Furniture made from pallets. Barbecue. Caramel apples. Toy makers. Poster makers. Cat adoptions and avant-garde pottery.
Those are just some of the items that will be for sale at a new outdoor marketplace for local vendors. It's called the St. Louis Swap Meet and it's slated to open May 17. The outdoor market will be located at the Lemp Brewery, near Cherokee Street in the Marine Villa neighborhood.
The St. Louis Swap Meet involves no item-for-item trading, as the name may suggest. Instead, it’s an outdoor market much like the 30-plus others that operate in the city throughout the year.
The Swap Meet, however, has a rare feature: it’s open on Sunday.
Martin Casas, the market’s owner, planned the market to be held on Sundays to avoid competing with Saturday markets, and to let business owners spend another day selling their wares.
Casas has bigger plans than just that. He believes that St. Louis deserves to have its many abandoned storefronts filled. He thinks that the way to do this is to give small businesses the space to grow large enough to purchase a physical shop.
“We have all this really great real estate, these great business districts that are now emptied out. And what we need is brick and mortar businesses, mom and pop shops, bakers, guys that make crafts, people who sell services. We need them to move back into these stores,” said Casas. “And the people who are doing that are these folks at the markets.”
Most of St. Louis’ farmers markets have around 40 stalls. Soulard Farmers Market, whose website lists around 60 stalls, is one of the largest. Casas said already has 65 vendors signed on for the Swap Meet and is still seeking more. He said he plans to host 150 stalls.
Casas said he hopes to attract vendors from the farmer’s markets that run throughout the week around the region. His ideal result? A mega-market. The brewery has capacity to host hundreds of stalls, given demand.
Developing south St. Louis
The St. Louis Swap Meet promises more than just funky stalls and individual business growth, however. James McKee, president of the Marine Villa Neighborhood Association, said that residents at association meetings have shown “unanimous support” for the market. He believes that the Swap Meet may even stimulate local development.
Cherokee Street bounds Marine Villa to the north; Meramec bounds it to the south. The neighborhood contains a number of landmarks and several historic buildings, including Lemp Brewery.
McKee says residents are particularly looking forward to the Swap Meet’s partnership with the Lemp Brewery. The brewery currently throws occasional events but otherwise, isn’t very accessible, according Mckee.
“People are excited to see some energy at the Lemp Brewery. Everyone is fascinated by the brewery, but it’s so mysterious because people know things are going on inside, but the general public doesn’t really have an opportunity to access the site,” said McKee. “This will be a bridging opportunity for people to come check the site out and see what’s going on there.”
Marine Villa, while far from decrepit, also saw its peak many years ago. The U.S. Census Bureau data shows that Marine Villa’s population has decreased by more than 25 percent since 1990. The neighborhood, like much of South St. Louis, has pursued redevelopment in recent years. McKee sees the market as a way to continue that process.
“We really hope [St. Louis Swap Meet] will be a catalyst for the energy of Cherokee Street to spread to South Broadway,” said McKee. The brewery is located on South Broadway, just south of Cherokee Street.
Historic Cherokee Antique Row is the association of businesses along the stretch of Cherokee north of the Lemp Brewery. The group's president, Mark Overton, said that he is excited for the market.
“I can see it as a net positive for the street,” said Overton. “Anything that will add additional hype for what’s going on down here and that we’re trying to create a cool niche little district here in the city. I think Martin [Casas] is behind that same kind of vision.”
Casas said he also believes the market will help the neighborhood and the business district. “It’s my vision that when people come down for the market on Sundays, they’re going to stay awhile and they’re going to walk down Cherokee Street.” Casas added, “I think it’s the next big street that St. Louis is going to develop.”
The Antique Row association voted in favor of the swap meet on the condition that all the vendors have Missouri seller’s permits and city business licenses, and that vendors collect Missouri sales tax. Casas assures that this will happen. The market itself has already been licensed, as are most of the current vendors.
“The ultimate goal of the St. Louis Swap Meet is that we want to provide a space where vendors have an extra day to sell, an extra day to grow their business and, in the long-term, open up a brick-and-mortar shop somewhere in the city,” said Casas.
The market’s opening on May 17 coincides with Antique Row’s annual History Fair. This weekend event celebrates the birth of St. Louis with a street fair that includes bands, vintage motorcycles and historic tours.