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The Story of Maplewood’s Turnaround
From St. Louis Magazine: The next hot topic among urbanists in St. Louis is the so-called inner-ring suburb, the term for a community that rose up on the city’s border in the early 20th century. Often accessible by way of mass transit, “streetcar suburbs” are home to walkable urban neighborhoods. Yet these peaceful refuges have arrived at a moment of reckoning: The houses are 100 years old, and the residents must decide whether to reinvent their towns or move on.
Case in point: Maplewood.
More than a decade ago, the city’s leaders realized their community needed a new spark, a new call to action. At the time, the city’s face, the commercial strip along Manchester and Sutton, was suffering; at one point there were more than 15 vacant storefronts, indirect reminders of business stolen by Crestwood Mall half a century ago. So they started by ensuring that longtime businesses such as Sunnen Products and Citizens National Bank would remain in the community.
Still, people needed another reason to visit Maplewood, recalls community development director Rachelle L’Ecuyer. So rather than focus on attracting chains (with the exception of niche businesses like Penzeys Spices), Maplewood and its longtime city manager, Marty Corcoran, encouraged small businesses. L’Ecuyer also organized and promoted dozens of events, from Schafly’s farmers market to brokers’ tours, to drive foot traffic.
At the same time, the business district embraced environmentalism, which helped improve revenue. Consolidating dumpsters and recycling bins, for instance, increased recycling while delivering savings in reduced hauling expenses. (In fact, Maplewood won the EPA’s Green Power Community of the Year Award last year.)