Another topic I constantly harp on: support our local businesses!
Could someone please supply me with a list of retail establishments in the Soulard neighborhood--often and rightfully considered one of St. Louis's most vibrant and active communities? I'll start.
Let's see. There's Vincent's Market for groceries. There's Pets in the City for the four-legged friends. The Soulard Framery has your framing needs covered. The Porch is a sort of electic gift shop filled with crafts, sundries, and, yes, wine.
And, of course, there's the crown jewel of local commerce of the city--the Soulard Market.
Why do I ask for such a list?
Well, just a month or two ago, it was announced by STL Alamode that Soulard's gypsy store on the corner of South 12th and Victor was closing its doors for good. La Belle Histoire is going out of business, or perhaps already has for all I know sitting here in the University of New Orleans' Earl K. Long Library.
Part of me feels I must merely accept the volatility of local business; how the owners must compete with mall stores that can afford to stay open from 10am until 9pm; how local owners are often in it for the passion and not for the money anyway; how having a small storefront means a smaller inventory and higher prices and how those facts in today's Wal-Mart dependent retail climate tend to doom all but the most dedicated and successful of local entrepreneurs.
But the other part is simply angry. The owner of La Belle--I never got her name despite the dozens of times I shopped for gifts in her one-of-a-kind store--would always lament to me, a face she began to recognize, about how St. Louisans simply prefer their cars and their shopping centers to out-of-the-way, unique local storefronts where the uncertainty of the non-brand name squarely scares most off.
But she's located in Soulard, I always thought. Certainly she was just being a bit hard on her home neighborhood (she lived above the storefront; I wonder if she'll remain after closing up shop), I imagined. Sure she could be making more money in a city that promoted small businesses over, or at least in parity to, the megachains, megadevelopments, and their megaTIFs. But even more surely, she was in a walkable neighborhood in a beautiful building with unique products and bellydancing classes and Mardi Gras wares and handcrafted mirrors and delicate glass ornaments for all seasons and two rooms full of the most unpredictable but surprisingly useful items for a store marketed as the gypsy store.
Most will tell me to pipe down, to realize that her products were not all that diverse and that she couldn't survive trying to fill such a nuanced niche.
And I would reply: then St. Louis's urbanity is non-existent. If we don't have enough people (pedestrians or otherwise) to keep her store afloat, then Soulard, or greater St. Louis, has simply failed as a neighborhood, as a city. It's failed in its utter backward turn towards and embrace of clustered autocentric shopping centers. It's treasonous in its subsidizing them.
La Belle was open for a good run in this city: six years. Does retail not work in St. Louis City? Why does it not? Is it because our leadership and the citizenry that continues to vote them in think that the issue of keeping these venerable storefront operations in business is a matter of the "free" market and that their failures are simply the vicissitudes of that market? Probably.
But as La Belle Histoire's awning collects dust, I hope its whimsical font is still visible to passers-by. I hope it serves to remind us all that someone poured her heart and soul and money and passion into making a corner of St. Louis, once the den of all interactions in this city, once again a place where our unique local character could be drunk by the barrel.
R.I.P. La Belle Histoire (2002-2008).
Soccer Hooligans In St. Louis!
5 hours ago