Griff Up

Missouri Western students and the St. Joseph community attend Griff Up, Western's new Downtown event to welcome incoming students.

Eleven years ago, when I started at the News-Press, it was a very different Downtown St. Joseph.

While bars like Hammerjack’s and The Snake Bite Club ruled “The Felix Street Experience,” in the area of city where I go to work five days out of the week, there was less happening for people not interested in getting a drink.

This is not say there weren’t ideas and activities blooming from the ground. Comedian Alex Reymundo was filming his comedy special at the Missouri Theater. The hip-hop scene was budding at Room 107. A two-day poetry and composer festival was kicking off.

While most of those things no longer exist in the area, as Room 107 eventually turned into The Metropolitan, Reymundo tours the West Coast almost exclusively and the hip-hop scene is not what it used to be, the past year has proved it’s in a better place.

During the past month, The Metropolitan has been teeming with events, from the return of Oktjoeberfest to the inaugural “Ales West!” to this weekend’s “Hogwart’s Halloween.” It’s bringing the mostly family-friendly fare that people were hoping would return to the area for years.

Seeing pictures of people crowding The Metropolitan for “Ales West!” made me think of how far Downtown has come. Six years ago, that same location was boarded and trashed with stagnant toilets and garbage.

Walking around Downtown is a significantly different experience from when I used to trot down to the City Star to get some gum.

Where Foster’s once ruled on the corner (and where the abandoned husk of the Ostrea and Komatsu once sat), Blue Willow Boutique has now opened, bringing more women’s fashion to Downtown St. Joseph.

Bad Art Bistro has turned into a bigger version of the already fantastic Mokaska Coffee Company. The Shaft has turned into a larger incarnation of the equally great shop Nesting Goods.

There’s also personality-fueled businesses like Manic Snail and all of its quirky gifts, Club Geek and its video game-based bar and The Lucky Tiger’s curated vintage wear.

The traditional aspects of Downtown St. Joseph continue. The Rendezvous is still a wonderful dive bar to catch rock acts on the weekend. The Missouri Theater is doing a great job of booking national acts with a variety of productions from the St. Joseph Performing Arts Association and Robidoux Resident Theatre.

There are more businesses than I can name in this column, so my apologies to all of them that I missed. It’s a good problem to have, but I don’t want other hard-working owners to feel like they’re overlooked.

Eleven years ago when people talked about Downtown restoration, it was always with an eye roll and a sneer, like it was an impossible, pie-in-the-sky task. No doubt, there’s still work to be done and areas of blight that need addressing. But it’s come a long way.

Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live

Andrew Gaug can be reached at andrew.gaug@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @NPNOWGaug