NO ROOM FOR OUR WORLD: After 12 years of serving as a center for the gay and lesbian community, Our World Too, the book and gift shop, closes its doors this month. Owner Bill Cordes announced the grand-closing sale in a letter to friends of the store last week. The official final day of business is scheduled for April 25, with a potluck farewell party to be held that afternoon.
Our World's closing marks the loss of yet another independent bookstore in St. Louis as Borders and Barnes & Noble superstores have expanded throughout the region. Cordes' description of the superstore chains, which he offered in a 1996 interview with the RFT after the closing of Paul's Books in University City, now carries with it a sad prescience: "They claim that there is room for the independents and for them, that they're creating new business, that they're really not taking business away from other bookstores. But the evidence is that in their wake stores are closing."
Our World, as a store that provided for a niche market, was supposedly secure from that wake, but two major setbacks afflicted the store in recent years. In 1996, the emergency sprinkler system in Magnolia's (Our World's next-door neighbor) burst and sent 102,000 gallons of water per minute into the bookstore for 45 minutes, says Cordes, causing $200,000 in damage. "The extra stress created a major health decline" for him, he adds: Last January Cordes was in a hospital "near death, unconscious and on life support."
Cordes fell behind on rent but says that with community support and a bargain sale in February, "we are less behind than we were." However, "the landlord wants us out," he says. "We lost the space. We're being forced out. The landlord says he doesn't want a bookstore in here again, ever."
Cordes says he had recruited a new owner for the store -- Jeff Balk, publisher of the zine EXP -- offering "higher rent, a deposit and several months' rent in advance" to the building's landlord, Don Yatkeman of ACY Realty: "We had found an owner for the store, and he was trying to talk to the landlord, but he refuses to return our calls. He's not interested. He wants four walls."
Yatkeman responds: "No. Nobody offered higher rent or several months' in advance." He refuses to comment further on the future of the space.
Whatever the cause of Our World's demise, the effects are greater than the loss of an outlet for gay and lesbian literature. "The store's done an awful lot for a lot of people," says Cordes. "We receive 40 hotline-type calls a day. I know people who just scream for help on the phone, or just call to know where the bars are. We took over 1,000 calls for information on PrideFest.
"We don't have the resources to go elsewhere; all the fixtures are custom-made for this building. We may be able to muster resources for the future."
For now, though, there's a going-out-of-business sale and a closing party where, Cordes promises, there'll be "free hugs for everyone." (ES)
VASHON, WITH CAMPUS, AS PROMISED: Pardon the folks who remain a little skeptical about when, where and how the new Vashon High School will be built. They've heard promises before, and so far not a single shovelful of dirt has been turned. The site most desired by the St. Louis Board of Education for the new school, the old Pruitt-Igoe site on Jefferson Avenue, has been nixed by the city. Faculty and parents are worried that the rumored $9 million cost of buying the alternate site and cleaning up the remnants of a gas station and other polluted leftovers there will force cutbacks in the plans for the new school. Word has it the site is near the intersection of Cass Avenue and Glasgow Street, less than a mile northeast of the school's current crumbling structure at 3405 Bell Ave., near Grand Avenue.
Superintendent Cleveland Hammonds says all's well and that a new plan will be announced by mid-April. (In January, then-Board of Education President Hattie Jackson said plans would be announced by the end of that month.) But Hammonds insists that this time "there are no obstacles" and that the different site will not impinge on the size or quality of the new Vashon. "We are on track," says Hammonds. "There were some delays going through the City Hall bureaucracy that couldn't be helped. It's difficult to find 25-plus acres inside the city limits. We had determined early on we wanted a school with a campus, not the way the present Vashon is. We had a criteria that was difficult to meet."
It wasn't so long ago that Vashon was scheduled to be closed, put on the endangered list by the federal judge in the desegregation case. A push to save the virtually all-African-American school came from the Save Vashon Committee, and it was taken off the list. There was confusion and misinformation about building a new Vashon, but an $11 million budget surplus wasn't deemed sufficient. So a $51 million bond issue -- with $31 million for a new Vashon -- was proposed and approved overwhelmingly by voters last year.
The school board wanted the old Pruitt-Igoe site, just north of Gateway Middle School. But with a lot of loose talk about a housing development and a Schnucks store at that site, planners had to look elsewhere. Ald. Mike McMillan (D-19th) doesn't think the switch means downsizing the plan for a large, open campus setting to replace Vashon, now housed in a building more than 60 years old. McMillan says the ambitious plan for Vashon as the city's flagship school posed a few difficulties."There's not one site in the entire city of St. Louis where you have 25 vacant acres of land in a position to be prepared, cleared and handed over to any entity for anything," McMillan says. "So wherever they would have chosen, there was going to be some issues of demolition and preparation."
The $31 million budgeted for a new Vashon, Hammonds says, will provide a "first-class facility" for both the "academic and athletic portions of the school." Sounds as if Coach Floyd Irons' basketball team could have a snazzy new performance venue. "That budget will take you where you need to go," Hammonds says.
Once the Vashon issue is resolved, Hammonds has other matters to consider -- such as how many students will return to city schools and when they'll show up. Hammonds figures another high school will be needed "within two to three years," and it's likely going to mean the reopening of Southwest High School at Kingshighway and Arsenal, which was closed in 1991. At least it won't pose a site-selection problem.
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON TO SLU: When word seeped out last Thursday that St. Louis University was going to replace recently resigned head men's basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour with Pepperdine University's Lorenzo Romar, it didn't take Frank Cusumano of KSDK (Channel 5) long to misspeak. During the 10 o'clock sports slot, he mentioned that Romar was "articulate." Say what? Why is one of the first adjectives used to describe SLU's new coach have to do with his elocution? Of course it has nothing to do with his being an African-American, from Compton in South Central LA, of all places. Had an Anglo been hired for the job, certainly his ability to speak intelligibly would have been one of the first skills to stress. Richard "Onion" Horton was amused by Cusumano's choice of adjective, though he was skeptical of the importance of being "articulate" in college basketball. "When somebody is comin' at you with a three-on-one break, you can't quote no Chaucer to stop one of them dunks," Horton said after the Friday press conference. "A Midsummer Night's Dream don't help much if a guy's gettin' ready to hang on the rim." So being articulate doesn't mean much when the game starts, says Horton: "Can you guard a guy with that? When somebody sees (Duke's) Elton Brand going to that basket, is it 'Wherefore art thou going with that basketball?'"
As it turns out, Romar seems articulate enough to handle the local sports media, but that attribute would not have been mentioned up front if the hire had been Steve Alford or Kevin Stallings. Romar's challenge is to mine the lode of basketball talent in the central city, including Darius Miles from East St. Louis, something media favorite Spoonhour was unable -- or unwilling -- to do. Will somebody give Romar a map to Vashon and Cardinal Ritter? Anybody remember Jahidi White? Chris Carrawell? Loren Woods? James Williams? Horton thinks the current crop of SLU players "are a bunch of bums" and that better recruits, and maybe recruiters, are needed. "Who did they get beside Larry Hughes?" Horton asks, recalling that Hughes wanted to stay home because his brother had undergone a heart transplant. Hughes, Horton says, "would have been in Syracuse if it hadn't been for that. This time around I don't know nobody who needs a heart or a lung or a kidney transplant."
FOR BILL HAAS, THE NEXT BEST THING: In either job, you get plenty of complaints. If you're mayor, citizens galore think you can solve their problems, so you hear them. At the customer-service desk at Wal-Mart, even if the customer isn't always right, he is entitled to unload on you. Instead of complaining about unfixed potholes and insufficient city services, the complaints are "these pants are too tight" or "this microwave doesn't work." No, Bill Haas didn't get to be mayor in his second attempt, in '97. And now he's working the customer-service desk at Wal-Mart. One thing about Haas that hasn't changed is his chutzpah. A few weeks into his new job, Haas saw a Time magazine piece about how Wal-Mart and other retailers were buying goods produced under near-sweatshop conditions. True to form, Haas fired off a three-page, single-spaced letter to Wal-Mart CEO and President David Glass, saying, among other things, "I know I'm being bold, but shouldn't these conditions make us ashamed?" The missive cited the movie Heaven Can Wait in describing how Warren Beatty's character said his tuna company should charge a few more pennies and save the dolphins. Haas thinks Wal-Mart should stop using sweatshops, charge a bit more and provide a good example. "Saying that we can't control the companies we buy from I don't think is good enough if we know this is going on," Haas wrote. Within a week, Glass wrote back, saying Wal-Mart had contracts to honor and was doing its best to ensure workers were treated fairly, etc., etc., and thanks for the interest. If only Haas could run for CEO instead of mayor.
FLOTSAM & JETSAM: The radio ads for the redesigned Post-Dispatch Sunday sports section said the new look for sports would respond to requests for more coverage of "motor sports and golf." Uh, so that means less space for sports? Will equal time be given to comparable spectacles of skill, such as monster-truck jams and billiards tournaments? ... Maybe it was just the juxtaposition that made it appear odd, but wasn't that article in the Thursday, March 25, newspaper of record about Anheuser-Busch's considering using plastic, instead of glass, bottles for their beer on the same page as a piece about A-B's winning an environmental award for -- among other things, we hope -- cutting the "mass" in aluminum cans by a third? Anybody remember returnable bottles? Maybe it was just an oxymoronic layout.... NBA color commentator Hubie Brown has his good moments, particularly when Vernon Maxwell's three-pointer tied the Lakers-Kings game at 106-106 Friday night, saying the flashy, come-from-behind Kings were "playing like bandits." But Hubie's showing his age when he refers to Vernon Maxwell as Cedric Maxwell of the long-ago Celtics and, get this, overhyped Kobe Bryant as the nonillustrious Coby Dietrich, who played for the Spurs back when there was still an ABA.... Most understated line of the week goes to Russia's favorite son, Boris Yeltsin, who allowed that Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian atrocity-meister, could be a "difficult fellow." That's like saying Boris likes his vodka. Absolut-ly.
Contributors: Eddie Silva, D.J. Wilson