Some industries tend to consolidate within a city. Look no further than Produce Row in the Near North Riverfront Neighborhood where you can find fresh fruit and vegetables making their first stop in the city before getting re-purchased and distributed throughout Missouri and Illinois.
The long loading docks are abuzz with activity on most days and the scene is good. Produce Row has been located near the intersection of North Broadway and North Market Street since 1953:
According to a 2011 story from one of the fresh produce industry's oldest trade publications, "
"...21 companies inhabited Produce Row’s 98 stalls, ranging from wholesalers, to foodservice companies, to brokerages. That’s less than half of what it was just 10 years ago, when 57 companies operated along “The Row.” Still, those 21 companies simply occupy more stalls, making Produce Row a busy place most days — and nights.
“I think we’re 100% occupied,” said Vince Mantia, president of William Mantia Fruit Co. “There are opportunities down here to stay in business.”
Most of the hustle and bustle around the row takes place at night or in the early mornings, when most of the 18,000 tractor-trailers that visit the place annually come and go, leaving before the crack of dawn to deliver a shipment of goods to near or distant retailers or foodservice companies.
“This is one of the most competitive markets around down here,” said Jeff Moore, vice president-sales for the Midwest region for Tom Lange Co. Inc., Springfield, Ill. “But it’s a friendly competitiveness. It all boils down to service, relationships and quality.”
The space between the two rows of buildings, which also serves as a parking lot, is known simply as “the street.”
“Our guys walk the street at 6:30 every morning to see product, what everyone else is bringing in,” Moore said. “We’re seeing what we’re selling. That’s an advantage of being on Produce Row.”
Other industries are clustered as well, like Florist Row in the Gate District Neighborhood, but you might not know it.
Just south of Chouteau Avenue between Jefferson and Grand, you will find this charming cluster of wholesale and retail nurseries, greenhouses and florists. Unlike the St. Louis Produce Market, Florist Row is largely open to the public, even offering weekend hours. This is another one of St. Louis' more hidden gems that make city living so much fun. But, why does it have to be hidden? It wasn't completely obvious to me that this strip of businesses, creating a little clustered industry row, is right along LaSalle Street between Ewing Street to the west and Jefferson to the east. Driving by on Chouteau Avenue, it is not "sold" to passers by. I'd like to see a big metal and neon sign with an arrow pointing you to the strip...forgive my ham-handed computer skills, but something like this:
This could be a destination place for plant, flower, nursery enthusiasts (see Bowood Farms in the Central West End). I've lived in a neighborhood just south of here for nearly five years, and never knew this was open to the public. I assumed it was wholesale only. Not the case. There is a real opportunity for Florist Row to advertise and sell the strip a bit more to the hoi polloi...it could only help. And the Gate District would benefit from a little place making.
This is a great spot to get your gardening supplies in a relaxed, laid back setting.
Walter Knoll alone has a great selection of indoor and outdoor annuals, perennials and tropicals. The staff is very kind and the place has the locally owned, slower paced vibe that you don't get at Home Depot or Lowes.
Walk east from there, where greenhouses dot the streetscape and stop into one of the florists where you will find a small army of floral arrangers diligently creating delightful offerings for festive occasions or get out of jail cards for generations of desperate men :)
Ever wonder where those pre-arranged floral bouquets and arrangements come from? Right here.
Upon our visit, we looked around and couldn't help but notice the fact that the diversity of the staff nicely reflected the diversity within this part of the city. We overheard conversations about the Cardinals game, weekend plans, kids and the best flowers to work with this week. It was a relaxed and homey feel yet abuzz with activity of ten or so folks clipping, arranging and packaging flowers for their final retail destination. A great, locally owned, city scene.
You'll see young women shopping for wedding flowers, hobbyists and creative types gathering supplies for their work and moms and daughters picking out craft supplies.
Florist row is yet another reason to love St. Louis city living.
But, back to the "industry row" concept...when thinking about critical mass, as defined as t
he minimum size or amount of something required to start or maintain a venture, what are some
other industries that could benefit from "a row"? A cluster of businesses that all of a sudden become a place, a destination.
I am thinking a strip of our awesome local chocolatiers such as Bissingers, Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate, Merbs, Kakao, etc all setting up shop nearest Bissinger's new (awesome) location just north of downtown on Broadway occupying historic warehouses and factories. How about a "coffee row" including all the local roasters. A tasting room showcasing all the local brews would be fantastic. Just think of the local flavor that could come from such a consolidation...not to mention the supply chain efficiencies...
Little Bosnia, Little Saigon, Little Sierra Leone...the possibilities are endless...concentrating businesses into a single, walk-able spot creates density and supports place-making. Look no further than the Hill as a prime example. Strength comes in numbers. I like to make "a day of it" hitting all my faves on the Hill...it's so easy to just park the car and walk to all the markets and restaurants.
What "rows" have you seen in other cities that you think would work in St. Louis?