ST. LOUIS – With blocks full of empty storefronts, it’s hard to see potential on South Broadway in far south St. Louis.
But real estate man Jaymes Dearing sees plenty.
For the last two decades, Dearing has been in the middle of just about every real estate deal and renovation on South Broadway in the Patch and Carondelet neighborhoods. He contends that South Broadway may soon be the latest part of the city to catch fire.
“Historically, this was a booming retail shopping area after the war and into the ’50s,” said Dearing, who maintains the office of his business, RE Source LLC, at 6721 South Broadway.
After the postwar boom, the South Broadway area, like the Cherokee business district, went down.
The construction of Interstate 55 trapped South Broadway in a narrow area between the highway and the river. Merchants left, leaving antiques stores, retail outlets, bars and a few other businesses.
But, Dearing said, “We’re ready for businesses, the opportunities that are here.”
Fred Hessel, executive director of the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation, said one factor helped the area grow: “It’s a place where if you want to open a storefront, you can do it relatively cheaply,” he said.
Hessel also said Dearing had helped in the redevelopment of the area.
“Obviously, he sees potential. He’s not in business to lose money,” Hessel said.
“I came for the buildings because I was attracted to the architecture,” said Dearing, who is involved in real estate projects throughout the area.
One business owner who moved to the area was furniture maker David P. Moore. In 2012, working with Dearing, he bought a building at 6931 South Broadway. He renovated the second floor into an apartment and uses the first floor for his business.
Moore said he saw little crime in the area.
“You just get a lot of interesting characters coming by. They usually move on,” he said.
“We saw potential in this building and potential in Dave’s business,” said Moore’s father, David R. Moore.
“When I came down here initially, I had the impression of, like, lawlessness,” the younger Moore said. “There’s more people doing cool stuff. I really like this place. I’m happy to be here.”
He said he felt that he fit in there more than other places.
South of David P. Moore’s workshop is Hummel’s Pub, 7101 South Broadway.
Mount Pleasant neighborhood resident David Ray comes in twice a week.
“It’s a lesbian bar,” Ray said. But, he said, “the owner doesn’t like to call it a lesbian bar. She calls it a neighborhood bar.” Hessel and Dearing also said it’s a lesbian bar.
Nearby is Bar PM, which Hessel and Dearing say is a gay bar.
“I think it’s going to be the next Grove in the next 10 years,” Ray said of the South Broadway area.
Hessel and Dearing agree about the potential.
“Gays and artists are indicators of an emerging neighborhood,” Hessel said.
But other bars have different kinds of customers. One is the Off Track Saloon at 7301 South Broadway. Frequently, the parking area around the saloon is full of motorcycles. But on the weekday afternoon when a reporter and photographer came by, only one was parked nearby.
Ron Bizzle, the owner of that motorcycle, likes to talk about his faith in God.
“I got my vest on the back. It says ‘Jesus Forever,’” he pointed out.
Bizzle also proudly said that he’d been sober since March 2017. Sarah Stippec, 29, the bar’s owner since 2016, has been supportive. He drinks just soda.
“Sarah’s the best bar owner in St. Louis,” Bizzle said.
One regular customer, Jeffrey Maul, 58, said he came in about five times a week.
“I like the people. I like the owner,” he said. Besides, there are no fights, he said.
Stippec appreciates her customers.
“The business has been doing great,” she said. “But we’re starting to see changes. Hopefully, we’ll be the next up-and-coming neighborhood.”
“There’s been a lot of renovation,” said Dan Stippec, the owner’s father. “The neighborhood seems to be coming back a bit.”
Lou Cole, 30, Sarah Stippec’s boyfriend, said the bar attracted many different people, including union members.
Bars such as the Off Track Saloon may be just relaxing, but Rathbone Hardware at 7625 South Broadway has a more practical purpose.
“This is an old-fashioned hardware store,” said Don Heberer, 60, who has worked in the business, owned by his mother, since he was 18. “Most of our business is commercial.”
Heberer said his business was doing fine.
But one of his customers, John Welch, 65, didn’t agree, at least about the neighborhood.
“It’s getting worse. Too many heroin addicts and prostitutes,” Welch said. “I’ve been here 50 years. I’ve never heard the gun violence like I have here lately.”
Despite any crime, community leaders have taken steps to improve the area’s appearance, by paying artists to paint murals on buildings up and down South Broadway. After competitions, the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation in cooperation with the Regional Arts Commission have paid artists to do nine murals, Dearing said.
It’s just one of the things leaders are doing in the area.
“I think the economic development is key down there, and there’s some really good businesses, and some are growing,” said 11th Ward Alderwoman Sarah Martin, who represents South Broadway in the Patch and Carondelet neighborhoods.
But there also are continuing problems, including prostitution, Martin said. She’s trying to get police to do something about it.
“It’s a quality of life issue, and I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to see that when they walk out the door.”
Martin also is concerned about crime in South Square Park.
“There’s some good stuff going on, but we could use more business investment,” Martin said.
If others join Dearing, Hessel and Moore in seeing the growing opportunities of South Broadway, that investment may soon be on the way.