Longstanding North Side Business Faces Uncertain Development Future
|Fehlig Bros. Box & Lumber has occupied its current space in the north side of Saint Louis for 55 years. However, according to NorthSide’s redevelopment plan, a good portion of Fehlig Brothers is slated for “open space.”|
Fehlig Brothers Box & Lumber has been in business since 1873, and clearly isn’t shy about that fact. Throughout the company’s office at 1909 Cole St., the walls are littered with framed photos and certificates detailing Fehlig history. In fact, there’s a framed poster detailing the generations of Fehligs that have worked at Fehlig Brothers, including company president Jack O’Leary, a member of the fourth generation. Two of his sons and a grandson work for the company, as well.
Of course, in case you missed the family history on your way in, there’s another framed poster explaining it with greater detail in O’Leary’s office. There are also framed resolutions from a couple of state legislative committees, lauding the business. O’Leary, who has worked at Fehlig for the past 55 years, shrugs and says that these types of awards arrive in the mail every once in a while.
O’Leary has been around the area long enough, he said, that he’s seen its ups and downs. Right now, although crime has been down for the past 15 or 18 years, development hasn’t really picked up. O’Leary said that while some area residents and businessmen are skeptical of the $8.1 billion plan put forward by developer Paul McKee and NorthSide Regeneration LLC, he’s generally for it.
“I’ve been down here for 55 years,” he said, “and no one’s doing anything down here.” Furthermore, he wondered, why would a developer take well-maintained homes?
Nonetheless, when O’Leary first heard about the development, he called McKee to ask whether his business would be affected. According to O’Leary, McKee came down to the Fehlig Brothers to talk with him, and said absolutely not, that he wasn’t interested in displacing successful area businesses. O’Leary said he had also spoken with his alderman, April Ford-Griffin, and the mayor’s chief of staff, Jeff Rainford. Everyone, O’Leary said, swore up and down that his business wouldn’t be touched.
When asked what would happen if the company were forced to move, O’Leary was skeptical.
“We’ve been around 137 years,” he said. “Figure we’ll stay here a few more years.”
According to NorthSide’s redevelopment plan, a good portion of Fehlig Brothers is slated for “open space.” Among others, the plan marks a strip of open space that would run along 19th Street, south of Carr Street, until it hits Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. The strip appears to be about a third of a block thick, drawn as though Vincent Street were extended south past Carr Street.
If NorthSide adheres to the plans it submitted to the city, that strip of open space would cut through roughly a third of O’Leary’s business. Specifically, it would cut through his office building (pictured at left), and through part of the company’s lumber yard. Another company nearby, Smith’s Superette, also looks like it would be affected.
Ford-Griffin, when asked about specific portions of NorthSide’s open space map, said that you can’t read too much detail into the company’s plans.
“That is not a document where you take it and say this is what’s going on this block and this is what’s going on that block,” she said.
The point, Ford-Griffin said, of the plans is to communicate some general ideas about the future of the area as a part of the application process for public funding. Development will hinge on market conditions over the next 20 years.
“You can say you’re going to build 2,200 homes but you’re not going to build 2,200 homes if no one will buy them,” she said.
When asked about Fehlig Brothers Box & Lumber, Ford-Griffin said the business had been brought up specifically at city meetings regarding the development, and that the understanding was that the company would stay.
“It’s been very clear that Fehlig Lumber will continue to be there,” she said.
Fehlig Bros. president Jack O’Leary said that while some area residents and businessmen are skeptical of the $8.1 billion plan put forward by developer Paul McKee and NorthSide Regeneration LLC, he’s generally for it. Photos by Caitlin Hartsell.
NorthSide did respond to an email message specifically inquiring about planned open space that would supplant the Fehlig business. Rainford’s assistant said he wouldn’t respond to inquiries because he believed the Show-Me Institute is involved in a class action lawsuit against the city (the institute is not involved in the lawsuit, although an institute board member is serving as an attorney through his personal practice for a couple of north side residents involved in the suit).
O’Leary said that because there’s no immediate space for the business expand, the company would likely move if push came to shove.
NOTE: This report was originally dated March 1, 2010, but was updated on March 2 to include statements from an interview conducted with April Ford-Griffin on that day.