Back in the 1920s and '30s The Loop was an elegant shopping street, and up through the '50s it remained a major draw for young St. Louisans, featuring movie theaters, soda fountains, a night club, and a record store.
But by the early 1970s the street had become a ghost town. About half The Loop's storefronts were vacant or boarded up, and crime was rampant. Edwards remembers sweeping up debris and broken glass in front of Blueberry Hill each morning and feeling despair.
"Within a week of opening Blueberry Hill I realized that I wouldn't make it if the neighborhood didn't make it," he says.
And so began his campaign of gentle persuasion. "I talked to other residents, to city hall, to the police," Edwards says. He reminded them of what many seemed to have forgotten – that The Loop was a valuable asset, graced with appealing architecture and a rich history. He formed The Loop Special Business District and served on committees that worked on issues from lighting to sanitation to flower planters to security.
But Edwards's best move was to become a success. "The business establishment has been willing to listen to him because he's been so successful," says Bill McClellan, a columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. "He's an unusual combination – a hippie-visionary-business type."
Part of what drove Edwards, however, was simply love – love for his hometown. St. Louis is a special place, Edwards says. "The architecture is phenomenal, and the scale of the city is human. You can get anywhere in 20 minutes."
It didn't make sense to him that neither residents nor outsiders were getting full enjoyment out of a city that seemed to be so full of potential – and he wanted to turn that attitude around.
Blueberry Hill began to do just that, drawing patrons from around the city; and as it did, Edwards continued expanding. Today, Blueberry Hill occupies four storefronts combined into one – a total of 10,000 square feet – and does a lively business seven days a week.