Happy Birthday, America!

This moment on this South Side front yard perfectly editorializes my feelings about our country: deflated hopes and nostalgia for democracy.

It’s full steam ahead into Coporatocracy, with both Republicans and Democrats serving only the 1% by flagrantly ignoring indisputable evidence of criminal actions in the financial sector that now runs America into the ground. It makes me feel angry, hopeless, scared and sad. Every firecracker that goes off sounds like the American Dream blowing up in our faces.

But then in the course of 24-hours during this Independence weekend, 3 glimmers of hope emerged from the ever-present fireworks smoke that blankets my South Side neighborhood.

Bates & Ulena
Mr. Yummy’s has been quietly for sale for quite a while. Read more about it here. Over the past couple of weeks, folks have been scraping and painting and cleaning the interior, which was a good sign. And then this weekend, the signs above appeared on the building. Mr. Yummy’s (and they’ve kept the sign!) has been re-purposed as a drive-thru laundry service!

I love that they took a look at the layout of this building on its lot at a busy corner and saw a new way to use it without altering the basic fabric. I love that its a rather unique type of business for this area. Personally, I love that I won’t be able to forget to pick up my dry cleaning because there will be a visual reminder twice a day, every day!

Kingshighway & Eichelberger
Less than a mile away, this old gas station that became an American Legion Post is now becoming something else: an ice cream parlor & deli!

The new owners have been remodeling the inside for a 1950s feel, plan to have both indoor and outdoor seating, and be open for pickles and ice cream by the end of July. And much like Yummy’s, they’re making do with re-purposing a small building, but on an even busier intersection. No need to demolish something – let’s recycle. And it feels like the return of modesty as a virtue.

Bates & Grand
The 2 storefronts that were El Burrito Loco are in the final stretches of opening as a Turkish restaurant, which adds a great new note to the international symphony that this immediate area has become. It’s great that those storefronts were vacant for such a short period of time.

Actually, it’s great that all 3 of these buildings in my immediate neighborhood were vacant for a short period of time – that they were deemed desirable and usable by 3 sets of brave entrepreneurs willing to take a chance during this Not So Great Depression. Statistically, the odds are stacked against them. Then again, our entire economy has shifted, and maybe you need to be real tiny so the mega-corporations that run the country don’t even notice you. It’s like the sneaky, backdoor way of upholding the American Dream, and I am grateful for the presence – and timing – of these 3 new businesses that fully represent Independence. Happy 4th of July!

‘Bout Sums It Up

Bates & Ulena
South St. Louis, MO

Art imitates life on a storage shed in the parking lot of Mr. Yummy’s.

This is brand new graffiti that’s sprung up in my neighborhood. Typically, my neighbor’s deal with this in a quick manner by painting over it, so it probably won’t last long.

The Mr. Yummy’s proprietor has been on vacation for awhile, so this may be an editorial comment about the lack of his wares. Personally, it sums up how I was feeling while first laying eyes on it, which in turn made me smile… the transformative power of art.

It’s simple, expressive and uses no curse words. I give it an A!

Mr. Yummy’s

Mr. Yummy’s @ Bates & Ulena
South St. Louis, MO
“Livers, Gizzards & Wings… oh my.”
It’s an oft-heard reaction to one of the signs on the Mr. Yummy’s building. Mr. Yummy’s is my neighborhood’s touchstone; it’s unique and endearing with a curious connection to the past. Because of all this, I’ve been sitting on some information about the place for most of the year.

This past winter, the owner and proprietor of this venerable take-out burger and shake shop tacked up a For Sale sign. While this tiny little sign rattled my cranium, I also realized that he hadn’t bothered to include his contact information. Rather than a serious bid to sell the place, maybe it was just a physical manifestation of some form of frustration he felt?

My worry is what the sale of this place could do to the neighborhood. Is it possible for someone to buy it and continue to run it as a neighborhood burger joint? Or is it more likely that someone could buy it for the property alone and do something heinous to it (like rezone and build a McMansion!)?

Mr. Yummy’s is an odd little anachronism that could only survive in this part of town. The owner is a war veteran (I’m assuming Vietnam, because he doesn’t look old enough to have been in the Korean) who freely dispenses liberal political views as he grills up burgers so greasy that they saturate their brown paper bags, and will slip out onto the pavement if you don’t know better than to hold it from the bottom.

He has always had the ultimate working hours: 10 a.m. – 5-ish p.m. There was always a huge lunchtime crowd of construction and utility company workers dining in their trucks, scattered across the large parking lot. Then there was the underage after school crowd who bought sodas and ice cream treats as a pass to simply hang out. And then there’s the newspaper machine and the only working pay phone within a mile radius, which still has people hanging from it all hours of the day.

Taking a look at the public records of Mr. Yummy’s, seems that very pay phone was “grandfathered” in a 1998 permit transaction. Surprising to me is the age of the building: Fast Food – No Seating 520 s.f. brick and wood structure built in 1925! Was it a gas station at one point, or always some kind of food establishment?

I have talked with some 40- to 50-something folks who grew up in the neighborhood, and it has been “an ice cream stand” for as long as they could remember. The current owner bought the place in 1978 for $10,000, and now he just must be tired. He was lightly adhering to his abbreviated winter hours when the For Sale sign went up. Now that it’s spring, it seems he opens up on a whim; I drive by every evening hoping to see his doors open, hoping that he’ll get back into the swing of it and reconsider. If he’s open twice a week, it’s a miracle.

Very recently, the owner added a 2nd For Sale sign smack on the outside corner of the lot. It’s very tiny, and still lacks contact information, but now more people are noticing that the place is on the sale block. Look to the right of the above picture and see how a neighborhood car salvage guy is now using the back part of the parking lot for his overflow. This is not a good thing, not good at all.

A 5.11.07 building inspection turned up 5 violations that remain unresolved. I’m supposin’ the owner put up his 2nd For Sale sign in reaction to that. I decided to finally say something about it with the hopes that someone will want to save the place… none of us want our neighborhood mascot to go away or be radically altered. It’s hard to bear the weight of an era sighing to an end. Fingers crossed that there’s an optimistic new chapter.