Bill Clinton Loves This Downtown St. Louis Bookstore, and You Should Too

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The bookstore for the St. Louis chapter of the American Institute of Architects is housed in the historic Lammert Building, where technology incubator T-REX nurtures startups. - ALLISON BABKA
  • Allison Babka
  • The bookstore for the St. Louis chapter of the American Institute of Architects is housed in the historic Lammert Building, where technology incubator T-REX nurtures startups.
Who'd have thought that one tiny St. Louis bookstore could entice the former leader of the free world to stop his motorcade and do a little shopping?

The AIA St. Louis bookstore (911 Washington Avenue, Suite 100)  downtown apparently had such power over President Bill Clinton earlier this month. Visiting the region to tour health and science projects supported by the nonprofit Clinton Foundation, Clinton asked his team to pull over in front of the St. Louis chapter of the American Institute of Architects so that he could pick up a few items for himself and for his grandchildren.

Michelle C. Swatek, executive director for AIA St. Louis, speculates that Clinton was drawn to the shop because of his familiarity with the Washington, D.C., chapter during his time in the White House. Kathleen Bauer, community director for technology incubator T-REX, which owns the historic Lammert Building that houses AIA St. Louis, tells RFT that Clinton was "pumped" to visit the store and took photos with a number of building tenants


And Clinton, a design aficionado who has given keynote speeches at national AIA events, obviously knows a good thing when he sees it, as the AIA St. Louis bookstore is a gem that attracts thousands of tourists, even if it's often overlooked by locals. Focusing on architecture and design, its ever-changing Washington Avenue window display commands attention with shiny metal replicas of the Gateway Arch, modern mobiles dangling from white branches and cardboard puzzles of world landmarks. Inside the shop, there are even more treasures like books, toys and home goods that celebrate the built environment.

Naturally, AIA devotes considerable space to local interests. Here, shoppers can find tomes about the architecture in the Central West End and rides from the old Forest Park Highlands amusement park next to books on Missouri hauntings and Route 66 hijinks. Don’t overlook the smaller gifts that you’ll have a hard time finding anywhere else, like the intricate laser-cut pop-up cards showcasing major St. Louis landmarks or the 3-D brass ornament of the famous Collinsville, Illinois, catsup bottle. (The shop also goes beyond the Gateway City, featuring Little Dedo gargoyles from Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral and Andrea Beaty’s illustrated children’s books.)

AIA St. Louis has a hallowed design pedigree, originally spending many decades in the Wainwright Building on 7th Street — an influential structure from the 1890s that was among the world's first skyscrapers and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the St. Louis chapter makes its home just a few blocks away in the Lammert Building, an Americanized French Renaissance Revival building that was designated a city landmark in 1979.

Clinton spent more time marveling at the treasures within AIA St. Louis and the Lammert Building than perhaps his entourage had planned for; sources tell RFT that his Secret Service squad urged him multiple times to wrap up his shopping and photo ops. And what did Clinton walk out with? The presidential shopping list included Book of Bones, The Most Awesome Arch, a set of notecards featuring the art of Chiura Obata, and Hero Decks, a collection of playing cards starring the Cardinals’ best players past and present. Not a bad haul from one of the city's design gems.

The AIA St. Louis Bookstore is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Find more information or shop online at aia-stlouis.org.

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