Home » Cherokee Business District » Currently Reading:

Gentrification in St. Louis

March 4, 2010 Cherokee Business District 20 Comments

Commercial districts throughout the City of St. Louis have changed dramatically throughout the city’s history, take Cherokee Street as an example:

ABOVE: Cherokee St at Ohio, 1930s
ABOVE: Cherokee St at Ohio, 2010
ABOVE: Cherokee St at Ohio, March 2010

As districts evolve over time the clientele changes. In my 19+ years in St. Louis I’ve seen dramatic changes to a number of districts:

  • Cherokee St  East of Jefferson was very much antiques.  Cheap Trx, now on South Grand, sold refinished furniture.
  • Cherokee St West of Jefferson wasn’t much of anything except a place for prostitutes and drug dealers.
  • South Grand (Arsenal-Utah) didn’t have much going on either except for the old diner and various Asian restaurants.
  • Euclid Ave North of Lindell was the center of gay life, including playing host to the then much smaller annual Gay Pride Parade.
  • Morgan Ford, Ivanhoe and Macklind don’t stand out in my memory.

In a recent post, St. Louis’ Cherokee Street developing organically, I mentioned a discussion to be held tonight (3/4/2010) on gentrification. The discussion in the comments was so lively I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject.  The first place to start is the definition.  Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as:

Main Entry: gen·tri·fi·ca·tion
Pronunciation: \ˌjen-trə-fə-ˈkā-shən\
Function: noun
Date: 1964

: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

The origin of 1964 is important for it was then that we began to see a backlash to massive federal urban renewal projects.  The classic Death and Life of Great American Cities was published three years earlier in 1961 so you will not find gentrification in the index.  “Gentrification” was the large scale displacement of the poor through large-scale “slum clearance” projects.  Today, however, the term is often use to express displeasure with the natural evolution of a commercial district or residential neighborhood.

Back to Cherokee Street.  It has seen substantial investment over the last 15 years from White and Latino businesspersons.  The intersection of Cherokee St & California Ave, two blocks West of the above intersection, is the center of the Latino businesses on the street.  I love the current vibe on the street.  I had dinner at Don Carlos Restaurant (new advertiser) on the SW corner of the intersection two nights ago with a Latina business owner.  I learned many Latinos own their properties — a smart move as popularity (and rents) increase.

But many storefronts facing Cherokee from Jefferson to Compton remain vacant.  Along the cross streets just around the corners you see there is still a need for more investment.

ABOVE: California Ave. just South of Cherokee St.

The key is to try to find ways to ensure existing merchants are not unwillingly squeezed off the street as buildings are renovated and rents rise.  But understand the rise, fall and rise of commercial streets is a natural process when it happens over long periods of time. Discuss below and tonight at City Affair XIV.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "20 comments" on this Article:

  1. anon says:

    Most concern over gentrification involves concern over displacement of low income residents rather than businesses. The residents living in the neighborhoods are high percentage low income. Ask the businesses along Cherokee and I bet they'd tell you they wish there was more disposable income in the pockets of their neighbors.

  2. chrisgrus says:

    The rebuilding of the commercial districts in a sustainable way is really the key to rebuilding the city. Areas where there's lots of nice renovated homes but no coffee shops, corner markets, shops, etc. are not as popular to prospectively new residents because 1. the rennovation is a bit older and possibly less stylish and 2. they may question where they will shop, get drycleaning, etc.

    Seeing commercial districts coming back to life is fantastic!

  3. jason says:

    This is off-topic, but your picture of the 30s sparked some questions.

    What is the reason that the streetcar system was abandoned? I'd imagine there was period of time when it was no longer economical to have streetcars, but I question why it was failing economically? There must have been a solid economic reason why the whole concept was abandoned – and I wonder if that reason is legitimate in today's economy, or if streetcars have a chance of coming back in a big way, and being “more profitable” than the current transit system. (By profitable, I mean not losing as much money over the long-run at as high a rate)

    • JZ71 says:

      Yes, off topic. There are multiple discussions about transit and streetcars in previous posts, but the short answer is that once the automobile became affordable to the blue collar worker / “everyman”, most people chose the convenience of personal transportation (even if it cost more) over the hassles associated with public transit, be it bus or streetcar, that cost significantly less. And with the majority choosing the car, suburbia became the preferred planning model . . .

    • Part of the reason the streetcars went away is the streets they ran on and the bridges they crossed were being resurfaced and replaced. Cities such as San Francisco, New Orleans and Toronto kept their lines running while most switched to buses.

    • STLgasm says:

      The decline of streetcar transit is also partially attributed to the auto industry's enormous power in governmental policy. GM systematically influenced the replacement of streetcar lines with buses, and it certainly served them well to the detriment of many central cities.

      The amazing built environment of our city today is largely thanks to the streetcar age. Indeed, St. Louis has the bones to be an excellent transit city again. Trouble is, an entire generation has been robbed of transportation alternatives since the departure of streetcars, and its populace has been forced to adapt to an auto-dependent lifestyle. And change doesn't come easy, especially when we're talking about the collective mindset of old St. Lou. However, I am optimistic that once a city has reached the level of prominence that St. Louis has in its history, the potential for future greatness remains in reach.

    • Joann Bunham says:

      Tire company's put an end to street cars

  4. JZ71 says:

    Gentrification is a matter of perception, one of those “glass half full / glass half empty” discussions. Most of us want to live in good, thriving, even improving neighborhoods; we don't want to live in declining or derelict ones. Most of us also have limited financial resources, aka “champagne tastes on a beer budget”. Gentrification is a great thing if we bought at the right time, put in some sweat equity, and saw our real estate investment(s) grow at a steady or healthy rate. Gentrification is not a good thing if we're getting kicked / priced out of our apartment or storefront because demand is up and supply is limited. Yeah, your efforts may have been part of the reason why the neighborhood is improving and becoming more desirable, but unless you're an owner, you're likely not going to have much say in what your rent is or will be. Bottom line, our society places a higher value on owning than renting, so unless or until rent controls are imposed, tenants will always be at risk when things are getting better.

    Personally, I don't have too much of a problem with that – like my daddy told me many times, “Life ain't fair”! I'm also a big believer in no city or neighborhood is ever static or stable, it's either getting better or it's getting worse, and I'll pick better over worse any day, even if it means that some people will be priced out of living there. The alternative is simply worse – poor and getting poorer is way too evident in too many places around here, already . . .

  5. Joann Burnham says:

    My uncle owned a GE Appliance store on Cherokee and California, on the side where the hat store was, and my daughters Grandfather owned Casa Loma Ballroom until the 60's. It was a thriving shopping area with Worths, Nat'l Shirt Shop, dime stores, Penneys, as was Meremac- Winkleman Drug is still there but the soda fountain is gone and South Grand's Sears Roebuck smelling of roasted peanuts and Cashews, St. Anthony's Hospital at Chippewa…..Malls and suburbs put an end to all that but now the Malls are passing and the neighborhoods returning.. l'm glad I never left the city…my area, Grand and Arsenal used to have La Merite Bridal, Mavrakos Candy, Walgreens, Pearl and Rays (Now South City Diner), Tillmans diner where Quodba is, Ben Franklin and on and on and on….I miss the dime store the most. I love the new area, enjoy it very much, but still miss the old.

  6. ed hardy clothing says:

    We'r ed hardy outlet one of the most profession
    of the coolest and latest ed hardy apparel, such as
    ed hardy tee ,ed hardy bags,
    ed hardy bathing suits, ed hardy shoes,
    ed hardy board shorts , don ed hardyt,ed hardy tank tops, ed hardy for women,
    ed hardy swimwearand more,
    ed hardy clothing. We offers a wide selection of fashion
    cheap ed hardyproducts. Welcome to our shop or just enjoy browsing through our stunning collection available wholesale ed hardy in our shop.

    our goal is to delight you with our distinctive collection of mindful ed hardy products while providing value and excellent service. Our goal is 100% customer satisfaction and we offer only 100% satisfacted service and ed hardy products. Please feel free to contact us at any time; we are committed to your 100% customer satisfaction. If you're looking for the best service and best selection, stay right where you are and continue shopping at here is your best online choice for the reasonable prices. So why not buy your ed hardy now, I am sure they we won’t let you down.

  7. Bakins32 says:

    jefferson sucks i was sitting at a red light and this hooker jumped into my truck thats messed up jefferson @ arsonal

  8. Bakins32 says:

    jefferson sucks i was sitting at a red light and this hooker jumped into my truck thats messed up jefferson @ arsonal

  9. Bakins32 says:

    the city sucks im moving to st.louis county soon the little thugs and panhandlers drive people away

  10. Bakins32 says:

    the city sucks im moving to st.louis county soon the little thugs and panhandlers drive people away

    • JZ71 says:

      Ever hear of punctuation? Complete sentences? Capitalization? And you can run, but you can’t hide – the county is experiencing many of the same problems as the city. Good luck, and don’t let the door hit you an the way out!

  11. Anonymous says:

    lock your doors

  12. Anonymous says:

    Ever hear of punctuation? Complete sentences? Capitalization? And you can run, but you can’t hide – the county is experiencing many of the same problems as the city. Good luck, and don’t let the door hit you an the way out!


Comment on this Article: