Every once in a while I get an e-mail I feel compelled to share.
Like the one I've pasted in after the jump, sent to me from Amy Stallard, who works for American Apparel. As you'll see, the LA-based clothing manufacturer/retailer, which recently went public, is considering a move into the St. Louis market and looking at targeting one of three potential sites. The first two are predictable, the third, not so much:
It's a good question, really. To begin with, it says something about the Loop's progress and potential -- and, for that matter, about American Apparel's -- that a clothing chain might be seriously considering a move here. (For the benefit of those who think Riverfront Times is located literally on the banks of the Mississippi, the paper moved from downtown St. Louis to our current location, on Delmar above the Tivoli Theatre, a decade ago.)
The Loop has become home to quite a few chains in recent years. Let's see... Bread Co., Starbucks, Ben & Jerry's, Cold Stone Creamery, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Jimmy John's, the local chain Crazy Bowls and Wraps (not to mention ostensibly incoming-from-Colorado twins Noodles & Company and Chipotle Mexican Grill), Blockbuster Video, Game Crazy, U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile. Among them, though, if memory serves, only one clothing chain has reared an outpost: Foot Locker.
"You have to wonder whether we've reached a tipping point now -- that we've diluted the characteristics that make the Loop a unique destination," Andy Ayers, owner of Riddles Penultimate Café & Wine Bar, told Ellis Conklin last spring. "We're getting to the point where people will say, 'We might as well stay in Fenton or Creve Coeur or Chesterfield,' because we won't be any different than they are."
Ayers, one of the most thoughtful, articulate, all-around good guys you could ever want to meet, wasn't alone. All of the Loop merchants Conklin spoke with were leery of chains. The article itself was occasioned by an initiative to pass an ordinance in University City that would limit the number of national chains that could open in the Loop and put a cap on how much square footage any one of them could legally occupy. Not surprisingly, the proposal didn't sit well with local landlords.
For now, anyway. You can be sure that as the ratio of independents to chains creeps downward, the issue will arise again.
I grew up in the Loop; I remember when it was home to two locally owned grocery stores, a hardware store, a kids' shoe store, an independent bookstore, a family-owned Chinese restaurant and, yes, a Dairy Queen. (And not a single bar!) Since then I've lived a lot of different places. My last stop before moving back to St. Louis was St. Paul, Minnesota, where I lived in a revitalized neighborhood not unlike the Loop, about five short blocks from a street not unlike Delmar Boulevard.
The hand-wringing that has gone on in St. Paul echoes what's transpiring in the Loop. Witness this story on Grand Avenue that aired on Minnesota Public Radio a year or so ago:
During the 1970s and '80s a series of quirky and charming shops and restaurants began sprouting among the avenue's houses, apartments and offices in a way that produced an urban diversity unmatched in any mall. As the avenue became a destination, it wrestled with typical problems of traffic congestion and a shortage of parking. But recently neighbors have raised their voices about what they see as a deeper threat....
So what am I gonna tell Amy Stallard?
I'd just as soon not set foot in about 90 percent of the chains currently doing business in the Loop. But that's because in most cases I have no use for them. So I'm inclined to believe the free market will be able to figure this out. (Plus, if I tell American Apparel where to go and they go there and it doesn't work out for 'em, I won't be able to live with myself.)
Here's the thing, though: Amy is interested in input from any "interested locals." If you want to contribute to the dialogue, by all means do so -- I suggest you do it the polite way, via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org -- and, while you're at it, copy and paste your two cents into the comments thread for this post.
If you want to do a little research first, by all means check out American Apparel's Web site, which links to all sorts of positive press, as well as the titillating imagery the company is so proud of/notorious for. You might also peruse this New York Times Magazine profile of founder and CEO Dov Charney, which discusses at length the company's "sexualized workplace environment" and rehashes Charney's penchant for, uh, "self-pleasure," while in the presence of a reporter from Jane magazine.
You can download the "beating off for the reporter" Jane story as a pdf here. And you can read Amy's e-mail after the jump.
From: email@example.com Subject: American Apparel in St. Louis Date: February 21, 2008 1:41:51 PM CST To: Tom.Finkel@riverfronttimes.com
SENT FROM: riverfronttimes.com
DATE/TIME: February 21, 2008, 12:41 pm MST
SUBJECT: American Apparel in St. Louis
LETTER: I work for American Apparel in LA and am involved in site selection for new retail stores. We have been researching going into St. Louis for some time now, but are having trouble narrowing down to specific locations. We have had requests for a store in the University Loop area. What do you think about this? Does this attract big shopping crowds?
We have also been looking into The Galleria Mall and West County Mall. Which of these would you say attracts the best shopping traffic?
I am not sure if you are the right person to contact, but please either forward this on to someone who can help me, or let me know your ideas, if it's not too much trouble. As we can't get out to all of these cities, the input of interested locals is the best way we can gather info about where a store needs to be!
We hope to get a good American Apparel location in St. Louis soon!
Thanks a lot!
PERSONAL INFO: Amy Stallard Los Angeles CA firstname.lastname@example.org 847-722-0246