In a town where there is nothing around but empty streets and empty shops, those left will empty out… only empty people will fill back in.
I was in the 7th grade when Northwest Plaza, directly across the street from our school on St. Charles Rock Road, reopened as a stylish, modern indoor shopping center. When our family finally got a chance to go inside the fresh new mall, all I can remember from my 12 year old perspective is how crazy crowded it was. We waited hours for our turn to play mini-golf in the Tilt. I remember thinking how terrible the colors were, but I was no fan of pink and purple back then. Everyone else seemed to like it, including my sister who couldn’t get enough of the place.
By the time I was in high school, my friends and I drove miles away to the Galleria to avoid the place. Our families forbade us to enter that mall, and it was one rule we all loyally obeyed.
Shortly after Northwest Plaza opened, fights broke out and people were hurt. Some were even killed. Many St. Louisians swear it was a race issue, but those of us who lived close enough knew all races were involved in the scuffles and warfare in some fashion. The decline of Northwest had more to do with demographics and bad management than race. The middle class suburbs surrounding the mall was disappearing and deteriorating while the management did nothing to keep attractions while uncontrolled large groups kept coming to the mall. In 20 years, the only updating done was the addition of gaudy, badly designed, sculpture-like eyesores which were supposed to be mall signs off Lindbergh and the Rock Road in 1996. Even those were tossed out around 2002. Nothing, not even a fresh coat of paint was added to the inside. They never even bothered to change the very dated early 90s colors. Stores continually shuttered, despite allowing anchor stores remain rent-free. Now, two anchors are gone and the rest are threatening to leave.
Probably the most major contributing factor of the decline of NWP: Just to the northwest of Northwest Plaza, the mall’s largest customer base of over 5,000 middle-class suburban residents during this exact time period were in ythe process of being forced out of their homes due to Lambert’s short-sighted runway expansion plan. Well over half of Carrollton’s residents were gone by 1998, so it makes perfect sense that 10 years later, the area mall is in serious enough trouble to finally catch some media attention. Problem is, the mall was in serious trouble back in 1998. Denial is a big problem in general in the Lou… just ask what our friends over at Lambert told us after TWA folded. You guys still need a great giant runway with some houses in the way despite no hub? No problem!
Many still believe St. Ann, Bridgeton’s neighbor to the east and the home for NWP, is still very much a safe, mild suburban homestead as it was just maybe a dozen or so years ago. I really do wish that were true, but I have seen enough otherwise. Since the late 1960s, my grandparents lived within walking distance from the mall. A few months before my grandmother’s death in 1996, she was robbed at gunpoint at a store in St. Ann. After stealing from her and the store, the robber shoved her frail body into the ground, causing great injury. All this during broad daylight in the middle of the week. I still have the watch she wore that day, with deep gouges in the face from where her body was thrown into the concrete ground. My grandfather had taken up a job at the Wal-Mart between their house and the mall to keep himself busy after her death. While at the Wal-mart, he helped to stop a $2000 crack deal. He had many, many other issues with drug-related incidents near his home in his last days. Do I trust the city of St. Ann? No. Do I trust that they should rebuild the mall, with Wal-Mart attached? No. Sorry St. Ann, you have far worse problems to take care of than to give a $96 million TIF project to rebuild Northwest Plaza. The good people who just want to shop are gone. What is left has become a wasteland. You can thank Lambert in part for your troubles.
Munincipalities whose neighbors are in trouble over shaky deals or bad planning, WILL come back and affect them in some shape or form. I hope that this is a lesson in community leadership and neighborhood cooperation. It is important to pay attention to what happens behind the fence in your backyard. You never know when something might come out and bite you. St. Ann too has been rerouted, inconvienced, and now has no major destination within for its people. That once quaint little municipality now has streets filled with Payday loan stores, trashy lingere, porn, pawn shops, rental shops and gun stores. I would hate, absolutely hate to see Bridgeton turn into the new Jennings with its own Northland Shopping Center problems. I will soon probably not drive through as much. I already avoid my hometown at night.
One last little thing… a few months ago, I decided to poke around and photograph the area around the Lemp brewery, with all its grand desolation and decay. It was shortly after the In-Bev buyout, and a friend made a comment about how, perhaps in 20 years, we’d be poking around an abandoned Anheiseur-Busch factory in this same way. It seemed like such a far cry I laughed him off… how could AB, the staple of STL close down?
After today’s layoff of 1,000 of the 6,000 the St. Louis A-B workers, I see it very possible. My heart goes out to you folks for such a terrible loss of your livelihood and the city’s livelihood. Right before the holidays is such a callous move… I wish I could slap the faces of every AB sell-out stockholder who is responsible for the possible economic collapse of St. Louis. We’re on our way of becoming the next Detroit. Bridgeton is just a microcosm of what is happening. BTW St. Louisians… Why the **** are we not rioting in the streets over this yet?!? Are we that broken already that we can’t get our **** together and start knocking down the A-B boardroom doors demanding answers? Or, did we already send the Clydesdales off to the glue factory?
This collapse is going to be extremely detrimental to STL. Don’t believe me, then Google how many organizations rely on A-B donations and grants to survive. Belgium doesn’t give a rats ass what happens in our corner of the world, and they proved it today.
Start drinking Schlafly.