Brian Adler of Missouri-Metro.com wrote this piece for his new blog focusing on development through the lens of its economic, social, and political impact. We thank Brian for letting us publish his article here at DutchtownSTL.org as well.
Chip and Tasha Smith are here to stay. “I can see the future,” said Chip, as he gazed in wonder at his extravagantly remodeled storefront in the heart of Downtown Dutchtown on Meramec Street. Living just steps from their store, Chip and Tasha could not be more bullish on their neighborhood. Chip, a photographer and artist by trade, has South City in his bones. Tasha even serves on the DT2 (Downtown Dutchtown) Board, influencing decisions that support local businesses, community events, and infrastructure.
Editor’s Note: The photos taken for this piece are sure to pale in comparison to what Chip is capable of.
For nearly a decade, Chip has been building his photography and videography business. It was only 10 years ago that he bought his first camera, and here Chip sat in a chic, modern studio of his own making. Brand new flooring, popping colors, wood accented walls, and a classic old South St. Louis ceiling grace a location that those just wandering in might expect in a New York City boutique. Much of the work came from the Smith Family’s own sweat, with Chip, Tasha, and their children putting in dozens of hours of physical and creative energy. Chip even put in many of the floorboards himself, save where sloped flooring posed a challenge more suitable for a general contractor than a photographer.
“Cross Grand represents where I am from.”Chip Smith
According to Chip, there has never been a better time to be starting a business in Dutchtown. With the Community Improvement District (CID), Downtown Dutchtown, and Neighborhood Innovation Center nearby, there is a large group of community-oriented individuals collaborating to support the neighborhood. Coupled with the incredible amount of development nearby and beginning to spill into Dutchtown itself, the “South Sider” Chip witnessed all these architecturally gorgeous buildings and storefronts and saw nothing but potential. Then he met the people and the community in Dutchtown, one of St. Louis’ most dense communities in terms of population, and saw the value of a strong and supportive community, both in terms of the residents nearby and the support infrastructure described above.
Every step of the way, Cross Grand found encouragement and support from the Dutchtown community. John Chen, founder of the Neighborhood Improvement Center just a block further East on Meramec, has advised on certain elements of the project and provided as much support as he can as the owner of the building.
The potential of Dutchtown is readily apparent as soon as you enter the neighborhood. There is an expansive infrastructure already in place comprised of incredible, historical housing stock, a walkable street grid, businesses that have been around for nearly a century, and critical retail corridors on Grand and Meramec. The Meramec corridor in particular evokes a similar feeling to Manchester in parts of The Grove, or even parts of Maplewood. A dense cluster of restaurants, boutiques, and age-old retailers sit in 100+ year old, brick-clad buildings with mansard roofs with ample room for outdoor dining.
That’s not to say that they didn’t need to put in the work to make their storefront shine. To see the incredible transformation of the space, look no further than these photos Chip provided of the space before they saw its true potential. Drop ceiling hid the gorgeous ceiling pattern visible today, and the floor was in need a complete refresh. Perhaps someone could have envisioned an office or small store, but to imagine and create the Instagram-worthy color scheme and modern aesthetics is a true feat.
With Cross Grand, Chip and Tasha are combining their interests into a full service experience for creators like themselves in Dutchtown. Chip now does most of the video and photography work in the community, with many of his photos available on DutchtownSTL.org (see here and here for examples of Chip’s work in Dutchtown). Tasha, with lots of events in the small event world, and Chip with photography and videography, found that they could create a space that catered to both needs. They plan to bring other neighborhood creators into the studio in addition to the members of the community they hope will view their work, take photos, or hold small events there.
Chip hopes that the curated space will be a destination for nearby residents to get creative and see themselves in a new light. Far from only shooting weddings, Cross Grand will offer photo sessions, photo books, and event space. Chip is also looking for ways to capitalize off of the unique style that’s new to the Dutchtown neighborhood. Whether it is featuring the work of local artists or perhaps catering to a podcast and vlogger community, Cross Grand has a special space and a set of services that Dutchtown previously lacked.
Grateful for their community support from the CID, DT2, Thomas Dunn Learning Center, and the Neighborhood Innovation Center, CrossGrand owners Chip and Tasha are plainly excited to finally bring their dream to the community. To have a space to bring clients besides Starbucks, meet their neighbors who just walk in the door, and to show their kids the product of hard work are things that make Chip extremely proud and eager about this space.
The Grand Opening
Cross Grand is set to open to the public this Wednesday, October 21st with a Grand Opening and After Hours Happy Hour co-hosted by Downtown Dutchtown. The event will feature Chip’s first photo book, a Dutchtown/CrossGrand hoodie collaboration on display, a drummer playing live music, and possibly discounted packages in addition to the hoodies and photos being on sale. Members of the Dutchtown community and beyond are encouraged to stop by and witness all that Cross Grand has to offer. The event will take place from 5:30pm to 7:00pm and visitors are encouraged to meet neighbors and stick around for a drink.
“Cross Grand is here to stay. We are going to add value to this neighborhood.”Chip Smith
Small business entries speak volumes about a neighborhood’s trajectory, and their value is even higher in the middle of an elongated pandemic. Cross Grand is a project that rose from the community itself. It does not pad the pockets of national developer groups bringing in luxury units with no affordable housing, raze historical architecture, or displace other residents or businesses. That may sound like a low bar, but often developments in St. Louis do all those things, and while they can still offer plenty of intrinsic benefits, real neighborhood improvement and community stabilization comes from within and supports its residents.
Small businesses are the heart of truly equitable economic development that lifts communities up. The infrastructure provided in Dutchtown by community organizations is beginning to show what it is capable of. Combined with the incredible built environment, the nearby ecosystem is poised to keep pushing Dutchtown in the right direction with a focus on a community driven approach. While not as flashy as a 300-unit tower or several phase development, small businesses driven and supported by their communities have an incredible impact and make urban areas shine.
Thank you to Missouri Metro for visiting Dutchtown and allowing us to publish the first edition of their Small Business Series. You can find more of Missouri Metro at Missouri-Metro.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.