay-offs today. I don’t have the “answer” (other than to shop locally), and I don’t have any kids, so I don’t have to worry about what the future may hold for future generations, but it still concerns me. Much like Social Security and Medicare, the time is coming when we WILL reach a tipping point, where there are more consumers than there will be funds and funding sources to sustain them and to deliver on the promises (and the realities) that mark today’s “economy” . . .

  47. john w. says:

    …and as slowly remove our “outdated” and “outmoded” industrial and manufacturing pillar, the economic structure is increasingly weakened while China slowly girds its “updated” and “inmoded” industrial and manufacturing pillar and is increasingly strengthened. Others will gladly take what we foolishly give away.

  48. Jim Zavist says:

    Why this is a state issue, not a local one: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_8201820

  49. Nick Kasoff says:

    Jim (not Z) – Ferguson still is a great place to live, not “just a pocket of restored historic homes.” I live in Jeske Park, in a home built in 1945. I also own rental homes in six other Ferguson neighborhoods, any of which I would gladly live in if my square footage requirements were far less. Yes, we have our problems, but the problems aren’t caused by too many payday loan joints, the problems are caused by our proximity to unincorporated areas of St. Louis county, and Kinloch. St. Louis county has totally failed in its responsibility to preserve unincorporated areas as decent communities. Instead of worrying about how many trash trucks are driving down the street every week, Dooley needs to form a committee to address the disaster of unincorporated north county, and to find ways to deal with it.
    Jim Z – I read with interest the article in the Denver Post. The industry is not crying wolf when they say this will put them out of business: With an average loan amount of $343 and a rate cap of $1.38 per hundred for a two week loan, the cost of making a loan will exceed the finance charge. I would put the same challenge to these legislators as I put to payday loan critics on this list: How many of you would lend your own money, in several hundred dollar chunks, to total strangers who have poor credit and are in the midst of a financial crisis?
    A leading anti-payday lending website states that “payday lenders are actually providing access to debt, not credit.” Huh? Debt is what you end up with when you use credit. This is the sort of meaningless statement that passes for progressive thinking on this issue. The fact is, payday lenders – like sewer cleaners, skyscraper erectors, and strippers – are performing a service that few are willing to do, and are compensated well for it.

  50. Jim Zavist says:

    Nick, I agree with you. I also agree that “exploiting” the poor and poorly-educated is ethically questionable. The fundamental question, however, is, should we, as a society, (attempt to) “redraw the line” and lower what we, as a society, define as “is too much”? (We already have “truth in lending” laws and albeit weak usury laws). Or would our efforts be better spent in educating ALL consumers to make better decisions?
    Life is all about making choices. We choose our friends, our foods, our vices and, to a certain extent, our careers and our lifestyles. All of us, in retrospect, have made “bad” choices and often have “paid the price” for doing so. Most of us have also learned from these mistakes. We also live in a consumer-driven society, that values consumption over saving. And most of us borrow money to speed up satisfying that “need” for gratification.
    Yes, being poor sucks. But one’s inability to “make the rent” is driven by multiple causes, with access to payday loans being just one of them. We all know the litany – finish high school, don’t get pregnant in high school, get a job, show up on time, be a “good” worker, don’t spend more than you earn, save a little – in short, don’t be stupid.
    I have the same reaction to the current mortgage “crisis”. Too many people believed that home values would continue to go up and up indefinitely, especially in “hot” areas (outside St. Louis). They AGREED to the terms of the ARM loans they took out. They bought more than they could really afford, betting that they could “figure it out” in the future. They stripped the properties of whatever phantom equity they might have had. And now they want someone else / “the goverment” to “fix” things, to bail them out, now that they’re “upside down”!? It’s not “fair” that the market “went south”, but it also wasn’t unforseeable or unprecedented.
    I’ve had several mortgages over the years, all fixed rate, and I’ve paid more for them than I would’ve for ARM’s. I’ve also been protected from increases in my monthly payments. And while I can “feel” for the folks “in crisis”, my sympathy ends with the concept of changing the loan terms retroactively. Every loan, whether it’s an ARM or a payday loan or a loan to your buddy, is based on a set of assumptions. The lender a) expects to get their money back, eventually, and b) expects to be paid some additional amount (0%, 5%, 15%, 200%). The borrower is informed of these terms when the money is first lent to them, and “agrees” to the terms (otherwise they wouldn’t be getting the money)!
    Whose responsibility is it to “understand” both the terms of the loan and the potential challenges in repaying it? The BORROWER! The lender is in the business of lending money and is working with a limited amount of information about the borrower. The lender doesn’t know what the economic future holds, doesn’t know if the borrower is going to get laid off next week or have their appendix rupture. The borrower came to the lender willingly, and can freely go to other lenders. And what the borrower pays is driven primarily by past decisions the borrower made. Yes, “society” and “poverty” and good or bad “luck” also play a role, but in the end, it’s every decision one has made up until now that really dictates whether (or not) you’re “forced” to “agree” to a “payday” loan with an APR in excess of 200%. It’s all about personal responsibility!

  51. Nick Kasoff says:

    Jim Z – Well said.
    To anyone still tuned in, back on the original topic … TitleMax recently took over a site at Airport Road and 170. It used to be some sort of fast food joint, and more recently, was “LA Real Taco.” They have really spruced up the exterior of the building – yeah, still looks like a converted fast food joint, but it’s a lot better looking than when the LA Real Taco folks owned it. So to the gentleman who declined to take a tour of their other locations – you might have found it enlightening. They are by far the nicest looking payday loan joint I’ve seen.

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  53. Pretzel says:

    For anyone who is interested in speaking out against the proposed South Kingshighway Title Max location, the conditional use permit hearing has been rescheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, February 21, 2007 at City Hall.

  54. Jim Zavist says:

    In spite of everything I’ve said in defense of Titlemax, I’m also a big believer in neighbors being able to influence their destiny. If the neighbors really don’t want this, by all means, show up and let your elected officials know what you think. Too many things around here are decided by too few people with too little public input. Remember, all politics are local.

  55. Pretzel says:

    For anyone who is keeping score, the hearing is on Feb. 21 2008, not 2007.

    Also, poster “# fast payday loans” is a spammer (the poster ID links to a payday loan site). Is there a process for removing them?

  56. foodicles says:

    While I am not a proponent of the industry. One thing you need to keep in mind as far as the Title Loan/Payday Loans stores go is that you cannot overlap loans with a title loan. Once you get a loan on your car title you can’t go back and double/triple dip until your loan is paid. The Payday Loans are a much scarier proposition compared to the Title Loan.

  57. Pretzel says:

    Update: sounds like the Feb. 21 hearing has again been postponed/cancelled.

    For those of you planning to attend, you may want to double check with City Hall before heading down there on Thursday.

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