Sunday, January 8, 2017

3801 Hampton Avenue - In Danger of Suburbanization

Man, I recently got a slap in the face when I went to get some Christmas shopping done at a place I have a long history with: FYE at 3801 Hampton Avenue just north of Chippewa in the Lindenwood Park Neighborhood.
As I was entering, there was a posting on the front door urging people who don't want a fast food joint to buy out this store, demo the building and put up a typical suburban drive thru to contact the city leaders and FYE's corporate HQ:
I failed to publish this before the Jan 5th deadline...sorry.

Now I've got nothing against chains, really. They can fit quite nicely into a city's urban fabric. Check Chicago as an example. I was taken aback by how much chain stuff exists in that city. It gets harder and harder to find a decent, locally owned place to eat in downtown Chicago. The chains are taking over, yet they are forced to fit into those beautiful Chicago buildings because they are mixed-use buildings, the floors above ground level in Chicago are usually residential or office. Here it is easy to mow down a single story single-use building and build new...in this case drive thru garbage.

No doubt, Hampton Avenue is a car-centric thoroughfare. But, the mid-century buildings that still had somewhat of an urban feel are going the way of the dodo and being replaced with the modern suburban model. Bradburn School supply was recently mowed down for another QT just up Hampton near Elizabeth Avenue.

So what is this fast food joint that wants the property on Hampton? In this case Chic-fil-A is on the prowl.

Why do I care, Hampton is a lost soul you might say. It is the Big Bend of the city.  Well, the problem is, this is not a higher use proposal. It'll be a setback for Hampton as a city street. It turns it more toward the suburban auto-centric boring generic, American crap.

I have no beef with Chic-fil-A in particular. I've never even been there. This would be the first Chic-fil-A in St. Louis. The current locations are all in the suburbs in this regional market. A Chic-fil-A would likely generate more tax dollars than FYE. It may even generate more jobs.

But, it will not make a place. A place that can bring people together. A place-making place. Believe it or not, but FYE is a place where people who love comic books, weird movies, off the beaten path music, anime and other things can converge. It is a place to get a job if you want to talk about non-mainstream things. It is kind of like a Hot Topix for the city.

And, there's a personal connection. When I first graduated college in the mid-1990's and moved to St. Louis after landing a job in my scientific field, I needed supplemental income. I was living in Dutchtown and searched the yellow pages for music stores to work part time. I went into (then) Blockbuster Music and got a job shortly thereafter.

This was a great job because I could judge other people's music choices, a sport/art I was obsessed with back then. It was easy because Blockbuster's business model at the time was a "listening station" where you could bring up any CD in the store and the employee would pop it in and you'd put headphones on and rock out. It was my job to open the disc they brought up without breaking the CD seal or packaging and insert the disc in the player, let them listen, and return the disc to it's container and resort it if they didn't buy it or package it back up for the customer if they wanted it.

If the customer brought an Ace of Base CD up, I could work my disapproving eye rolls (without getting caught).

If they brought up a Pavement CD, we were (you can goddamn count on it) going to have a long conversation.

Sounds cheezy and 90's for sure, but it was fun because I felt like a bartender for music fans. Soccer moms, hard core music fans, burn outs, kids...it was great and hilarious. I liked the job.

Then, the employees took turns on shifts where you were given the keys to the in-store sound system. I looked forward to my nights. I could finally show these guys how cool I thought I was.

One night formed a memory/experience that I'll take to the grave. Now remember, this was pre-Internet, so you didn't have every song in the world available in a click. You didn't have an algorithm making constant recommendations based on what you listen to. You had to tune in and turn on the hard way, by listening and reading and hanging out in the right places. Or you could have one of the most personal human gifts: the heartfelt recommendation from a friend. This is gold to a real music fan. If someone takes the time and effort to make a personal recommendation, it is a very intimate thing. I miss that about the pre-Internet music days.

It was my night to spin the hits. I went to pick out a Superchunk CD to let these drum machine mf'ers hear a real band. I picked a release I didn't own, No Pocky For Kitty. The album cover is burned into my memory banks.

Superchunk, if you don't already know, is a straight ahead, hard driving rock band. The singer/guitarist and bassist later founded Merge Records. They are an important American band to people who loved guitar rock/punk/indie.

They are consistent, meaning almost all records sound similar. They forged their own distinctive loud guitar sound, and they stick with it.  You know what to expect.

When I popped in the disc, it was weird. Like nothing I'd ever heard. It was challenging, weird, 1960's psychedelic, 1990's lo-fi, British-sounding? Maybe they had another band lineup in their early days that I was not aware of.

I was perplexed. So was the store manager who came down from the catbird box. It was literally an office up high that could look over the entire store floor.

He came down from the box, asked what the hell I put in. I said Superchunk. He walked back silent, slightly disapproving. A couple tracks later he came back and asked me to take it out.

I obeyed with no thought about it. Put the CD back in the jewel box and re-filed it.

I told my girlfriend/now wife about it, and how that sound stuck out. Man, the band must have taken a turn early in their career. I couldn't shake the sound, so I went onto CD Now and bought Superchunk's No Pocky For Kitty online.

When I got it in the mail. I invited my wife over, appropriately set the scene for listening to music, popped it in the stereo and said "listen to this".

Track one comes on...and it's typical Superchunk. Crunchy guitars, driving drums and bass and Mac's sweet voice. I was shocked. Sure it sounded great, but it was textbook Superchunk, I fast forwarded again and again. What happened, this wasn't the weird thing I'd experienced at Blockbuster Music.

I forgot about it and months passed, I quit the job at Blockbuster. But, the memory of that night and the sound of that record was still lingering. I decided to go back to Blockbuster and find No Pocky For Kitty. I grabbed it and went to the listening station and asked the guy to play it. There it was again. That weird ass sound.

An employee at the listening station mistakenly placed the wrong CD in the Superchunk box. I asked for the CD, looked at it: Scat Records, Guided By Voices "Bee Thousand".

I went to the G section and no Guided By Voices. So, I guess I was going to buy the Superchunk case with the Guided By Voices CD in it.

This GBV album was like nothing I'd ever heard. None of my friends new this band. It was completely new and fresh. I listened to it over and over. I recommended it to whoever would listen. I had a new favorite band...they were from Dayton, OH where another favorite of mine at the time were from (the Breeders). I love Midwestern rock bands.

This was how I discovered GBV and I've since bought hundreds of their songs, gone to several shows, etc etc etc. They are a lifelong favorite ever since I crossed paths with that weird mistake. To a music nerd, these stories are like gold.

The memory comes to mind every time I pass 3801 Hampton.

The probability of someone having a meaningful life experience working at Chic-fil-A are close to nil.

The soul will be gone.

According to my boss at Blockbuster, the building used to be a Peaches and a grocery store before that.

The building has history, per city records it was built in 1954. It has an urban form. It abuts the sidewalk along Hampton.

Here's a nice photo from beltstl.com as well as confirmation that it was a grocery and Peaches:


Peaches must have been a 1970's dream, I've seen the crates all over town in antique shops and at yard sales. 
Here's the only photo I could find of the Hampton location; that is Mama's Pride doing a promotional event:

The Pinterest poster claims the event was in a St. Louis Peaches, but I have doubts unless the interiors of all Peaches were identical.  There are some great videos of the Ballwin, Missouri Sound Warehouse/Peaches location the day it closed on June 29th, 1986. The interior looks exactly like the Ballwin store. I will keep searching for the truth.

Note on the first video, Rocks Off by the Rolling Stones is playing in the store (followed by Rip This Joint). That's what I'm talkin' about. I cherish every second of these videos, thanks for sharing YouTube user styxreo:


 Per a recent Riverfront Times article:
The building, which sits at 3801 Hampton Avenue, has a long and storied history — for the most part, as a purveyor of music. The space was constructed in 1954 as a National grocery store. In 1976 the record store Peaches opened in the spot, selling mostly vinyl throughout the '80s. Then it was known as Sound Warehouse and, later, Blockbuster Music in the '90s. In 1998 it became Warehouse Music, which was purchased by Trans World in October of 2003. Trans World kept the existing name for three years before rebranding to F.Y.E. in 2006. (source)
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the proposed buy out of FYE in November, 2016:
Chick-fil-A has under contract the F.Y.E. store at 3801 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis and plans to replace it next year with one of its fast-food outlets. 
A manager at the F.Y.E. store said Wednesday he was unaware of the Chick-fil-A project. 
HR Green is handling the project's engineering and "running point" on getting a conditional use permit for the Chick-fil-A at the site, Vavrina said. The Atlanta-based fastfood chain plans to have one of its customary general contractors build the Hampton Avenue outpost, he said. (source)
Read: a suburban American crap shack eyesore.

This is not a higher use.

If you are like me and want to rage against the suburban machine, contact the following and make yourself heard:

Ward 23 Alderman Joseph Vaccaro:


Phone: (314) 622-3287 

Fax: (314) 622-4273

Or FYE's corporate offices at:

Transworld Entertainment
38 Corporate Circle
Albany, NY 12203
1-800-540-1242

3 comments:

Evil J9 said...

Ugh, more corporate chains tearing down buildings for "bigger and better" things. Having grown up in StL, the Peaches on Hampton and Chippewa was sacred ground for me and my brother. We would go see any artist that was at the shop, even if we didn't know/like their music, because you never knew what would happen or who would show up. I wanted to work there when I got old enough to get a job, for basically the same reasons as you, only with the addition of the discounts on vinyl.

Sad to see it go, especially after 30 plus years of frequenting the establishment. I was last in there in late summer and wondered how they could continue to stay open. Clearly they couldn't.

Dennis Ellis said...

In some correspondence with Alderman Vaccaro, it appears that FYE has decided to close indicating that this is a done deal. I am trying to push him to push them to look at the long closed Fazzoli's building a few blocks away but I do not see much chance of that happening. There are a half dozen or so fast food places within a few blocks of that corridor including McDonald's and Raising Cain's which both feature multiple chicken options. This is not to mention Schnucks ad their chicken, or the multiple sandwich shops and other food joints. I do not personally have much stake in FYE, I have been there my share if times and purchased my share of material. But realistically speaking it is kind of a stretch for them to remain in business given the availability of streaming and online shopping options not to mention other more trendy record shops in the region. My concern would be the building and if FYE is to close, I would much rather see a small business of some sort take over the space. Also I am jealous of being able to attend events at the location under its various names, especially Peaches. Good day to all.

Anonymous said...

Used to sell my old CDs to get a few extra bucks at Blockbuster music. They even bought Jock Jams!