Posted on June 21st, 2010 No comments
This Sunday, June 27th is the Cherokee Bizarre Bazaar & Flea Market, in the 2800 block of Cherokee Street. Be sure to walk a few blocks west and check out the Fort Gondo Sidewalk Sale, as well.
Fort Gondo‘s Galen is clearing out his basement cram-packed full of retro furniture, lamps, soda pop history and tandem bikes and throwing it out onto the sidewalk in front of his store.
Buy something from him during 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and your money does double good: half goes to pay for nuptials, while the other half helps Friends of the San Luis pay down their last remaining dollars to the lawyers.
Stop by and buy at 3151 Cherokee Street, and tell ‘em the ghost of the Hotel Deville sent ya.
Posted on June 10th, 2010 12 comments
2626 Cherokee Street
South St. Louis, MO
The Cherokee Street News broke the news that the venerable Globe Drug store had closed its doors, and got the sentiment right in the headline: 1939-2010. It does feel like a friend has died.
I was expecting a mass outpouring of reports and condolences in the St. Louis press, but so far, only the RFT has jumped on the tragic news. Thank you.
After the initial shock, my first thought was of Sandy Cohen, the son of the Globe Empire begun in 1939. Sandy was born into this store, and it’s the only job he’s ever had. His enthusiasm and love for his working retail museum never seemed to waiver, and if – from his perch in the pharmacy – he noticed you taking pictures and reveling in the atmosphere, he’d cheerfully offer to take you on a tour.
Sandy would point out that the place was a 905 liquor store before his family took over, and iron grills over the vents in the ceiling confirm that this 1913 building was the home of a long-gone, sorely missed St. Louis cheap buzz tradition, from 1937 – 1953.
A Sandy tour gave you backstage access, which in this case is a ride in the original, unadulterated freight elevator up to the 2nd floor. The door loudly slid open to reveal a vast, dark area used for storage, with still-decorated Christmas trees and unopened Easter baskets scattered about.
And then comes the reveal of a bowling alley?
Sandy wasn’t quite sure if there actually was a bowling alley in the building, or if this was just a rescued relic from elsewhere that found a permanent home in the Globe Museum.
The business office truly was a scrapbook of the history of the Globe, and of the Cohen family, both blood related and extended.
The rendering of the St. Louis cityscape (above) was commissioned by Joe as a way to feature all 4 Globe locations. As of this writing, the variety store on South Broadway near Soulard, and the wholesale warehouse at Clark & Tucker in downtown St. Louis remain open. The Globe variety store a couple of blocks west of 2626 Cherokee closed in the mid-90s.
Among the hundreds of photos on the walls is a shot of this store when it was 905 Liquors.
And here’s the same ceiling fixture still in place today.
One of Sandy’s favorite mementos is a letter he received in 2008 from someone confessing to having stolen candy from the store when they were 10. They apologized and sent along this dollar to pay for what they took.
Globe Drug was one of those rare birds: a still-vibrant, direct link to the past. History has personal meaning when you can physically trace the connections and experience a small slice of what life was like before it hit warp speed, before it was corporate, before rat-a-tat gloss suffocated neighborhood personality.
We’re at the reverse of needing to advance the population; the earth is suffering the damage of too many people at one time. So the modern need for offspring seems an instinctive drive for immortality. Globe Drug felt like a slice of immortality, St. Louis style. I can feel the heavy sadness of Sandy Cohen and family as they pack up 57 years of life and cart it out of this building. And even as the neighborhood comes back to life all around it, all of us will feel the emptiness as we pass by 2626 Cherokee.
From a Suburban Journals article on the office wall:
“Who says that you can’t go back? In the “hurry, hurry” world of today’s super conglomerate drug stores, Globe Drugs…stands proudly as proof that quality and commitment to its customers needs still make a difference. …the Cohen family has worked hard to keep the nostalgic atmosphere that you would have found when FDR was in the White House… So, go back. Go back to a time when a variety store was the cornerstone of a community.”
Posted on April 6th, 2009 10 comments
Cherokee Street, between Gravois and Jefferson Avenues
South St. Louis, MO
The Cherokee Street Open House felt a bit like a debutante ball, but rather than debuting young ladies into society it was more like grand dames getting their groove back after a messy divorce. So actually, it was more like a Cougar Coronation… Anyhoo, the old broad is back, much like “Hello Dolly, ” wherein they bridge the gap, fellas and find her an empty lap, fellas ‘cos Cherokee Street will never go away again.
The Cherokee business district was a major retail hub that sprung up around the electric street car lines. Come the cancellation of the street cars in the late 1950s, Cherokee worked on accommodating buses and cars, but as population fled the city, this district was left high and dry. Here’s a good history of the rise and leveling off of the district.
Come the 1980s-90s, things got a bit bleak and seedy. The vast majority of old guard retail died off, retired or moved to the county. New business moved in to old spaces, but not at the same pace as vacancies, so the district took on the look of a period piece movie set after filming had ended. But this faded grandeur offered up its own charms.
The retail architecture chatted about its past as you walked by, and even if you weren’t listening closely, you still got the gist of what it used to be.
During the near-desolate 1990s, I spent a lot of time at Hammond’s Books, Record Exchange, Salvation Army, and both the Globe Drug and Globe Variety stores. In 2009, gloriously, only Record Exchange and Globe Variety are gone (the former relocated, the latter retired), while the others remain, to be joined by heaping handfuls of new and unique businesses.
(A magical history tour of Globe Drug will be coming up shortly.)
It’s pure delight to have new proprietors walk over the terrazzo thresholds of past shopkeepers and prop their wares into the same display windows. It’s both an appreciation and continuation of a grand tradition.
Talking in sweeping generalizations, key South City business hubs were vacated by whites and left floundering until two groups unaffected by the weight of its history came along: immigrants and young people.
Think Bosnians bringing Bevo Mill back to life, or Asians injecting flavor into the South Grand business district. In both cases, it’s a group of foreign people settling into an old American city, noticing the near-empty spots of high density business and residential similar to their homeland, noticing how cheap the real estate is and noticing that it’s theirs for the taking.
With optimistic foreign energy percolating, the young and adventurous come along to bask in the freedom from mall culture, and a new “frontier town” blossoms. And so it went with Cherokee Street and the large Mexican population blooming in St. Louis City. They took advantage of the ready-made space, and now the young and adventurous native entrepeneurs are filling in the gaps with shops and unique concepts that perfectly compliment the veterans in the area. Here’s a brief smorgasboard of the variety of the area.
So, on one deliciously sunny spring day, Cherokee Street proprietors opened up their doors for a massive meet-and-greet party, a genius way to distill and bottle the new essence of the district, letting visitors drink until drunk on the goodwill of possibility.
Pianos tinkled and aquatic fairies twinkled, and all was right in South St. Louis. Cherokee Street has set the bar high for civic pride, education (the historic plaques on the buildings are frickin’ brilliant) and uplift by osmosis. Their brand of Open House is a model I hope other burroughs of the city will adopt to embrace and elevate what makes St. Louis City so vibrant.
As the sun set on the day, a loop paraphrasing Dr. Suess kept on in my brain: “and to think that I saw it on Cherokee Street.” Click here to see more photos ot the Cherokee Open House.