New apartments signify resurgence of Morgan Ford business district

TOWER GROVE SOUTH – Tenants are snapping up the 26 apartments and three first-floor retail spaces of a just-completed three-story building in the heart of the Morgan Ford business district.

Just a month after completion, about 60 percent of the apartments of the MoFo Urban Residences are leased, said Rob Maltby, one of three partners in the project at 3172 Morgan Ford Road. A combination bike and coffee shop has signed up for one of the retail spaces.

Maltby’s confident that the rest of the spaces soon will fill up in what not long ago was a run-down car wash. He and partners Michael Anderson-Mitterling and Kyle Howerton plan to restore  a 117-year-old three-story brick building for use as 24 apartments.

“I’ve lived here for 10 years on Utah Street. I’m very familiar with this,” Maltby said.

“We really like the neighborhood,” he said. “I’ve always thought the car wash was an underutilized piece of property.”

What’s certain is that the millennials who are filling many of the units in the new apartment building will find an eclectic mix of merchants in the part of Morgan Ford Road just south of Arsenal Street.

It’s a long list, including the Vintage Haberdashery, which features a variety of vintage clothing, the Amsterdam Tavern, the Dam, New Era Fitness, City Park Grill, Three Monkeys restaurant, the London Tea Room, Morgan Ford Massage & Spa, the Verve Hair Salon and other businesses that have made it a destination.

“It’s a growing neighborhood. Parking’s good. It’s a little more spread out, a lot more space, and a lot more possibilities,” said Jeff Lopinot, who owns Verve with his wife, Julie Lopinot.

The Lopinots had their business on South Grand from 2001 until four years ago, when they bought a building at 3237 Morgan Ford. “We still serve the same clients from the neighborhood. We are more visible,” Lopinot said. “It’s changed dramatically. There’s been a large influx of people moving into the city.”

Members of the area’s business community talked about their street at Tuesday’s meeting of the Tower Grove Business Association. The president of that group is Michele Coen, owner of the Dam, which offers food, catering and events. The business has been on Morgan Ford for 10 years.

“We’re definitely a neighborhood business district, definitely supported by our neighborhood,” Coen said.

One of the businesses in the neighborhood is Morgan Ford Massage & Spa, 3187 Morgan Ford. Jennifer Coke, who owns the business with Tom Goedde, has been there for 12 years, when she moved her law firm into that address. The spa opened eight years ago, followed by other spas in the Soulard neighborhood and Webster Groves. Now she’s no longer an attorney and is spending all of her time with the spa.

“I was looking for office space. It was available and affordable,” Coke said. “The neighborhood’s changed significantly.”

One other business that’s doing well on the street is the Vintage Haberdashery at 3181 Morgan Ford Road. “Since 1982, The Vintage Haberdashery has been providing Saint Louis with the finest in vintage fashions and accessories,” its website says. It was in Soulard and then the South Grand business area before it came to Morgan Ford 11 years ago.

Jolie Mackey, the store’s owner, said the Vintage Haberdashery moved here after it lost its lease on its South Grand store.

“I decided to look around, and found a wonderful spot on Morgan Ford,” Mackey said. “This is our last home. We will not be moving. We love it on Morgan Ford.”

As Grand fills up, more businesses are coming to Morgan Ford, Mackey said.

“We have great community support, and lots of other stores have opened,” Mackey said.

“We have long term customers, but we get people from all over the world.”

Ward 10 Alderman Joseph Vollmer has seen the turnaround in the business district since 2003, when he was elected for the first time. At that time, his ward took up both sides of the street. Now the 10th Ward is on the west side of the street, and the 15th Ward of Alderwoman Megan Green is on the east side.

“There was basically one good business running, which was Grove Furnishings. You had a 7 Eleven, and you had a Family Dollar store that was being robbed every other day,” Vollmer said. “It was terrible over there, and we worked together and created a business association in 2005.”

Small taverns turned things around, Vollmer said. One was the Tin Can, which was torn down and replaced by City Park Grill. Others included the Three Monkeys and the old Tower Pub.

“That’s quite a rejuvenation, which has brought all the other businesses there,” Vollmer said. The car wash that the new apartment complex replaced was full of crime and drugs, he said.

“There’s high interest in everything over there,” Vollmer said. “The rebirth has been wonderful.”

Jim Merkel

Author: Jim Merkel

Born and raised in St. Louis, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of four books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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