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Saturday, March 15, 2008

St. Louis Main Streets: Cherokee

In the previous post, I noted that St. Louis had no National Trust "Main Streets". Cherokee should be its first.

The nearly one and a half mile stretch of Cherokee Street in St. Louis is definitely one of St. Louis's most notable drags. On the eastern end, the magnificent Lemp Brewery complex awaits redevelopment.

Heading west, the "Antique Row" stretches until just about Jefferson Street. With its namesake's stores scattered about, one will also find an unexpected rare treasure for St. Louis--the magnificent vegan and vegetarian diner, Shangri-La as well as one of the city's most comfy coffeehouses, the Mississippi Mud House.

Moving on to South Jefferson, kitsch gets its proper dues with a rather stereotypical depiction of a Native American (presumably a Cherokee) at the gateway to the "Cherokee Station" shopping district, once a verifiable "downtown" for South St. Louis--an unabashed Main Street. In the middle of the district, a small but growing Latino/a population has injected much-needed life into a series of blocks. Formerly moribund blocks now pop with color, sidewalks once again are graced with sauntering pedestrians, and parking meters once starved for change now have their fill. Taquerias, grocers, and discount retail occupies these couple blocks. Look for one of St. Louis's best street festivals at Cinco de Mayo time.

After passing new record store Apop, you'll be out of the burgeoning ethnic enclave and you'll be on your way to an as-we-speak incubating indie arts district pioneered by Fort Gondo's Galen Gondolfi. Bookending the western portion will very soon be the Royale's Steve Smith's new alcoholic establishment, so look for that.

The photographs are courtesy of the Urban St. Louis forum member Jax.

While the pictures above do not display many pedestrians, Cherokee Street is nevertheless an active business district at peak hours. It features several shops and restaurants, but many storefronts are empty. It has many potential anchors (the Lemp Brewery being the big one) that could serve as a catalyst to neighborhood improvement, but are currently underutilized. It is already a pedestrian friendly street, especially by St. Louis standards. The street width and traffic speed are acceptable, stop signs (sometimes obeyed!) adorn each block for the most part, and Bike St. Louis now runs down the length of Cherokee. In short, with investment and careful assemblage of business owners toward the common goal of improving Cherokee, we might see a major difference on the street. The Main Streets program would, with any luck and determination, do just that.

And I am not speaking of any insidious gentrification; rather, new businesses should receive assistance in their move to Cherokee; the streetscape should be updated and made even more attractive; and tourists (as well as visitors from farflung parts of the region) should wander their way down to St. Louis's funkiest commercial street via better promotion and signage.

Cherokee should be St. Louis's first Main Street.


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