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Small St. Louis business faces eviction for $160 million development

Danny Wicentowski
St. Louis Public Radio
Steve Rothschild, owner of St. Louis Woodworks, is scrambling to save his business.

This week, St. Louis Woodworks owner Steve Rothschild walked through the bustling, 15,000-square-foot warehouse in Midtown St. Louis where he’s run his business for more than 20 years. He greeted employees busy at work cutting and finishing cabinets and tables — what may very well be their last projects before the business is forced to close next month to make way for a $160 million development.

The demolition part of that development has already begun. Exiting the warehouse through a back door, Rothschild arrived at a massive, mud and water-filled pit. His workers call it “Lake Phil,” named after Philip Hulse, the president of Green Street St. Louis, the developer responsible for pushing St. Louis Woodworks out of its longtime home.

Danny Wicentowski
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Woodworks owner Steve Rothschild stands to the site of recent demolition, which has left "Lake Phil."

Rothschild is still upset by the demolition that left the pit. He says the teardown started last month, but the demolition targeted a portion of the warehouse that shared a wall with the structure where his employees were still working.

“There were numerous days where the floor was just shaking, you'd feel your feet bouncing and the windows rattling and dust falling,” Rothschild said Thursday on St. Louis on the Air. “The problem is, we have contracts we have to fill.”

St. Louis Woodworks may not be a household name, but Rothschild boasts that residents have likely seen his work. The company’s clients include numerous area banks, as well as the Anheuser-Busch corporate offices, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Pfizer and Washington University.

Green Street purchased St. Louis Woodworks' home at 500 Prospect Ave. in 2016, becoming the business’s new landlord at a time when development in the Midtown area was just ramping up. Green Street is behind the $83 million redevelopment of the St. Louis Armory across the street from the woodworking shop; the developer plans to replace the warehouse with a seven-story, 264-unit apartment tower, which will be joined by a second apartment tower when the project is complete, costing a total of $160 million.

The area has become a focus for developers. Green Street is seeking to turn the historic Armory into an entertainment district, while just a few blocks away, the $300 million City Foundry STL mixed-use development is attracting foodies to its many restaurants. But some local businesses like St. Louis Woodworks are caught in the middle.

In 2020, Rothschild sued Green Street, alleging that the company’s previous lease allowed the woodworking shop to extend its tenant arrangement at the same price. A lengthy court battle ensued. Then, on April 8, St. Louis Circuit Judge Jason Sengheiser issued an eviction order for May 10.

After demolition, St. Louis Woodworks faces eviction

Rothschild says an appeal would require that he post a bond of $2 million to halt the eviction. Not only does he not have that money, but, even if he does find a new location in a matter of weeks, he worries there’s just not enough time to move millions of dollars of heavy equipment out of the warehouse.

On Monday, Rothschild broke the eviction news to his staff. Some employees are considering retirement. Others have already left.

“I lost two young guys that I've spent a lot of time training,” Rothschild said. “That's an investment. I'm not mad at them. They’ve got families, they’ve got to take care of their kids. The blame goes somewhere else.”

Rothschild claims that Green Street’s offers for relocation were never serious, pointing out that the rent prices would have been at least double what he’s paying now.

Reached for comment, Green Street did not respond to specific questions about whether it had offered relocation assistance to St. Louis Woodworks, or the accusations of “bad faith” negotiations raised by Rothschild. In an email, the company simply said, “Green Street’s only statement is that we have and will continue to abide by the rulings of the courts and respect their decisions.”

Rothschild is holding out hope for his business, and he hinted Thursday that there may be a “guardian angel” interested in helping the shop relocate and survive.

Still, with the eviction of St. Louis Woodworking seemingly on the horizon, he praised his workers for staying on task for their customers – even when the building itself is shaking.

“It’s a lifeblood for everyone that works here,” said St. Louis Woodworks employee Mike Smith. “It's what we love doing, and that's why we're here.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."

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