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Poll: Does Retailing Have a Future at St. Louis Union Station?

When St. Louis Union Station reopened in 1985 the festival marketplace retail concept was all the rage.

ABOVE: An empty retail space in the former midway at Union Station

But early optimism about retail at St. Louis Union Station faded as national chains gave way to smaller and smaller retailers, now many of those have left as well:

Visitors to St. Louis Union Station can still get a caricature drawn of their likeness, buy various Arch-themed tchotchkes and get a free sample of fudge and a song to go along with it.

But two longtime fixtures in the historic landmark — Houlihan’s and Key West Cafe — recently left the station. And the Bud Shop, which peddles an assortment of Budweiser-related mugs and memorabilia, is on its way out, too.


The departures add to the uncertainty about the future of the venue — most notably the question of who will own it. The current owner, Union Station Holdings LLC, is seeking to sell the property. Bids are due Nov. 10.

“There’s no question it has fallen on harder times,” said St. Louis-based consultant Richard Ward with Zimmer Real Estate Services. “I think it’s in for some serious change, but I don’t know what the change might be.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Union Station’s retail has been continuously falling on “hard times” the entire twenty-one years I’ve been in St. Louis! I missed the first five years, likely the best years.

ABOVE: The food court and retail spaces under the train shed have a decidedly mall feel, but Union Station representatives say it's not a mall.

I have to wonder the future of such retail venues. The Marriott Hotel is doing well though — expanding into the midway space. The Grand Hall is a stunning space.

ABOVE: Window detail inside the Grand Hall at Union Station

I’ve made Union Station the poll topic this week, see right sidebar.

– Steve Patterson


THF Big Box vs. Planned Creve Coeur Downtown

This story caught my eye back in July:

THF Realty, a major developer of Walmarts and other big-box stores, is sniffing around the Orchard Lakes subdivision just north of Creve Coeur and near busy Olive Boulevard and Interstate 270.

A company representative met with subdivision trustees on June 3 to discuss a potential buyout of the entire subdivision, according to a subsequent letter from the trustees to subdivision homeowners. (STLToday)

Not surprising since vacant highway-adjacent parcels no longer exist. The subdivision of 256 single family homes is adjacent to I-270, extending more than half the distance from Olive to Page.

ABOVE: Blue box indicates Orchard Lakes, click to view map in Google Maps

THF Realty wants to make sure all those motorists driving on I-270 can see the generic big box development they are planning.

ABOVE: View of I-270 from Orchard Lakes subdivision

I knew where the subdivision was located but had never driven any of it’s streets, so last month I drove each street in the subdivision.

ABOVE: Orchard Lakes entrance sign

I grew up in a subdivision of similar vintage as Orchard Lakes. From a check of St. Louis County records these houses were built between 1961-66.   There is nothing particularly unique about the homes or the subdivision itself. With a few exceptions, all the homes looked well maintained. Many have newer windows and roofs.

The ranch houses of Orchard Lakes are typical of others from the period in the St. Louis region.

Few sidewalks exist in this subdivision, it’s not at all urban. Not rural either, decidedly suburban. There is no orchard, probably never was.

ABOVE: The only "lake" at Orchard Lakes is a decent pond at best.

There are lots of very nice mature trees though.

ABOVE: Leaving Orchard Lakes to the south the sign reads: Creve Coeur welcomes you.

Orchard Lakes is in unincorporated St. Louis County – barely. Creve Coeur has annexed commercial property along Olive Blvd but they didn’t want the adjacent residential areas. For a while now Creve Coeur has been planning to remake Olive & Ballas into their downtown.

In April 2002, the City of Creve Coeur adopted the Comprehensive Plan. Together, with the Pedestrian Plan and Design Guidelines, these plans set a standard for protecting community assets and strength- ening community character. Among the numerous recommendations made in the Comprehensive Plan are several for the Central Business District. Specifically, the Comprehensive Plan recommends the creation of a downtown (or town center) in the vicinity of the Olive-New Ballas intersection. (Plan PDF)

Orchard Lakes is just north of their proposed downtown/central business district:

The strong real estate market in Creve Coeur is anticipated to continue to be a basis for strengthening residential areas while at the same time stimulating major reinvestment in aging or underutilized commercial areas.

Clearly Creve Coeur’s planners didn’t envision the surrounding residential getting replaced by high traffic big box. To a degree this is what Creve Coeur gets for incorporating only the commercial areas along Olive, but not the adjacent residential to the north. Will be interesting to see if either gets built.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Name the future commercial district along Grand at the Old White Water Tower

My post last Monday was about the commercial district along Grand Ave around the Old White Water Tower (Grand Ave Water Tower Commercial Area Had Such Potential, Still Does). Although all the original buildings on the circle have been razed, I still see potential for the area.

ABOVE: The Old White Water Tower, looking south on 20th Street

Every good commercial district needs an identity (See The Loop, Grand South Grand, Cherokee, etc) so I figured why not see what we could collectively come up with for the stretch of East Grand Ave centered at the Old White Water Tower at North 20th Street.

ABOVE: Commercial buildings around North Grand Water Tower, winter 1990

The area is entirely in the College Hill neighborhood:

The name College Hill was given to this area because it was the location of the St. Louis University College Farm. This area, bounded generally by Warne (O’Fallon Park, I-70, Grand Blvd. and West Florrisant was acquired by the University for garden and recreation purposes in 1836, it was subdivided in the early 1870’s. The Bissell Mansion, the Old Water Tower at 20th Street and East Grand Avenue, and the Red Water Tower at Bissell Street and Blair Avenue are mainstays in this old Northside neighborhood and are testimony of a rich historical heritage. The housing of this neighborhood dates back between 1880 and 1920. Town and four family flats predominate the neighborhood, with a mixture of single family brick dwellings. The houses have large yards and are ideal for landscaping. The homes located near the crest of the hillside bluff enjoy a view of the river and its valleys. Nearly half of the housing dwellings are owner-occupied. Historically the area’s commercial center has been concentrated along East Grand around the Old Water Tower with a strip along West Florissant.

The neighborhood map looks like this:

The poll this week asks you to name the commercial district. I’ve provided the following answers:

  • 20 Grand
  • Bissell Point
  • College Hill
  • Grand College Hill
  • Grand Water Tower District
  • Old White
  • The Column
  • The Corinthian
  • unsure/no opinion
  • Doesn’t matter, will never become a commercial district again

You can also provide your own answer if you don’t like any of those provided.

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Missouri Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday a Good Idea?

Missouri’s Back-t0-School Sales Tax Holiday is August 5-7:

During this time, Missourians won’t have to pay the state’s 4.225 percent sales tax on certain purchases made in the state. Alana Barragán-Scott, director of the Missouri Department of Revenue, said the tax break will help those making big purchases the most. (Source)

Our state government even produced a lame video to promote the event:


From the Missouri Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday page:

Certain back-to-school purchases, such as clothing, school supplies, computers, and other items as defined by the statute, are exempt from sales tax for this time period only.

The sales tax holiday applies to state and local sales taxes when a local jurisdiction chooses to participate in the holiday. However, local jurisdictions can choose to not participate in the holiday if they enact an ordinance to not participate and notify the department 45 days prior to the sales tax holiday. If the jurisdiction had previously enacted an ordinance to not participate in the holiday and later decided to participate, it must enact a new ordinance to participate and notify the department 45 days prior to the sales tax holiday.

If one or all of your local taxing jurisdictions are not participating in the sales tax holiday, the state’s portion of the tax rate (4.225%) will remain exempt for the sale of qualifying sales tax holiday items.

The sales tax exemption is limited to:

  • Clothing – any article having a taxable value of $100 or less
  • School supplies – not to exceed $50 per purchase
  • Computer software – taxable value of $350 or less
  • Personal computers – not to exceed $3,500
  • Computer peripheral devices – not to exceed $3,500

Thankfully the site details how these items are defined:

Section 144.049, RSMo, defines items exempt during the sales tax holiday as:

“Clothing” – any article of wearing apparel, including footwear, intended to be worn on or about the human body. The term shall include but not be limited to cloth and other material used to make school uniforms or other school clothing. Items normally sold in pairs shall not be separated to qualify for the exemption. The term shall not include watches, watchbands, jewelry, handbags, handkerchiefs, umbrellas, scarves, ties, headbands, or belt buckles.

“School supplies” – any item normally used by students in a standard classroom for educational purposes, including but not limited to, textbooks, notebooks, paper, writing instruments, crayons, art supplies, rulers, book bags, backpacks, handheld calculators, chalk, maps, and globes. The term shall not include watches, radios, CD players, headphones, sporting equipment, portable or desktop telephones, copiers or other office equipment, furniture, or fixtures. School supplies shall also include computer software having a taxable value of three hundred fifty dollars or less.

“Personal computers” – a laptop, desktop, or tower computer system which consists of a central processing unit, random access memory, a storage drive, a display monitor, and a keyboard and devices designed for use in conjunction with a personal computer, such as a disk drive, memory module, compact disk drive, daughterboard, digitalizer, microphone, modem, motherboard, mouse, multimedia speaker, printer, scanner, single-user hardware, single-user operating system, soundcard, or video card.

The poll question this week seeks to find out what readers think of this annual event. The poll is located in the upper right corner of the blog.

– Steve Patterson



Few Readers Favor Banning Food Trucks

ABOVE: The Falafelwich Wagon on Market at 9th (click image to view their website)

Less than 10% of readers felt food trucks should be banned to help favor brick & mortar restaurants:

Q: St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights just passed an ordinance regulating itinerant food vendors, including trucks; thoughts?

  1. Do food trucks even go out to Maryland Heights? 28 [24.78%]
  2. The trucks and other “itinerant” vendors should be allowed to operate anywhere 26 [23.01%]
  3. A uniform policy is needed for the region. 22 [19.47%]
  4. With 90+ municipalities in St. Louis County different regulations will be a headache for vendors 16 [14.16%]
  5. The trucks and other “itinerant” vendors should be banned to help brick & mortar restaurants 11 [9.73%]
  6. unsure/no opinion 5 [4.42%]
  7. Other answer… 5 [4.42%]

The “other” answers were:

  1. The more the better – but should park legally
  2. Screw Maryland Heights.
  3. I think you guys should worry more about crime than MH.
  4. there are a couple of independent ice cream vendors other than that not
  5. I don’t mind the food trucks that are based in the city but won’t go t

Officials act like restaurants are the only ones making capital investments and paying taxes. Food trucks, and carts, are not cheap and the work is hard. Additionally they add life to a street which attracts more people.  More people means brick & mortar restaurants and retail stores will have more customers. Thoughts on the results?

– Steve Patterson