I’m shamefully admitting to this, but I’ve, many times, traveled down Meramec without a thought in my head. It was different when I lived in Mount Pleasant, and Dutchtown’s business district was just a bit north of me. Now this was the better part of a decade ago and the neighborhood’s changed a tremendous amount since then, with a host of new businesses coming to Meramec and its feeder streets since then. And, yet, on more than one occasion, I’ve driven from, say, Broadway to Grand with that autopilot setting switched “on.” I haven’t been as engaged as I should’ve been when passing through; or, better yet, stopping and exploring.
This past Friday, Andy Alton and I met Caya Auferio, who is the co-founder, with her husband, of Urban Eats. It’s a linchpin business on the corner of Meramec and Virginia, which she rightly describes at the locus of that official Downtown Dutchtown Business District. It’s obvious that she’s not only a person who runs a business (the cafe and gallery, incidentally, were elements that they always wanted to rent out, rather than run, themselves; but as tenants fell, they took it on and improved on… basically, everything that they had done). She’s also someone who knows everyone else on the block. Following her through the area is an exercise in watching her wave and say “hello” to every third person, whether they be a shop owner, or the new neighborhood couple walking their dog. As a resident of the block, she’s got eyes on the street every day, which adds to that omniscience; mind you, her second-floor apartment above Urban Eats is a true loft, in every sense of the word, and one of the most spectacular rehabs I’ve seen on the South Side, ever. Day-umn! What an awesome home.
Caya took us to a few of the merchants now calling the block their home, too. While some are probably not places I’ll return to often – hey, we all have our retail (and resale) needs and wants – others were very intriguing. Chief among them was Maude’s Market, a tiny, locavore grocery store located just off Meramec on Virginia. Growing out of a CSA, it’s now a four-days-a-week micro grocery, with a predominant stock of local products. Without Caya’s introduction, it would’ve continued to be a place that I’d vaguely heard of, but hadn’t visited. Now, I know the location, found in a long-dormant storefront, which happens to be one of the coolest little shops anywhere in town, a real, cute gem of a building.
The video of this piece will knit it all together, but the message can be summed up here: some neat things are going on in Dutchtown. Consider slowing down the next time you’re passing through. In fact, be like us and just come to outright stop, restarting yourself with a trip into Urban Eats. There you can get some sustenance and some knowledge. You’ll want both as you spend the next hour, or two, re-familiarizing yourself with the area.