An Excerpt from the Book:
“Money is not the most important thing in the world,
but quality of life is.”
In 1972, Joe Edwards opened a two-room pub in a semi-abandoned stretch of Delmar Blvd. in University City. Within a short time, Blueberry Hill was known as a great place to get a burger, play darts and listen to good music. His hard work and belief in the community allowed him to improve the area with buildings and projects too numerous to name: The Tivoli Movie Theater, The Pageant, The Moonrise Hotel, The Loop Trolley, Pin-up Bowl, Delmar Hall and so on. His focus and leadership shows how one person can make a significant impact.
At its inception, The Delmar Loop was a successful example of an early streetcar suburb; the first structures were built early in the 20th century. The area peaked sometime in the 1930s, when it was a high-fashion shopping district. After World War II, prosperity in America arrived in the form of automobiles and shopping malls – but there was a dark side: white flight from our nation’s neighborhoods occurred and devastated the area. By the late 1960s, similar to other main streets across the United States, The Delmar Loop was in sharp decline.
When I opened Blueberry Hill in 1972, many of The Delmar Loop storefronts were effectively vacant. There was the occasional insurance office or real estate agent, but most of the windows had their venetian blinds drawn and the stores were merely for storage. Many of the buildings had leaks in their roofs and were in disrepair, with numerous of the upper-floor apartments unoccupied. Perhaps the only bright spot was that rents were cheap.
I did not have a grand plan when I opened: I borrowed $10,000 from a few friends – even back then, that was not a lot of money, and there was not much room for error. Within a week, I realized if I did not work to improve the neighborhood, Blueberry Hill was not going to make it. So I went to the mayor, the chief of police, and the remaining merchants to form a loose-knit business association. In 1980, several of us formed an SBD Special Business District, which allowed us to self-tax and keep those dollars in the area.
At the legislative level, University City enacted three ordinances that had a significant impact: First, landlords were required to get occupancy permits every time a unit turned over (they were one of the first cities in the United States to require this). This forced owners to maintain their buildings and bring them up to code.
Secondly, zoning was rewritten such that a first-floor storefront could only be retail, such as a gallery, a boutique or a restaurant. Existing business occupancies were grandfathered in, or they could move to the second floor – but a new office use for a first-floor space was not permitted. Over time, this greatly improved the activity on the street as spaces turned over.
Finally, the sidewalks were widened: as much as this improved the walkability for pedestrians, it also greatly reduced traffic speed due to the narrowed street. These ordinances showed how a change in the codes could have a positive impact. They were a reflection of the open-minded people who decided to stay, band together, and develop a voice of tolerance and diversity that The Delmar Loop is known for today.
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